I was standing at the counter of my local service station a few weeks ago waiting to pay for my fuel when I glanced at the newspaper rack and read the bold front page headline: ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING IN AMERICA. This one took place in a supermarket in Colorado. Another ten people dead. Ten people who left home to buy some groceries and never returned. Earlier that week eight people were shot dead in Atlanta, Georgia. And the pain stretches to families and friends of the victims and the communities they came from. And like you, I’m angry and sad at the same time, and a little numb.
It’s hard to know which words are more shocking: MASS SHOOTING is horrific but I think the word ANOTHER was what gripped my heart this day. There have been so many. If you want to be shaken to the core and exposed to the outrageous reality facing America you can go the Gun Violence Archive and look at all the mass shootings which have been recorded just in 2021 – and that only reports shootings involving four or more victims. There are thousands more with fewer victims.
Every time this happens we see the same coverage on the news. The US President will speak some words of comfort, express outrage and promise much needed reform, knowing that he cannot deliver. Lots of politicians will weigh in, fingers pointing and chests puffed. One calling for tough guys to unite and the other calling for the government to just ‘do something.’ Thoughts and prayers pour in from around the country and across the globe as people shake their heads in dismay and say, ‘not another one!’ Flags fly at half-mast for a few days, overlapping the last tragedy and perhaps the next tragedy. While we are wringing our hands, we are trying to find some motivation to believe it can be better, when it only gets worse.
The anti-immigration crowd will secretly hope for an ISIS connection. The secularists hope it will be a Church goer. The left will hope it will be a white supremacist. The right will hope it will be someone who has shown Antifa sympathy. The anti-gun people will try to pinpoint the narrow way the shooter got his hands on a weapon while forgetting about the other 100 million gun owners in America. The pro-gun people will wish there had been an armed protector in the crowd who could have stopped the rampages. And so it goes on . . outrage, accusation, counter-accusation, political grand-standing, shallow promises . . . just white noise, smoke and mirrors . . . as the gun sales and deaths continue to rise.
As a Pastor, preacher and Church leader I have been asked more than once, ‘How should a Christian respond to this horrific reality?’ To be brutally honest, I feel helpless in all of this and many Americans, who are much closer to this issue than I ever will be, confess the same sense of powerlessness. We’ll comment on Facebook or shake our heads at the office tomorrow, offering our opinions. But really, none of us have an answer. We were told throughout the Moral Majority days that you cannot legislate morality. There is no legislation that will stop this. With 300 million guns in American’s homes, cars, basements and attics, there is simply no way to seize them without a revolution. We cannot arm enough mental health specialists to eliminate all the crazy people. We cannot monitor all the conversations or social media and hope to spot a sign and incarcerate them “just in case.” This unfolding evil in our midst is clearly bigger than any lobby, any Government and any Christian organisation.
That is when the Apostle Paul’s warning to young Timothy flashes before my eyes once more. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1). This is not a resignation to fatalism, but it is a call to accept the reality of the times. It’s moments like this when people of faith need to rise to the occasion by falling to our knees and crying out to God to intervene.
I know that sounds like such a weak and passive response to such an enormous threat to our way of life, but I am praying because everything else we’re trying just isn’t working and prayer is never a bad place to start! I used to think that as the death toll rose and the shock of these mass shootings really took hold of Americans that there would be a tipping point with the Government and some serious action would be taken. But whilst I was drowning in my naivety, gun sales skyrocketed across America last year and the death toll rose sharply.
As I paid for my fuel and walked to the car, I felt nauseous because I felt like the headline I had just read inadvertently normalised another murderous atrocity. We cannot let that happen. Yes, the Bible warns of the terrible times which are coming (and are already here) but that warning is a call to action – not an invitation to redefine what’s normal. Surely, for believers, that action must begin with fervent, persistent, heart-wrenching prayer.