How Should The Church Respond to Violence?

Another school shooting took place last week. 17 dead in Parkland, Florida as a former student entered campus to take the lives of his classmates and teachers. It seems like this type of violent event keeps happening so frequently we’re becoming numb.

Where so many in positions of legal authority respond with “Thoughts and Prayers” but with little action, the nonChristian world has come to despise the phrase “thoughts and prayers” because it has come to mean, “I’m really sad this happened. Let’s be sad together for a week or two until we all move on… until this happens again.” In this way, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough.

So what should Christians and the Church do?

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Love One Another
The Christian response should be driven by our calling to love one another. God is love, and if we’re his children then we should become like our Father. The love of God isn’t some abstract idea to hide behind in difficult times. It is active and powerful. We need to take God’s command seriously by selflessly showing compassion-in-action by caring for those in need. When families are suffering, when fellow-students are bullied (or flat-out ignored)… we need to respond with action that flows from love.

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11)

Additionally, keep in mind that Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” was followed up by the question, “And who is my neighbor?” To this question, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which drives home the point that if you’re looking for reasons NOT to love someone in need who you are in position to help, then you are intentionally choosing to disregard God’s command to love your neighbor.

Love Your Enemies
Remember that God loved you and died for you while you were still God’s enemy. This is the foundation of God’s commandment for Christians to love others. We have received love when we didn’t deserve it. Therefore, we should treat others the way God has treated us. If we only love people who are easy to love, then we aren’t displaying the love of God, we’re simply “loving” people the same way everyone else in the world loves… it’s natural to love people who love you back. In the wake of ongoing violence and hatred and pain in our world, Christians need to lead the way in loving our enemies rather than vilifying and condemning them.

“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” (Luke 6:27-33)

Live by Faith (not fear)
Christian do not live by fear and with hopeless dread. This doesn’t mean we are blind to tragedies in our world or immune to agonizing over the sufferings in this world. Instead, it means we believe Jesus’ death really did pay for the sins of the world and his resurrection secured final victory over sin and death and the evil one.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new.’” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Love in Action Looks Like…

  • Befriending Teenagers. Adults, get to know some teenagers. Learn their names and pray for them by name. Spend time with them (with parents’ permission and using wisdom to not give inappropriate appearances) and make sure they know you are there for them.
  • Supporting Parents. If you’ve already raised your kids, then offer support to younger parents… not because you’re an expert, but because you’ve been there before. Be willing to share what you’ve learned the hard way. Parenting is hard enough. It’s harder when you feel like you’re alone.
  • Partnering With Teachers & Schools. Whatever you think about public education, these are men and women who have devoted their lives to caring for and educating the next generation. That should be worthy of our respect and prayers. Stop viewing schools as the enemy (“They’re trying to make my kids atheists!”). Yes, there are disagreements over important things, but seek opportunities to bless and encourage teachers, staff, and administration. Get involved.
  • Creating Welcome Spaces for Troubled Students. We need to face the reality that churches are often unwelcoming places for troubled teens. Parents don’t usually want them around since they could be a bad influence on their own kids. Windows might get broken or holes kicked in the wall. Classes will be disrupted and behavior will cause disruption. But if these kids are welcomed in church, what are we really saying about who the church is for?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34–35)

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