Wednesday, February 14 was Valentine’s Day. Couples made plans to go out to celebrate. Cards, candy, flowers, and other gifts were exchanged. For those of us within the Christian community Wednesday, February 14 was Ash Wednesday. It represents the beginning of the season of Lent, a time of reflection, sacrifice, and self-examination. For the staff, students, and loved ones of people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida it was a day that may have started with thoughts of Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, but it would be a day that would end in great sadness. 17 families said goodbye to loved ones that they would never see again, and as it is often the case, opportunist and some well-meaning people took the occasion of this tragedy to push their agendas. Less than 24 hours after the tragedy I heard pundits on television and radio talking about the reason why this tragedy happened, such as mental illness, lack of gun control, lack of armed personnel in schools, bullying, violent video games, and botched FBI investigations. All of these issues are important, and some were even contributing factors to the shootings. I do not have an issue with discussing the reason why this tragedy happened. I do have a major problem with the tone of the discussions. As I said, it had not been less than 24 hours since the shootings and people were already going to their ideological corner and preparing to come out fighting for their issue. This is not the time for people to break into factions and prepare to do battle over their own pet issues. The 17 people who were violently and prematurely taken out of this world were people not props. They were people with families and dreams not rallying points for a political fight.
Over the coming weeks and months, there will be vigorous discussions over many issues. There will be discussions over the identification, treatment, and funding of mental health in our nations. There will be discussions of the issue of gun control and gun rights. As a community, we are going to have to determine if we want armed personnel in our schools. We are going to have to determine how we should deal with Bullying, and how to deal with violence in the media. We are also going to find out how much the FBI may have dropped the ball. Yes, there are going to be a lot of discussion about why. And we the people of God should be a part of those discussions. More importantly, we must be a part of the solution. Some may ask how can we be a part of the solution? For many the first instinct is prayer. That is a good instinct. In our homes and in our places of worship we need to be praying for all the victims of this tragedy, those who were killed, their families, and all those who were affected in some way. We should continually pray, and we should go beyond prayer. As I listened to the pundits and prognosticators discussing the different reasons that they said this tragedy happened I realized that what they were talking about were symptoms of a much larger problem. There are some major issues that we must deal with in our culture today. Parts of our culture are sick and in need of healing, and the church is going to need to take the lead in facilitating that healing. How do we do that? To counter the negatives within our culture, the people of God need to be a positive force, a transformative force, a force for good and for righteousness. I think there are three important things that the people of God need to do to accomplish this.
- Set the example
- Work together
- Get involved
Set the Example
As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ gave us the example of how we should live. We must ask ourselves if we are doing a good job living by Jesus’ example. Jesus instructed us to be the light of the world in Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV),
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Are we a light within our communities or are we helping to contribute to the darkness? These are hard questions that we must answer. There is more than enough darkness in the world we need to be the light.
We cannot afford to be like everybody else and run to our different political and theological corners and prepare to do battle with each other. That will not set a good example. It will not bring light to darkness, nor will it help to change the culture for the better. The only thing that we will accomplish if we do not work together, is we will have a church that is just as polarized as the rest of the community. This will not do any good for anyone. Our identity as Christians is not in our opinions, it’s not in our politics. We do not derive our sense of being from our perspectives on issues. Our identity in is Christ. We are all one in Christ Jesus. We must work as one to become a change agent within the community, to be a light in the darkness.
To be the light shining in the darkness. To be a change agent within the community, we must get involved. This involvement will be different for each of us based on the gifts that God has given us, but God has given each of us a way to get involved and have a positive effect on our community. Part of getting involved is going to be taking an active role in the discussions over how to deal with the violence within our culture. Part of getting involved is going to be actively working toward solutions. Part of getting involved is going to be accepting the fact that we are all going to have to make some hard choices and some sacrifices as a community to make our community better.
After reading this letter, the most important question that one may ask is how we bring it all together. How do we set an example when we do not agree on how we should set an example? How do we get involved and work with people with whom we do not agree? I think the answer can be found in three words identity, love, and unity. If we find our identity in Christ and not in our opinions than we will be willing to sit down and talk with our Christian brothers and sisters with whom we have different views. We should not define each other by our views on gun control or gun rights. We should not act as if a fellow Christian can be summed up by their views on additional armed personnel in schools. If we find our identity in Christ and not in our opinions we will be willing to compromise to get the best solution and we will come to realize that changing our minds or admitting that the other side has some valid points is not defeat or a form of heresy.
The second thing that will help Christians to be a light in the darkness, get involved, and work together is love. If we truly love others as God has instructed us to do then we will always work hard to find the best solutions for the problems within our community. Through love, we will come to see the people we disagree with as people made in the image of God, not adversaries to be defeated. Hopefully, with love in our hearts, we will be able to sit down with people with whom we disagree with an attitude that we are partners trying to fix a problem, not adversaries trying to win.
The final thing that will help Christians to be a light in the darkness, get involved and work together in unity. Yes, there that word is again, unity. If we love others and find our identity in Christ than we can be unified. If we are unified, we will be able to work through our differences and find a true solution to the issues the plague our culture.
I stated earlier that there are several different reasons expressed as to why the tragedy of February 14, 2018, happened. Our culture is going to have to wrestle with issues of mental illness, gun control, the need for more armed personnel in schools, anti-bullying, and violence in media. The church is going have to be a part of that discussion. What do we as a nation need to do in terms of addressing mental illness? What are some things that our nation, states, and local communities can do to curtail gun violence? What can we do to make our schools safer? Will more armed personnel help this effort? What can we do to address bullying? Are violent video games contributing to the decline of culture? I do not have the answers to these question, but I am willing to help to fix the problems. The main thing that we as Christians must do in these difficult times is work to bring light into the darkness. Work to heal culture and try to provide comfort to those in need. Let us continue to pray for all those affected by the events of February 14 including the gunman and his family. This will be hard for many, but this is what Christ taught us. As you pray, take the time to remember each of the victims by name.
Alaina Petty 14
Alex Schachter 14
Alyssa Alhadeff 14
Cara Loughran 14
Gina Montalto 14
Jaime Guttenberg 14
Martin Duque Anguiano 14
Luke Hoyer 15
Peter Wang 15
Carmen Schentrup 16
Helena Ramsay 17
Joaquin Oliver 17
Nicholas Dworet 17
Meadow Pollack 18
Scott Beigel 35 Teacher
Aaron Feis 37 Assistant Football coach
Chris Hixon 47 Athletic Director
In the coming days as the discussions of why this tragedy happened and what to do about it continues, let those of us who are a part of the body of Christ be an active part of those discussions. Let us be a part of the solution. Let us be a unified light in the darkness.
Rev. Franklin M. Ruff
American Baptist Churches of the Central Region