The recent spate of mass shooting leaves me (and I believe most of us) reeling. Texas has been my home for virtually all of my adult life. I have lived and pastored a church in the Rio Grande Valley (Wesley UMC in Harlingen). Our daughter was born in the now closed Dolly Vinsant Hospital in San Benito. We have spent vacation time in El Paso as a family. This is home and last weekend’s deadly shootings in El Paso wound us emotionally through shared memory of time shopping at malls in McAllen and Harlingen. The killings, as well as the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds suffered in El Paso carry a horror beyond my comprehension.
Dayton, Ohio was a city I became familiar with while in college. I regularly flew out of the Dayton Airport as a student and my first college roommate was from Xenia, Ohio (a near suburb of Dayton). Just three years ago, I went on the board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary which is in Dayton. (United is the last of the old Evangelical United Brethren Seminary’s prior to its merger with the Methodist Church.) My time in Dayton has been a blessing. We have a number of wonderful friends who live in that city. Last May, our daughter Sarah and I explored this wonderful city, including a stop for lunch in the Oregon District where the shootings took place. Even now, days after the violent tragedy of the Dayton murders, I still recoil from hearing the news of what took place.
Our children were raised in Texas in a cultural context where Americans of European ancestry were a minority. (For the record, my ancestry is English, Scottish and Irish; Jolynn’s is similar with possibly both of us having a smidgen of German mixed in.) The diversity of America is a blessing from God and not a problem to be solved. It is gift from the Holy Spirit to be graciously shared with others.
My personal stories do not stand alone. Many of us can recount personal elements of connection to both El Paso and Dayton that pierce our hearts. These are not abstract news stories but personal and collective memories for our country. Furthermore, most significantly, stories of mass shootings are now commonplace. I believe it was the Mayor of Dayton who noted that their shootings marked the 250th in America to date.
However we understand the violence that is engulfing our country and culture, it is time for Christians to move from prayer to action is seeking solutions which respect differences. Racial hatred and racist comments, regardless of who makes them, are to be challenged in ways that are themselves grace-filled yet firm. We are better people than mean-spirited bigotry and racially motivated invective.
I commend to United Methodists in the Central Texas Conference the words of Bishop Ken Carter, President of the Council of Bishops. In a letter to the people of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Carter writes, “Underneath the violence is a culture of white supremacy and a fear of immigrants (xenophobia). These are expressions of our sinful nature and deny the image of God (Genesis 1) that is in every person. Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5), and in this he loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5).”
Bishop Carter went on to say, “we can have a better civil dialogue, and perhaps United Methodists who are Democrats and Republicans in the United States can contribute to this. We are in desperate need of leadership that does not pit us against each other. And we are in need of a dialogue that is deeply rooted in our discipleship in the way of our non-violent Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus is calling us to love our neighbor (Mark 12).” To read Bishop Carter’s letter in its entirety, click here.
In the wake of the latest eruption of mass shootings in our beloved country, may we bend both our prayers and our efforts to help those who are victims of the shooting tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. With people of goodwill and compassion all across the United States, let us together seek solutions to the virulent plague of violence, racism and hatred infecting our land. It is past time to take appropriate steps to ensure that “bump” stocks and automatic weapons are not easily available to those overcome with hatred. It is past time for members of both political parties to seek reasonable common solutions to prohibiting automatic guns from getting in the hands of those who cannot pass a reasonable background check. It is past time for us as Christians to heed God’s answer to our prayers through constructive action which build a safer and more peaceful America.
Together, it is time to lay down our hatred and racist inspired vitriol towards those we disagree with and seek a still better way. May the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit lead us. “I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging symbol.” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1)