A Cruel Response in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting

This country has now experienced two mass shootings in churches over the last two and a half years. The first one at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina was clearly triggered by Dylann Roof’s deeply racist views, and sparked discussions about things like the role of the Confederate flag that still flies at institutions around the country.

But the shooting last weekend at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas involved a white shooter killing white church goers. Since so many white evangelical leaders have rejected the idea of common sense gun safety laws, the only thing they have to offer in response is “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. That has led to some really grotesque twisting of theology. For example:

The editing on that clip is distracting, but she actually suggested that there is no better place to be for a mass shooting than in church because it’s where you feel close to Christ and those people who were killed no longer experience suffering and sadness because they’re with the lord. Is she suggesting that it is better to kill Christians because they are destined for heaven instead of hell?

You can write that off as the ignorant musings of a Fox and Friends host. But how about this from a Lutheran minister at The Federalist?

For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

He goes on to talk about what it means to ask God to “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s prayer.

Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

My gawd! Is he really suggesting that saying the Lord’s prayer is a request to die?

Just last week I ran across a video of Pat Robertson answering a question from a mother whose 15 year-old son had recently been killed.

… These things happen…The loss of a child is a terrible grief. But, you know, the thing about that child at 15, maybe he was, you know, living for the Lord at 15. I don’t know anything about him; I’m presuming he was.

So what would’ve happened maybe 10 years from now? Would he have started drinking? Would he have gone away from the Lord? What would’ve happened? So God, who sees the end from the beginning, knows what would happen to that child, and because He loves the child and loves him, He wants to bring him to Heaven forever, and He wants to spare him some of the bad things that would happen down the road.

Perhaps the deep sense of pain I feel when I hear that is the result of having been conflicted with these very kinds of questions during the time that I was struggling with the Christian fundamentalism in which I was raised. So I can’t claim to understand how others will respond. It literally brings me to tears.

It is not my place to judge anyone else for their theological beliefs. I just hope that the families of the victims in Sutherland Springs and that mother who lost her son have someone more empathic who can come along side of them at this time of grief.

But it is how these things impact all of us when they are brought into our political discourse that matters. If these folks want to tell us that public policy isn’t necessary to stop people from killing fellow Americans because they are actually better off dead and in heaven, then I am going to cry “foul.”

Based on my experience, that is actually not what the majority of white evangelicals believe. This is merely the twisting and turning of folks trying to come up with an explanation for the unexplainable that doesn’t rock their dogmatic boat. It is the refuge of people who put being right in their doctrine above a call to address human suffering. But most of all, it is simply cruel.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.