Dear Church is a semi-regular blog featuring pastors and other church leaders. Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA. This entry was originally posted by Rev. Andrew Bell of St. John Lutheran Church in Bellville, Texas and is reprinted here with permission.
I gotta speak out about the recent school shooting at Stoneman High School. Now, I’m not going to talk about gun control or politics, because that’s not my area. Also, I don’t know enough to provide good answers on those topics. HOWEVER, when people post terrible theology in regards to these school shootings, that’s where I feel compelled to speak out. It is pretty much in my pastoral vows to speak out against terrible theology and bad behavior by Christians. If this makes you uncomfortable or steps on your toes, because maybe you posted something like this: GOOD. I won’t apologize for doing what God has called me to do and what I have promised to do. If you find yourself ashamed to be included, go delete that post and think about what you really want to share about your faith.
The above picture may be the WORST response I’ve seen to the Florida school shootings, the absolute worst y’all. And the sad part is that it’s being posted by Christians. Christians I know and have pastored. I’m personally ashamed of that fact, and I am sorry that I failed to share the Gospel clearly enough that they can believe something like this. I’m saddened that church-going Christians who believe in Jesus and the Bible believe this meme reflects their faith. Now, I have Atheist and Agnostic friends who recognize that this is terrible theology, but church, we all seem to be missing it. So let me assure you, this t-shirt is not good news. It’s anti-biblical, anti-God and literal anti-Christ. Let me elaborate.
- Do you really believe God can be stopped by school doors? Or the school board? Or anything else? The God who we believe created ALL things, who came to live among us as Jesus Christ, who went through Good Friday, crucifixion, death, Hell. The God who defeated all of that and sin and evil…is stopped cold by a court order, or the lack of public, staff-led prayer? That’s what you really believe? I’d invite you to go read Romans 8:31-39 because THAT is the God of Christianity and of scripture. If you believe this meme I think you may be mistaking God for a vampire who has to be invited in.
- I know a myriad of teachers, administrators, and school staff, just in Bellville, who are faithful Christians and serve both the church and their schools with God-filled hearts. I was going to tag like a dozen of them but since that won’t work in a blog post let me just say I counted over 10 in the local school district, a few more in neighboring districts, and another half dozen who work just a little farther out from Bellville, who personally go to St. John. Not to mention all of the other churches (or the seven – eight in my immediate and extended family). You know who they all bring with them when they go to work? God! They and all the other teachers of faith who work in our schools bring their faith to work every day and to every thing they do within those school walls. Just because they don’t blare it out over the loud speakers or pray loudly in the middle of the cafeteria, (which if you read the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t all that keen about) doesn’t mean God isn’t with them. These are some of the most faithful people I know. God is with them, always, everywhere, period.
- Repeat the previous point for the dozens of STUDENTS of faith I know just from St. John and the millions and millions more who have Christ walking with them every day when they go to their classes.
- Do you realize that when you post something like this, you are basically telling children, many of them baptized believers like you and me, that they DESERVED to be shot and killed? You are implying that they deserved to die? Do you understand that you are telling the parents, families, and friends of those kids in Florida: “You know what? Your kid had it coming!” Do you think this brings people closer to Christ? Do you believe they look at this and think “That’s a God I want to believe in?” Do you think your kids and/or grandkids read this and are proud of you and the faith you have tried to pass down to them?
- Do you believe God looks at this and is proud of your witness? I mean that’s ultimately the measure for us as Christians right? Forget the public, other people, and even me as a pastor. What do you believe God sees when looking at memes like this? I can’t know the mind of God for sure, but everything I have ever studied, read or been taught about the God I believe in and preach about makes me think that my God would be horrified and saddened. I believe God would be heartbroken by messages like this being sent in His name.
Let me be clear: God was at the school. God was there with the students and teachers working together to survive. God was there with the staff who jumped in front of bullets and died to protect others. You want a biblical witness? Laying down your life for another is straight out of John 15:13. God was there with the parents reunited with their terrified and scarred children. God was there with the parents and families whose hearts were broken by the news that their loved ones were killed by an act of pure evil.
Let me be clear: God will continue to be there in the kindness and love those families receive from their friends and community. In the support they receive from their churches and their neighbors. God will be there with the dead, receiving them into eternal love and grace. God will be there in the months and years to come; a light for those who will no doubt be surrounded by the darkness of their loss. God will be in those schools as students keep praying they aren’t the next ones to die, as teachers pray for the courage to do what is needed should a gunman ever come to their school. God will be there with the administrators who will be planning more lock-down drills because that’s the world we live in now.
You know where God won’t be, church? God won’t be in memes like the one above. God won’t be in the judgmental attitudes of those who send these out. God won’t be there just as God was not in the act of violence this young man and too many other people have committed in our schools. That’s because our God is not the god of guns, memes or bad theology. Our God is the God of love, the God of creation and the God that is most clearly seen in the violence-rejecting resurrection of Jesus. That God has a lot of work to do to counteract the evil that was done this past Ash Wednesday. And so do I and so do you.
So dear church, can we please PLEASE stop posting memes like this? Can we please stop posting terrible theology? There’s hurting people out there and they need you. They need you to be the actual hands and feet of God. They need you to show them a real Christ-like love. They need you to show up, not with judgments and condemnation, but with mercy and grace and love. Let’s show up with that church. In short let’s show up with the God of love.
Rev. Andrew Bell is the lead pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Bellville, Texas and the husband of Angela Bell, a churchwide executive board member of the Women of the ELCA. They reside in Bellville with their three young children Kalina, Isaac and Marek. Pastor Bell is an avid reader of books and fan of good movies. While he loves his home in Texas he will never stop bleeding Black & Gold for the six-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.