When I think about the shootings that took place this past weekend in El Paso and Dayton, I envision a dark flag planted in the ground seeking to mark claim. Unfairly, unjustly, this dark flag of hate was raised in El Paso on Saturday at 10:40 am and then a similar flag rose in Dayton the following day at 1:05 am. As a native Texan, it’s been a sad week. My father grew up on the Mexico-USA border and a visit to my grandmother’s house often included visits across the border to market square. This week I’ve prayed and cried. Most recently crying while listening to Recuérdame (from Disney’s Coco) and reflecting on the lives lost and the generations that will forever be changed.
Earlier this week I took some time to connect with colleagues in West Texas. The Immigration Alliance helps church and community leaders help immigrants. Often I speak with leaders who want to help immigrants yet they struggle with knowing how to help. They believe that the Bible speaks clearly on immigration however still they struggle to identify a next step. My conversations this week regretfully shifted yet ended with the same question. The shift was from immigration to mass shootings. The question, I want to help but how do I help?
The place to start is how we see people
Hands down, without question, we are all made in the image of God. God’s word tells us this in Genesis 1:27. And, hands up and praise the Lord, we also are all uniquely different. God’s Word tell us this in Genesis 10:5. All people on earth are made in the likeness of God and yet all people on earth certainly are different.
You are probably well aware of these biblical truths. However, how do they influence your life? Do they cause you to feel awkward and uncomfortable because you walked across the room and out of your comfort zone to greet someone starkly different than you?
God’s plan is for his children to lead the way in engaging people that societal norms and government rules have pushed to the outside (Matthew 5:46-48). Are you doing that? Who are you inviting to your home? If you took a “family” picture with the people who frequent your home would anyone question whether or not everyone truly was related?
Does a thousands-year-old new commandment still work?
I read an article this week titled, The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight It. Intriguing article, great writing. How do you fight hate? Their answer was pluralism. I disagree. I remain convinced that love is the answer. However, as more mass shootings occur America is looking for a different answer, something with more grit and power. It’s a shame, and the fault is on us sisters and brothers.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 NIV
Just as Jesus Christ breathed new life into a levitical law (Leviticus 19:18) and birthed a new commandment (John 13:34-35) so can Christians fight against hate by declaring such love. We do not need to come up with a new or different weapon; love would work if we would love like Christ. Christ declared the new commandment when he sacrificially died on the cross for the sins of all people. Therefore, I believe that Christians must follow Christ’s example by declaring this new commandment through strategic, genuine actions for all people.
Responding to mass shootings
In response to mass shootings, people are committed to prayer yet they desire to “do more”. Some people are refusing prayer saying, “its not enough”. Others are too busy pointing fingers. Many more are wondering can they do anything that would make a difference? There is something that believers can do, something to pair with their prayers?
Become friends with your enemies.
Become friends with people who are different than you.
Embrace people who are so different than you that you have to go out of your way to pursue them and beg them to be your friend.
Befriend people who are racially, ethnically, and socially vastly different than you. So different that listening requires a new cultural dictionary, learning requires peeling back layers upon layers of confusion, and lamenting brings tears for sorrow you never knew existed.
Specifically, what can we do in our own communities?
First, we acknowledge that our gut desire for a better world is a longing for eternity in Heaven. Heaven is the only perfect place and the only way to Heaven is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the lasting hope for our world. The gospel, spreading through our hearts and home, out our backdoor and into the streets of our beloved community is essential.
Second, we acknowledge that greatest way to impact our world is through one person. If we continue to only think big picture, many of us will encounter what is often referred to as a psyche numbing. Then, we may pivot and focus on an issue, or rally behind a public figure, which can lead to some critical impact gain however for whose glory? God desires that his followers transform the world by following the example of Jesus Christ. Sometimes Christ spoke to crowds however he craved one-on-one connection with people who were so starkly different than him that even his disciples were often stunned by who they found their leader talking to.
Third, we must obey the New Commandment, actively loving others the new way, which Christ exemplified. How can you actively love others who are different? Accept that it will not be easy, and you will likely be pushed away or held at arm’s length. The best place to engage with people different than you is outside of church. Therefore, continually, habitually return to a gathering place that has nothing to do with church – a park, a coffee shop, sign up for class at the library, serve as a family at a community center. Enter these places with no agenda, distractions, or cell phone that would cause others to perceive you as “too busy”.
Finally, we must confess (to ourselves and one another) that this is really happening, that people are targeting people based on how God made them. The victims of shootings need us to not just sympathize for them rather they need our support, friendship, and solidarity. Immigrants already felt unsafe and unwelcome before the shootings, now even more we are at-risk of losing their fellowship. The shots that were fired by one person communicated a loud resounding unwelcome message. We must make sure our immigrant neighbors know we do not support the shooter’s message and we must today take every opportunity to speak against his message because silence does not speak honor or respect, it speaks indifference. Now more than ever immigrants need to hear our words speaking kindly about them, to them, and for them.