Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, released this statement in response to mass shootings in Texas and Ohio:
El Paso, Texas: 22 dead, dozens injured.
Dayton, Ohio: 9 dead, dozens injured.
Thirteen hours, some 80 lives shattered, and countless others devastated in the latest acts of gun violence in the United States. According to news reports, the shootings at a Walmart in El Paso on Saturday and a popular nightlife area in Dayton on Sunday were the 21st and 22nd mass shootings of 2019 in which four or more people were killed. The total number of people killed this year in mass shootings: 125.
It is often said about times like these that words fail us. We reach, we pause, and then we fall silent – probably more afraid of saying the wrong thing than uncertain about finding the right words. More and more, the first words that come to mind cause us to lash out – at the shooter, at society, at each other, at God. “How could God let something this horrific happen?”
Asking that question is often perceived as a sign of faltering faith or no faith at all; rather, it is a signal of our belief that God is good, that God is all-powerful, and that God cares. If we did not believe these truths about our God, why would we bother to question how God could let something like this happen?
Taking into account that faith – as Christians and as a church grappling with the aftermath of inexplicable tragedy – we do not have the luxury of shrugging our shoulders, mumbling, “God bless you,” and moving along. We must remember that we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 RSV)
It is this hope that sustains us during times of hurt, pain and uncertainty. It impels us forward, comforted in knowing that God has a plan to prosper us.
So our hearts ache for the victims and their families, for people traumatized by viewing such carnage, for the ever-growing list of communities left to wonder why, and for a nation seemingly unable to come to grips with this avoidable slaughter of our sisters and brothers.
But our witness to the world must continue to be our primary mission – a charge that includes advocating for peace with justice and prayerfully working to ensure that every step we take leads us along a path toward a future with hope.
You might have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: There is a difference between wishing and hoping. Hoping includes a plan for fulfilling our wishes.
As United Methodists committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence, we know we must address this escalating, yet preventable, killing of innocents by taking concrete steps to make our communities safer and reduce the possibilities of mass shootings:
- For some communities, this hope might translate into reaching out and investing in at-risk youth, supporting them with our time and resources.
- For some local churches, this hope might mean coming alongside schools in our communities to support dedicated educators in making sure that troubled young people don’t escape notice and slip through the cracks.
- For some individuals, this hope might take shape as advocating to our elected leaders realistic strategies that reduce the number of mass shootings without threatening responsible gun ownership.
- For still others, this hope might simply prompt prayers to God for guidance – and then acting on it.
In his first letter to the church he established at Corinth, Paul raised issues that were distressing the community – and he offered ways to resolve them. Toward the end, he encourages the fledgling Christians to “…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV)
I ask you to continue to pray for all victims and survivors of gun violence and their families, for healing and for hope. And please join with me in prayerful support for Bishop Gregory V. Palmer and the people of the West Ohio Conference and Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe and the people of the New Mexico Conference (which includes El Paso) as they stand firm in their ministry in the wake of this agonizing tragedy.
Grace and peace,
L. Jonathan Holston