Officials are saying that the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was not due to religion. It was a “domestic situation” caused by a conflict between the shooter, Devin P. Kelley, and his estranged in-laws. But his in-laws were not there! He did kill his wife’s grandmother, but if his motive was a family spat, why did he shoot nearly everyone in the sanctuary, including toddlers? Of course massacring a congregation at worship had something to do with religion!
(By the way, those who are calling for new gun laws need to realize that there is already a law against those convicted of domestic violence–in Kelley’s case, abuse of his wife and stepchild–from purchasing firearms. But the military failed to enter his conviction into the national crime database used for background checks!)
At any rate, the killings called to mind so many more, around the world and back through time. Christians even at their best inspire a mysterious hostility from some circles. Individuals, rival religions, and governments have used violence against the church. And yet, somehow, it never seems to work. Far from being terrorized into giving up their faith, Christian survivors have a way of coming back even stronger in their faith than before. Why is that?
Russell Moore has published a moving op-ed piece on the topic in the Washington Post: Why the church shooting in Texas won’t intimidate Christians.He summarizes the efforts of lone gunmen, jihadists in Syria, and totalitarian secret police. “If they looked overhead,” Moore observes, “in almost any of the churches they attempt to destroy, these killers might see what they miss: the cross.”
The church began with the crucifixion of its founder. But then He rose again. During the first generations of that church, Christians were given the death penalty. But far from losing heart, the church kept growing and kept getting stronger.
“The reason was not that the church came to believe that they could find safety in the threats of violence,” says Moore. “The reason was that the church came to conclude, in the midst of the violence, that death is not the endpoint.”
Much of the New Testament is made up of letters from the apostles of Jesus on why the cross is, counterintuitively, the power of God. The Christian gospel does not cower before death. Those who give their lives in witness to Christ are not helpless victims, in our view. In fact, the Book of Revelation maintains that those who are martyred are in fact ruling with Christ. This is not in spite of the fact that they are killed. They triumph even as they are killed. That’s because they are joined to a Christ who has been dead, and never will be again.
Those who would like to eradicate Christianity, says Moore, “should see that Christianity can be easier suffocated with comfort, to the point that we forget who we are, than it can be terrorized with violence. Those who try to confront the church with the threat of death only remind the church that we were dead, and are now alive in Christ.”
The survivors of the congregation in Sutherland Springs will go through horrible grief.
But one thing is certain: Come Sunday, they will be gathered again, singing and praying and opening the Word. That church will bear witness to the truth that shaped them: Eternal life cannot be overcome by death. And over that church will be a cross.