The Burnette Chapel Church Shooting: Just Being Jesus

The Burnette Chapel Church Shooting: Just Being Jesus September 26, 2017

Burnette Chapel 2So about 15 years ago, I was in Nashville working with the Youth Encouragement Services, a camp for inner city kids. Every day during camp we had a devotional, and toward the end of the week, we had a preacher named Brother Joey who came and preached on the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life.

Bro. Joey talked about how stressful it must have been for Jesus to realize that his death was approaching, and how terrifying it must have been to watch a squad of Roman soldiers appear, led by a so-called friend, carrying a kiss of death that he was about to stab in your back.

Betrayed by friends, abandoned by God, and seized upon by a Roman battalion, Jesus finds himself immediately in a scrimmage as Rome goes to arrest him.

Meanwhile, Peter who apparently just woke up from his siesta, comes out swinging his sword, and in the process takes an ear off of the High Priest’s servant…a guy named Malchus.

But it’s what Jesus does next that Bro. Joey really wanted to preach on.

Because Jesus, right in the middle of being arrested and sentenced to die, bends down and picks up Malchus’ ear and puts it back on his head. Jesus totally treats this guy like a Mr. Potato Head, he picks up his ear and just puts it back on.

So Bro. Joey tells all these inner-city kids this story, and then he asks them, “What does this mean? Is there some kind of theological symbolism here? Is there some kind of rich theology the Gospel of John is trying to teach us?”

And then he told those kids this, “I don’t think so. I think this is just an example of Jesus just being Jesus.”

In other words, this was who Jesus had always been, and so now, when the chips were down, He was only doing what came naturally.

Jesus knows better than anyone else that every human being in made in the image of God, and in that moment when His world is falling apart, Jesus still sees the people around Him. And that includes Malchus and his recently disfigured face.

Jesus was just being Jesus.

All those years of praying and caring for people had accumulated into something that was stronger than fear and self-preservation. Jesus instinctually in that moment goes to heal someone who was hurting, even his enemy.

Jesus was just being Jesus.

At least, that’s what this Nashville preacher, a guy named Joey Spann, was saying.

The reason I wanted to tell you that story is because this past Sunday, a mentally unbalanced man drove to a church in Nashville, and opened fire on Joey Spann and his parishioners just as they were getting out of church.  Ever since Sunday’s shooting it’s been kind of surreal reading stories about these people I know in everything from the New York Times to the Washington Post.

So I wanted to write about it.

Because I come from a tribe of Christians called Churches of Christ, and sometimes when we make the news, it’s for things like being sectarian or judgmental. Which always grieves me, because for those of us on the inside of this tribe of Christians, we know that while that may be true sometimes, that’s certainly not all we are.

And that brings me to the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and Joey Spann.

Some news outlets immediately tried to make this out to be a racial thing. You know, as in “A black man shot up a white church.”

The problem with that narrative, is that this church isn’t white or black, it’s got people from several different ethnicities, the way, I think, God intends church to be.

Some people are going to talk about the fact that the shooter was a refugee from the Sudan, and maybe draw conclusions from that about how dangerous accepting refugees can be (ignoring the data on how generally the crime rate of refugees is actually lower than the native population). With this version of the story we might forget that this was a man with mental illness who was once even a part of this church.

Some people will make this about gun control being the solution or the problem, and some will make this inevitably about Donald Trump. Potentially even Donald Trump.

But here’s what I wanted to point out with my small slice of the internet. Because this is not something that normally makes the news unless something horrible like this draws attention to, and then overshadows, it.

It’s going to be tempting to make the story of Burnette Chapel shooting all about what happened on September 24th, 2017. But don’t. Because you can’t understand what happened Sunday without understanding who these people are, and why they responded they way they did.

For the past many years this church has been reaching into it’s community and drawing people who don’t have a lot in common together to worship God.  That’s why you can’t say this was a race thing, because it was a church that had found a way to unite around more than skin color.

Maybe that is the greatest testament to this church. From what I’ve heard they’re the kind of church that reaches out to everybody, and that includes refugees with mental imbalances.

For the past many years, Joey Spann has been leading this small, multi-ethnic church. Showing up every Sunday serving them, teaching them and pastoring them. He’s a bi-vocational minister (he has another job that he’s really good at) which means he’s not doing this for the money, he’s doing this because he knows it matters.

For the past many years, this church has been teaching it’s members what it means to follow Jesus. So much so, that when talking with the media later on, the members of this church….some of them people who had been shot and lost someone they loved, asked people to pray for them, and the family of the woman who was killed, and then they added, “And pray for [the Shooter] as well. Because he’s got family and friends who are hurting too.”

What would make them say this?

I don’t know but I have a hunch.

I think they’re just being Jesus.

The members say that when the shooter entered the church, as soon as Joey realized they were in danger he shouted “Run!”

Even though shouting that caused the first bullets to be aimed at him.


I don’t know, but I have a hunch.

I think he’s just being Jesus.

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