I had a meeting last Friday morning, so all I knew was that a shooting of some sort had taken place at a school in Connecticut. After a staff brunch, I hopped into my car for the commute home.
As I often do, I turned on my (trial offer) satellite radio to CNN to catch up on the news. What I heard was disturbing. At that time, the reports stated that 18 young children had been killed (20 when the reports were updated). I reacted with a surge of emotion that surprised even me.
On the highway I yelled out in agony, while pounding my steering wheel: “Eighteen little kids! No fucking way… it’s so wrong! How can this be God, how can this be?” Tears welled up in my eyes. As I listened to the reports about what had happened, layers of questions and emotions stacked upon each other. I imagined that it was my wife’s school. I pondered the reality that those little kids were not too far removed in years from my unborn daughter. I questioned God, ultimately coming to terms with the fact that this is not the will of the Divine. Evil always occurs outside of the will of God.
If my brief tears were streams of grief, the tears of God were vaster than the oceans of the earth on this day. God was in the classrooms, grieving that one of his children (a deranged 20-year-old) could come to the point of victimizing the Father’s other beloved children.
Violence, pain, and death oppose the way of God. The hope of Christianity is that a day will come when God will right all wrongs by purging creation of evil. Our reality will be a place where God “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things [will] pass away” (Rev. 21.4). Unfortunately, some people conceive of a God that is entirely different from the one portrayed in the Biblical narrative.
The Idolatrous god of Hate
No one takes Westboro Baptist Church seriously anymore. They are not part of anything that could be remotely considered Christian. From my perspective, they are anti-Christian and anti-Jesus. Sadly, I’m told that they plan to picket the funeral of Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal, Dawn Hochsprung on December 19th.
The hatred of this anti-church led them to say that “God sent the shooter,” blaming the nation’s tolerance toward the LGBTIQ community. They also claim that the “children are better off dead” and that there is “No hope for any child of this nation outside of Westboro Baptist Church.” As a result of this, famous hacker Anonymous attacked their websites, started a petition to get them deemed a legally recognized hate-group, and published a list of names with addresses of the members of WBC.
We would be hard-pressed to find a domestic group of people that demonstrate worse hatred in our country. They have created an idol that they refer to as “God,” but all that they have is a pseudo-god of hate. I doubt any reader of this blog will disagree.
Processing Grief, Moving Toward Love
Romans clearly teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn.” Not only so, but Jesus declared to those who were mourners on the hillside that they would be comforted (Matthew 5.4). Bringing hate into a sorrowful situation couldn’t be further away from the essence of the Gospel of Jesus. The primary area that we need to focus on is mourning with the victims’ families and celebrating their lives. WBC’s actions can’t be described as anything but evil. But now I’m preaching to the choir.
That Friday morning as I drove home, listening for 45 minutes to the reports of children and staff being murdered, I had to confront my emotions. Was I overwhelmed by the evils of this world? Yes. Was I angry? Yes. Was I full of grief? Yes. So, to whom would I direct this surge of emotion?As I pondered this final question further, I realized that hatred is not an option. Unlike the WBC’s of the world, the way of Jesus is characterized by grace, love, peace, and forgiveness. Introspection led me to the beginning of my answer: my intense response was not driven by hatred toward the shooter, but of pain for the victims, including the shooter.
We who follow Jesus are human and should face our emotions honestly. If we experience hatred, we need to authentically name that feeling and not simply say nice words and pretend everything is hunky-dory. At the same time, this might also be an invitational space where our full selves can grieve, empathize, wrestle, and eventually – love. Yes, we can learn to forgive a deranged young man who committed one of the worst evils imaginable. We can learn to love an enemy as Jesus taught us. We can choose love and refuse the idol of hate.
This was modeled to us in the aftermath of the last elementary school shooting. Five girls were shot and killed in the Amish Schoolhouse Massacre by a gunman named Charles Roberts. What was unbelievable, was not the act of violence, but the act of compassionate forgiveness and reconciliation that followed the event.
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” (Please read the footnote!)
So let’s mourn together, pray for the families of the victims, and pray for the loved ones of the killer. The children who survived will need lots of care during the upcoming weeks, months, and possibly years. Our focus as we grieve should clearly be on the loss of innocent lives, all 27 of them. Unlike the cultists of Westboro Baptist Church, we Christ-followers must reflect to Newtown, Connecticut that this tragedy grives God’s heart and our hearts as well. Simultaneously, compassion should move us to care about the well-being of the family of the 28th individual as well, the mentally troubled murderer. Instead of a subtle hateful idolatry, may we be known for our unpredictable forgiveness, our Christ-like compassion, and our godly love.
PLEASE READ THE FOOTNOTES!
 My apologies to those offended by foul language. I chose not to omit the word because in the context, it portrays the authentic emotion I was experiencing in that moment.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish_school_shooting. Also, I’m not suggesting that the families of Sandy Hook must respond in the same way. Each person within each family will have to process their grief at an honest pace. To judge anyone for not “forgiving quickly enough” is disgusting. All of my reflections here represent my process as an “outsider” and have no bearing for those on the “inside.” Folks who are close to this tragedy will have to find their own way and I will not pretend to have any insights to offer them. All I offer here are words for us outsiders and my prayers for those who lost family and friends.