Last week, when my colleagues and I learned of the shooting at Oregon's Umpqua Community College, there was an emotion that none of us expressed. Yes, we expressed our grief, outrage, sadness, and frustration over yet another mass shooting that is one of nearly 300 that have occurred across our country since January—less than one year's time. As we expressed all of these emotions, both to each other and to our communities, the emotion we did not express was surprise.
As President Obama noted, such violence and tragedy have become nearly routine in the United States, where gun violence has increased to epidemic proportions. It can be difficult to see how to chart the course forward, navigating through the tide of hatred and despair we sometimes feel swirling around us. It is a struggle not to become numb.
How can we come together, as people of many faiths and experiences to move past hatred and pursue a more just world? This weighs on my mind and has kept me up at night for years. It's a question that drives me daily at Auburn Seminary, a leadership development and research center where we identify and support leaders of faith and moral courage to advance the multifaith movement for justice.
Just as different faith traditions illuminate the pathway to shared and distinctive truths, we need varied faith-rooted solutions for healing our world. Though I am dedicated to growing individual leadership, healing cannot be accomplished through a single voice representing one path. And the need for multiple voices is not about volume, it's not about just being louder.
To move past hatred and find solutions to the complex issues that we face, we need the unique and collective compassion, brilliance, and faith of many voices. Even, and perhaps especially, those with whom we share disagreement or even conflict.
Sometimes we become so immersed in the justice cause with which we are aligned, or sequestered in the comfort of our closed and closest circle, that we don't make space for the contributions of real diversity. Yet, it is in "the other" that we might find ways forward on a surprising path, very different from the way we might personally steer.
For example, Auburn recently had the privilege of working with filmmaker Abigail Disney on her documentary, The Armor of Light, which follows an Evangelical minister's journey to explore the sanctity of life. This journey takes him from someone who is a radical pro-life activist to an advocate for sensible gun control within his NRA world. We watch him, sometimes successfully, sometimes painfully, reach across political and theological spectrums. His journey is personally and politically complex, but it shows us the power and potential of working across what seem to be unbridgeable divides, in the effort to create change.
Sometimes it is incumbent upon leaders to "lead from behind" in order for diversity to grow—a phrase that can provide food for thought for faith leaders whose place is often in front of the crowd. Earlier this year, Auburn Seminary engaged in such an experiment. We launched the Auburn Senior Fellows program as part of a concerted effort to help strengthen and equip diverse leadership serving on the frontlines of justice across the country.
Over these past few months, I've seen a spirit of support and collaboration among this group, all important leaders in their own right, as they've rolled up their sleeves and worked together, sometimes on the front lines and sometimes behind the scenes. Some said it couldn't be done. I say it is in the sometimes unexpected common ground that we can find the most powerful response to hatred and despair. We cannot afford to become numb by doing things as they've always been done. It is in this place of unexpected common ground that I have hope.