In response to Christchurch
March 15, 2019
As I write this, reports are 49 dead and dozens injured in Christchurch, New Zealand, in an act of terror. Four people being held, with questions around three of them not resolved yet. The details may change as reporting continues, but the reality of it all won’t. It was a planned attach on two mosques while people were worshipping. Bombs were found in at least one car. These mosques would have been filled with Kiwi Muslims, immigrants, refugees from violence elsewhere. Everyone dead or injured has their own story, as valuable and meaningful as anyone else’s—and as precious in God’s heart.
We paused when the shooting took place in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. We paused when the shooting took place in the churches in South Carolina, and Texas. We paused when the shooting took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We’ve paused too many times. The distance between here and New Zealand shouldn’t give us shelter, or any sense of separation. For in our world of interconnectedness, these distances aren’t all that distant. These are neighbors. We should pause now too. Just as we should pause when we hear news of mosques or churches or synagogues or other places of gathering attacked in Iraq, Egypt, France, Jerusalem, Germany, or anywhere.
Preliminary reports are that this act in Christchurch was done by one or more white supremacists. They added to their perverse ideology of racial superiority a moral mandate to cleanse their small world of things and persons they believe impure and threatening, by any means necessary. For them, maybe it was their ideas about what it means to be a “New Zealander.” In our context, it often comes down to what someone thinks it means to be an “American.” It seems to me that the lethal combination is that combination of ideology and moral mandate—to force what you want by cultivating fear, with no guiding or chastening principles but victory. Combine this with delusional views of one’s own power and mistaken assumptions about how things work, and you’ve got fire on fuel.
We can rightly name mental illness behind some of these attacks. But I think we’d be wrong to assume that naming mental illness isolates the problem to the individuals who commit the acts. For delusional and mentally ill folk use images and themes like any of us do, drawn from images and themes available in the wider culture. Available rhetoric is used to create imagined stories of identity or righteousness that end in violence. That doesn’t mean that those who are reasonable are responsible for how otherwise rational debates are manipulated into crusades of violence by a few. But it does mean that we’d do well to be careful, to think about how we think and talk about how we talk, and put more themes of reconciliation and honest conversation into the public domain than we do themes of judgment and battle. And we’d do well to promote learning, interest in others, and patience with difference even as we ask critical questions and speak of truth.
This I know we can do as the church. And this we’re trying to do here at Pinnacle. Let’s keep at it, assured that even if we’re not talking about things that seem directly related to these terrible events of yesterday, we’re still cultivating the ground of healing, of hope, and of a better way.
And let us pray for all those who harbor such delusions, and hate: that their hearts might be stirred toward a truer righteousness. And let us pray for victims and their families. And let us pray for those all-around the world, and even here, who watch things like what happened yesterday in Christchurch and are afraid for their own safety. Today, let us let those prayers go especially to Muslims in our own community, for freedom to worship and freedom from fear.