Christian Rhetoric During a National Crisis
Last week another horrific mass shooting—this one a terrorist event—happened in California. This followed a shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado, which followed a horrific, ISIS-led mass attack in Paris.
We’re living in a dangerous world.
Terror and all kinds of evil seem to happen every day in communities that seem impervious to this. We are inundated with details because we are all wired to social media, television and other mediums. Every event is now a national, even global, event. And every person with a smartphone is now a reporter, a commentator or a policy analyst. This is the reality of the world in which we live, whether we like it or not.
So the question for Christians is now twofold; how should we think about these events, and how should we respond to these events? Much ink has been and will be spilled on the former, but I’m not sure we’re giving enough thoughtful attention to the latter. Can we do better than we’ve been doing?
This may not be a question that previous generations of Christians could have answered. News was more localized, unless it was a massive national story, such as the assassination of President Kennedy or the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were newspapers who brought stories to our front stoops the next day, radio bulletins and “The Big Three” news outlets. Today, we know immediately when something happens. And we have immediate access to tools that allow us to express our opinions, whether or not we’ve reviewed all the facts or are qualified to respond. So how do Christians think and respond when crisis strikes in this new digital age? How does Scripture inform this?
Here are a few collected thoughts from Scripture on what it might look like to develop a distinctly Christian voice:
1) Get the facts before you respond. James 1:19 reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” The social media news cycle encourages the opposite, but if we are to be like Christ, if we are to show the world what a distinctly Christian voice looks like, it matters not just what we say, but how we say it. First reports, after a terrorist attack or a mass shooting or any kind of crime, are usually wrong. Waiting to get the facts before opining may mean less clicks on the blog or less retweets. It may not further endear us to our political tribe, but it’s the right, godly and wise thing to do.
2) Offer prayers for those involved. There was much discussion about the ridiculous “prayer shaming” in response to the San Bernadino shootings. Russell Moore has a great response to that here. Prayer should be the first thing we offer. Prayer is not a last resort; it’s the first resort. Also, prayer doesn’t mean the absence of action. Consider Nehemiah’s leadership in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem while fending off attack (Neh. 4:1-23). Pray and watch, pray and build. Pray and plan. Consider Jesus’ words to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: pray and watch (Mat. 26:41; Luke 21:36). If what we believe about Christ is true, then prayer to the God of the universe made possible by faith in Christ as our mediator is the most powerful force in the world.
We might also consider how we pray. We shouldn’t just tweet out that we are praying. We should actually stop what we are doing and start praying. We should pray for victims and pray for leaders.
3) We should pray for our leaders at all levels. Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 to pray for our leaders, at all levels. Consider who Paul was instructing Timothy to pray for: corrupt, decadent, tyrannical, bloodthirsty Roman leaders. Even America’s worst political leaders were nothing like the leaders in first-century Rome. If Timothy could pray for Nero, we can and should pray for our President, our governors, our Congress, our Supreme Court, etc. And we should pray for them, not just in a flippant, “I hope they see it my way” kind of prayer, but in a deeply felt, honest prayer. We should pray they govern well, lead well and respond well. These are dangerous and challenging times to be a public official. They need wisdom and grace from God.
Praying for our leaders is not a feel-good, optional thing for Christians. It’s a command for every believer—before we rant on social media,before we link to that damaging article, and before we opine during a national crisis.
4) We should mourn with those who mourn. Christians should be empathic toward those who suffer loss in a national tragedy. Genuine empathy literally “weeps with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Deep and heartfelt sorrow for victims should be one of our first responses. We should avoid trite cliches that don’t offer solace or the “victim-shaming” of Job’s friends. We should resist easy solutions or “what could have happened.” Instead, we should offer genuine empathy and grace and act to provide relief in whatever ways we can. Sometimes our proximity will allow us to be close enough to offer tangible relief, at other moments all we can do is donate to an an appropriate cause or offer prayers and comfort from afar. At the very least, our public statements should reflect a deep sorrow toward those who suffer.
5) We should resist the impulse to use a crisis to score cheap partisan points. There is a disturbing tendency to leverage a crisis to score cheap partisan points. Both sides of the political spectrum do this. But is it the way of Christ? Is a national crisis the time to shame the other side? Is it the time to respond, with equal shame, to the other side’s shaming? I’m reminded of some imperatives from Scripture when it comes to political leaders:
- We should obey them (1 Pet. 2:13).
- We should respect them (1 Pet. 2:17).
- We should pray for them (1 Tim. 2:13).
- They are ultimately put in place by a sovereign God (Rom. 13:1-3).
- They are to be “Gods’ servants” for the good of the people they serve (Rom. 13:4).
- They are delegated by God to enact justice on evil (Rom. 13:4).
None of these imperatives from God regarding our leaders are optional, nor are they conditioned by the quality or ideology of the leaders. When we behave Christianly toward those who rule us, we demonstrate trust in our sovereign Lord. This doesn’t mean we withhold substantive critique, but the tone of our rhetoric must reflect respect, honor and dignity toward someone put in place by God. And we still need to work hard, in a representative democracy, for the very best leaders. To do any less would be an abdication of this stewardship we’ve been given, as Americans, to shape our government. We should do this, however, without all of the uncivil rhetoric and cheap partisan score-keeping. We should hold our political opinions, as important as they are, more loosely and be the kind of people who genuinely seek solutions for the good of human flourishing.
6) We should offer robust, thoughtful, wise policy solutions. Christians shouldn’t shrink back from offering substantive, thoughtful policy solutions to help prevent future crises. We should do this because we love our neighbors and because we care deeply about human flourishing. We should care about stemming violence because we care about human dignity. Every victim of crime is a human created in God’s image.
Faithful Christians will differ on what these proposals look like but should learn how to disagree charitably, holding our opinions loosely and our relationships tightly. We should advocate for just laws that not only reflect the Scripture’s teaching on human dignity, but are also effective and wise. Our ideas should come from strong, biblical reasoning, but should avoid the kind of lazy, proof-texting of Scripture that seeks to shame those who disagree with us. We should engage opinions of those who have substantive differences and look for common ground where we can, without sacrificing core Christian principles.
7) We should point the world to the Christian hope of Christ’s victory over death, evil and the grave. At the end of the day, we are gospel people. Let’s not forget that. While we mourn and grieve in national tragedies, while we offer respect and honor for those who lead us, while we work for human flourishing, let’s do this motivated by the truth of Christ’s triumphant life, death and resurrection. In a world of fear, crime, uncertainty, outrage, disappointment, and cynicism, we have been given the precious message of gospel hope. Christ has defeated sin, death and the grave. He’s conquered the enemy powers. He’s renewing and restoring his people, and he will one day return in final victory. If national crises do anything, they should motivate us to give our lives over to spreading the gospel to the nations and organize our lives and thinking around this earth-shaking reality.