On the day of the shooting in Arizona, Diana Butler Bass posted a call for pastors to take on the issues around the shooting in the pulpit on Jan. 9. She admonished pastors not to leave the commentary on the news of the day to the talking heads.
At their best, American pulpits are not about taking sides and blaming. Those pulpits should be places to reflect on theology and life, on the Word and our words. I hope that sermons tomorrow will go beyond expressions of sympathy or calls for civility and niceness. Right now, we need some sustained spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans–how much we’ve allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we’ve allowed our discourse to become, how little we’ve listened, how much we’ve dehumanized public servants, how much we hate.
I was uncomfortable with Bass’ suggestion when I read it because it assumes so much. Especially on the day of the shooting itself, we knew almost nothing about the man now in custody for the killings. We knew nothing about his motivation or his sanity.
Today, it seems no more clear to me than it did on that day that the man who pulled the trigger was acting from any motivation drummed into his head by our vitriolic political climate. It sounds like he was descending into the black abyss of insanity. If so, it is difficult to blame politics for his actions any more than we can blame Robert De Niro for John Hinkley Jr.
In writing that, I do not mean to say I approve of our politics. Fear and anger stalk our politics. Millions of dollars are spent turning fellow human beings into monsters and sub-human beasts. There is not an ounce of Christian charity in any of it. It has to change.
But I’m not convinced – for what it is worth – that tying this shooting incident to our political culture is either accurate or helpful.
Let people of faith pray. Let us mourn. Let us decry senseless pain and death. Let us praise God for the heroes and the caretakers.
And let us talk seriously about what politicians, journalists, and citizens who profess to worship God say and do. Let us preach against the sins of our political culture. Let us instruct each other how to love our adversaries and honor God even while engaged in a competition for votes. Let us honor and glorify God in all things – even politics.
But let us also have the patience and the prudence to learn the facts before we encourage pastors to take to pulpits and use outrage to fill the voids where our knowledge is incomplete.