The story from Oregon, regarding the Umqua Community College shooting, has several points which the media keeps hammering:
- Was this a religious hate crime against Christians
- Gun control laws
- Mental Illness
- The Internet
How do we take these talking points and craft them into a meaningful message of hope? It’s a question I am struggling with myself. All I know is that I am committed to asking a lot of questions before laying pen to paper. I came up with 7 questions to act as my rubric for crafting a response to share with my youth group about tragedies that grip our nation.
Do I have all the facts?
People tweet, post, and share without all the facts. If we don’t know or have not heard it from a credible source, then maybe we should leave it out. Dealing with the the facts will help us stay away from here say, conjecture, and opinion.
Will my tone exploit the people who have suffered this tragedy?
I get queasy when I hear people use a tragedy to promote an agenda. Using someone else’s pain to prop up a position just doesn’t feel right. I preached at camp one time and used an example of the Colorado shooters of Columbine High School. There was a girl who was a student at the school at the time of the shooting. She came up to me afterwards and told me she was there. Fortunately, I had not said anything that had offended her. Let’s ask ourselves, “Could I preach this with someone who was effected by the tragedy in the room?” This will keep us from using a tone that would cheapen the loss and sacrifice of those effected.
Am I preaching about the core problem or a symptom?
I just read in a USA Today article about a note that was found at the shooters house. The article shares some key thoughts such as:
“left behind a document that glorified mass killings and bitterly referred to his lonely existence with few human contacts outside of the Internet, a law enforcement official said Friday.
The rambling document left behind, and believed to be written by the shooter, lamented an isolated life with little promise, the official said.
The contents and tone of the document, the official said, tracked the often desperate and depressed writings from members of a loosely affiliated group known as the “beta boys.” The official said members associated with the group share profound disappointment with their lots in life and the lack of meaningful relationships.
Am I using this story to get an emotional response?
Not only can we exploit those who have suffered a tragedy but we can unintentionally or intentionally exploit our own students. The opportunity to exploit our own students raw emotions may be a temptation, but don’t do it. Rather than use this opportunity for get a temporary response, use this opportunity to build strong disciples who can grow through emotions and articulate a thoughtful response to those who are hurting around them. Don’t tell them what or how to feel, give them a chance to share how they feel and respond to that.
Am I giving the glory to God or to the tragedy?
We can talk about all the grizzly details of a tragedy in sensational ways but none of it will glorify God if there’s not hope strewn throughout the message. God is at the center of every story whether that story is a romance, a comedy, or a in this case, a tragedy. How can we reveal the God of all mercy and comfort through the scriptures to those who are hurting or scared?
Let us not talk only about the tragedy but the heroes sung and unsung in the tragedy. in the case of the Oregon shooting consider veteran Chris Mintz who tried to talk the the shooter down and put himself in harms way to help save others. Chris was shot 7 times but will recover. Let’s raise the level of dialogue which would inspire our kids to emulate his actions rather than fear the moment.
“No great love has this that a man lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13
Does this story need to be preached or discussed? Or Both?
Maybe we don’t need to preach. Maybe we should
- Break up into small groups and discuss some of the core issues at hand
- Reflect on the our relationship with God and the brevity of life
- Pray for peace in our schools
- Talk about ways to reach out to those who are hurting, alone, and different
I am not saying we don’t preach or share a message but we should always consider the format when talking about tough things like shootings, etc.
Can I keep my opinion out of this?
Don’t let anyone fool you, preachers have opinions too. The question is whether they are appropriate when speaking about tough subjects to a mass audience? I would say our opinion matters little and is fluff and should be cut out. What matters most is what does the Bible say not what do we have to say about the subject. Our opinions could divide our youth ministry but Scripture can unite them under one banner.
Unfortunately, this will not be the last tragedy the church will have to deal with. Let us be ready with a good word, a right word, and a timely filtered through The Word.
If you have preached though a tragedy I’d love your thoughts and opinions. Please leave them below. Thanks.