Pastors Respond to Boston Marathon Bombings, Some Pray for Suspect
Update (April 22): The police shootout that killed one of the suspected marathon bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, took place outside the Watertown home of a Southern Baptist church planter. The pastor, who shared his story with Baptist Press, is part of the broader trend of Southern Baptists targeting New England for new churches.
Meanwhile, Philip Jenkins offers helpful background on Chechnya's Islamist movement and explains why Suf Islam "could yet become a potent de facto ally for Western interests."
Update (April 19): Amid the relief and celebration following the capture of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Friday night, some Christians spoke up to pray for him.
Taken into police custody, the 19-year-old was hospitalized in serious condition after suffering injuries from two altercations with police.
During the search for Dzhokhar, which had residents across the Boston area on lockdown for most of Friday, John Piper tweeted prayers that he be caught and his soul be saved: "My prayer for the running Boston bomber: Make his foot slip. Spare more victims. Save his soul." Following his capture, Piper indicated he would continue to pray for the suspect's salvation, saying, "Two prayers answered. One to go."
Huffington Post Religion quoted clergy, Catholic sites, and other Christian tweeters who were praying for Dzhokhar because "he is still a child of God" and "we are to pray for our enemies."
LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer sent a tweet saying, "'But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' -Jesus."
Dzhokhar's older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also a suspect, died following a firefight with police the night before.
Update (April 19): RNS has a solid profile of chaplains at Boston Medical Center.
Updated (April 18): Boston residents and marathon runners gathered Thursday morning for an interfaith prayer service entitled "Healing Our City," held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and livestreamed on CatholicTV.
President Barack Obama will address the crowd of 2,000, along with local clergy, including Pastor Nancy S. Taylor, of Old South Church (located near an explosion site); Pastor Liz Walker, of Roxbury Presbyterian Church; Metropolitan Methodios, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston; Pastor Roberto Miranda, of Congregación León de Judá; Bishop John M. Borders III, of Morning Star Baptist Church; and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, of the Archdiocese of Boston; and leaders from Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Former Republican governor Mitt Romney attended the service, the Washington Post reported.
After twin bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three spectators and left more than 100 hospitalized, religious leaders in Boston and beyond offered their responses to a grieving city and shocked country–pausing to, as Twitter users quickly put it, #PrayforBoston.
Martin Richard, 8, became the first identified victim, as a photograph of a gap-toothed kid standing in front of church after his First Communion circled the media. Members of St. Ann's parish in Dorchester, Mass., the Richards cheered on runners during Monday's race. Martin's mother and sister were also injured. (The Washington Post says that Martin's father was not a runner in the marathon, despite earlier reports.)
Pastors from across the country joined the swell of response on Twitter, offering sympathy and prayers, as well as reflecting more deeply on the tragedy. LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer reflected on hope in the midst of brokenness and offered a roundup of reactions from Boston pastors. Mars Hill pastor David Fairchild wrote, "God, not bombs, has the last say over death."
Pastor and author Rick Warren, who recently lost his son to suicide, tweeted, "A cousin who attended Matthew's funeral also ran the Boston Marathon today. His wife sat in that section. Both are OK."
The historic Old South Church in Boston (pictured right), located next door to the site of the first explosion, secured its building Monday afternoon following the incident and announced it would be closed Tuesday. The United Church of Christ congregation posted on its Facebook page, "Old South in Boston's building is secure and we echo the request of the Governor for all those to remain home and pray with our brothers and sisters. We thank all those who have expressed concern and prayer."
Pastor Emily C. Heath reflected on the church and the iconic block of Boylston Street where the attacks took place. "When I saw the pictures of Old South shrouded in smoke this afternoon, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I still do. Whomever (sic) placed the bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon today knew what they were doing. And they knew that when they were detonated, they would strike a psychic as well as physical blow to the city," she wrote in a piece for Huffington Post Religion.
Also nearby is Trinity Church Copley Square, about 300 yards past the Boston Marathon's finish line. Trinity had closed for the race, and the area around the church remains sealed as the investigation continues. The church's rector, Patrick C. Ward, told Episcopal News Service he was "hugely relieved" to learn the church's team of runners was safe. Nearby Episcopal churches opened for services and prayer vigils Monday night, ENS reported.
The Archdiocese of Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley sent a message from the Holy Land following the attacks and will be returning to Boston to join the city's faith community "to witness the greater power of good in our society and to work together for healing." He offered sorrow for the tragic events and praised the work of Bostonians and first responders in a statement posted online. The Vatican sent a telegram to the archdiocese, saying Pope Francis "prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21)."
Continuous Twitter responses and news updates bring to mind an essay from CT executive editor Andy Crouch on turning off the news after a tragedy. Consuming this constant coverage, he writes, can lead people "to substitute information for contemplation, the illusion of engagement for prayer."
Also relevant are Philip Yancey's recent reflections on God in tragedy: "Tragedy rightly calls faith into question, but it also affirms faith. It is good news that we are not the random byproducts of a meaningless universe, but rather creations of a loving God who wants to live with us forever."