Over the weekend, tragedy once again rocked our country to its core as two separate mass shootings occurred within hours of each other in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
More than that, these senseless shootings revealed a fracture that has long existed in our nation. America has walked with a limp for years now without acknowledging the underlying pain.
Unfortunately, it appears, Christianity in America has shared the same fate—taking its cue from culture on how to best handle tragedy. At times, when men and women of faith genuinely lament about tragedy other men and women of faith tend to read too much into their words.
One need only take a look at Ed Stetzer’s Twitter timeline to see responses to his call for prayer and action in light of this tragedy. The responses range from others calling him a social justice warrior or a right wing conservative.
Homeless Christians, Fractured Culture
Today, I write on behalf of homeless Christians in America. Men and women who sit and watch “conservative” and “liberal” men and women of faith bicker and pose either/or arguments for both/and issues.
Christians who call for our nation to pray and lament are met with resistant from brothers and sister in the Lord proclaiming, “Keep your thoughts and prayers.” Christians who call for our nation to rethink the way it approaches gun ownership are met with resistance from brothers in the sisters in the Lord proclaiming, “Keep your Constitutional criticism. “
How did we get here? As a Christian, what’s wrong with offering thoughts and prayers and a plan of action? As a moderate Christian, I’ve been asked to choose a side. But I care too deeply about the gospel to choose a side in the battle.
Instead, I chose to believe in a God who saves and a God who changes culture—or in the words of Richard Niebuhr, I believe in a Christ who both saves souls and transforms culture. And I won’t apologize about it.
The Importance of Lament
Transforming culture, however, requires a longing. A longing to see that which is broken set right. In light of tragedy, we need room. We need room to lament without judgment. Lament gives us the ability to approach a sovereign God in light of tragic events—pouring out our hearts, articulating our desire for God himself, as our Great Physician, to fix the fracture.
At times, we undermine the importance of our prayer closet in favor of our social media timeline. Breaking news should first break our hearts, not lead us to immediately check our character count or update our status.
In times like these, private lament and prayer should always precede our public comments. And even then, the grace of the gospel should saturate our public comments.
The Importance of the Gospel
The world doesn’t need talking points, it needs the gospel. And by the gospel I mean the WHOLE gospel. You don’t platform the gospel, you proclaim it. At the same time, you can’t proclaim the gospel without living out its implications.
That means we pray for changed hearts, but we also move our changed feet. That means we think about issues deeper than our perceived God-given rights to bear arms and challenge our legislators to move toward placing greater restrictions on gun ownership in America.
The same gospel that saved tens of thousands at Billy Graham crusades led to legislative changes that affirmed the image of God in men and women of color in the 1960s. That’s the gospel that we’ve always needed, and that’s the gospel we need today more than ever.
So I join men and women across this country in praying and lamenting. But I also join men and women across this country who are calling legislatures and finding real tangible ways to be light in this world. None of us should have to explain ourselves for doing both, because I believe that’s what it looks like to faithfully proclaim and live the gospel we all love and know to be true.
John C. Richards, Jr. is the Pastor of Assimilation at Saint Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas and the former Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is a graduate of Morehouse College and Howard University School of Law and serves on the Board of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective.