Pundits are working overtime on the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, and I certainly do not intend to become another one. But as a leader in the church, I think it is important to help people think through what is going on in the world. So often, these days, the church has a “private” sphere of existence to match the privatized faith of its members. Christians in the United States do not generally practice the conviction of Anabaptists and consciously stay separate from the godless ways of the world. They are more likely to be driven into privacy by the unacceptable nature of their “views” and the supposed irrelevance of their faith. That pressure is reinforced by legal and public-school teaching that faith is just a personal choice or preference and has no objective value.
I told the congregation last night that they may be increasingly called upon to have objective value in a society that is increasingly frayed at the edges. When the society is committed to domination by violence — as the U.S. has been for over a decade in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, when the policy of the government is to flood the country with guns in the name of “freedom” and “rights,” when the political discourse is about winning and not about the common good, expect the forces of evil to be more bold.
I hope Jared Loughner’s attack results in some common sense governance. If the government bans hand guns and stops the revolving door treatment for mental patients that will be great. I am not anticipating the U.S. government to abandon deeply entrenched convictions, however. As for the church, I hope the attack wakes us out of our general acquiescence to the spirit of the age, drives us out of our preoccupation with arguing about human rights and nonessentials, and convicts us to speak the truth in love to a fearful and endangered people.
We followers of Jesus have a lot to say and demonstrate in relation to this attack. Apparently, alongside his other problems, Jared Loughner was religious. He had a shrine to death in his backyard, according to the Daily News. Police investigators had seen the symbols before. Parts of the media and Arizona Republicans are rushing to label Loughner in scientific terms as “unstable” and dampen down his ability to make a rational choice. That is likely to prove true. But along with being influenced by the political maelstrom our leaders have created, he was apparently influenced by evil quite directly.
One of the main benefits I derive from being a Christian is that when I pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” I can expect a reply. Loughner was apparently praying the opposite. He had already given over to temptation and was assigned to deliver evil. We won’t be able to overcome evil with evil, as is the general policy of the government domination system. We won’t be able to overcome evil with scientific explanation – especially when the government won’t contribute enough to mental healthcare to respond to the explanations. We will have to overcome evil with good, or it will not be overcome.
That’s where we come in as followers of Jesus. The system dominates us and explains us away, too – and who knows when the millions of guns may be turned on us! But we have the response of God to our cries, seen in Jesus and resident in His Spirit, to help us receive good and to offer good. I hope this incident helps wake us up to how necessary we are. Just owning our value as God’s co-workers makes a difference. Acting creatively to speak the truth in love in troubling times makes even more of a difference. Whether we have a cogent commentary to offer about current events or not, we can certainly tell our story about Jesus and the reality he has revealed to us. He said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)