I suspect that this will not be a popular post, but some things have to be said.
Like many of you, I’m tired of responding to shootings with “thoughts and prayers,” but that’s the best option I have available, especially if it prompts us to put pressure on our elected representatives.
I’ve heard some talk of we need more people going to church armed, but I don’t think that’s the solution. Given that this Church was in Texas, I’m fairly sure that at least one person in attendance was armed, and it didn’t do any good. Furthermore, even if someone was armed and managed to respond, that would just mean more shots being fired and more innocent bystanders coming to harm. Just because someone has a concealed carry permit doesn’t mean they have the training to respond to a shooter. And then when the police arrive they have no way of knowing the difference between the “good guy with a gun” and the “bad guy with a gun.” And in addition to that, we have the example of Jesus’s own rebuke of the sword drawn in his defense.
I think instead it might be beneficial to recover the model of the Christian martyr. Christ called us to take up our cross and follow him. Our faith is worth dying for and dying in the act of worship certainly counts as dying for the faith. Some early Christians were so taken by the idea of martyrdom that the early church had to declare that martyrdom was not to be actively sought. I agree with that, but there are far worse ways to go than being shot in the act of worship. Those who died in the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church died for their faith and for that I honor them. That will be of little solace to their families and close friends, but it is all I have to offer.
Note: I’ve never had an issue with law enforcement officers coming to church armed (especially when they are on duty).
If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on the tail of the mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. — Bishop Desmond Tutu 
This truth is why the ancient Hebrew prophets were also so quick to denounce injustice and why we must do likewise.
 Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), 19.
I plan to stick with the usual Apostles’ Creed in for worship, but I wanted to share this version here.
Two concerns to add to your prayer list this morning:
- The mass shooting in Las Vegas. Pray for the victims and their families. Pray that we as a nation might find the political will to make this mass shooting the last.
- Congress has allowed “the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has reduced the uninsured rate among kids to 5% from 14% over the two decades of its existence” to expire. Pray for the children. 
 Lesley, Bruce. “Congress Just Blew a Chance to save Healthcare for 9 Million Children.” Los Angeles Times. Accessed October 02, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-chip-funding-20170929-story.html.
Below the fold is a statement from the Bishop of the Great Plains Annual Conference issued August 15, 2017. It is not short, but it is worth your time.
Sometimes I am disappointed by the United Methodist Church, some days I am dismayed, this is not one of those days.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, has issued a statement addressing the recent executive order on refugees and immigrants. He was blunt:
The biblical witness is clear and unambiguous.
Walls are unbiblical. Hospitality is biblical.
Denying one’s neighbor is unbiblical. Welcoming the stranger is biblical.
He’s correct. We may not want to hear it, but God has been quite clear. To give just one example, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).
You can read the whole statement here: https://goo.gl/hcYkfO
Warning: this post may strike some readers as political. Though I hope it is not partisan, you may want to skip it.
In a recent sermon on Matthew 2:13-23, I compared the baby Jesus and his parents to Syrian refugees. Like Syrian refugees, the baby Jesus and his parents were:
- Fleeing from a despotic, tyrannical rulers (ISIS and King Herod, respectively).
- Fleeing from a part of the world known to be politically unstable.
- Fleeing from an area known to be filled with religious fanatics.
- Fleeing to an area where they would have been a religious minority.
- Not Christian (Jesus was less than two years old and his parents were devout Jews).
- Not Caucasian, in fact, I can’t help but think they probably look a lot like the people in news photographs of Syrian refugees.
If the Holy Spirit is pricking your conscience and you want to help, the church is collecting school kits for refugees and others like them in dire need (they will go wherever the greatest need is, so we can’t say with absolute certainty where they will end up).
Rev. James M. Lawson is a United Methodist Pastor who was a leader in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Speaking of his experiences in this (admittedly somewhat corny) video from United Methodist Communications, he makes the connection between the Civil Rights Movement and our Christian Faith. That faith connection is one of the reasons I resonate with this issue.
I wasn’t going to post on this issue any more, but the Bishop did a great job at a recent press conference and I’m so thankful for his leadership on this issue. It’s well worth 10 minutes of your time.
Jeremiah, the ancient Hebrew prophet, said that if he didn’t speak on behalf of the Lord “then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot.” Please believe me when I say that I write this post on Syrian refugees not because I want to, but because I must.
In June of 1939, the United States turned away the St. Louis, a ship filled with refugees from Europe, most of them Jewish. This was at a time when the concentration camps were already up and running. The ship was so close to safety that its passengers could see the lights of Miami, Florida. But, denied entry by the United States, the ship returned to Europe and eventually 254 of it’s passengers died in the Holocaust. We didn’t like the Nazis, but we didn’t feel obligated to take in those who were fleeing from them. They were turned away from the United States in part because they were not Christian (back then we were as suspicious of Jews as we now are of Muslims) and because there was a concern that they represented a threat to national security.
From that mistake, we learned our lesson. Since World War II the United States has led the world in welcoming refugees. But given popular opinion and the stance many of our leaders are taking, I’m afraid we’re going to have to learn that lesson once again. If we take Syrian refugees in something could go terribly wrong, but if we don’t take them something will go terribly wrong, indeed it already is.
Vox.com has more at http://bit.ly/1SLuuPJ
Bishop Scott Jones has written a thoughtful, carefully considered article on the Syrian Refuge Crisis titled “We Must Recognize We Are Engaged in Cultural War.” I encourage you to read it all. He makes the scriptural argument for welcoming Syrian refugees, and then he says the following:
“When Western countries mistreat and reject Muslims, it becomes a recruiting tool and propaganda weapon for our enemies. I am deeply disappointed that so many governors (including those of Kansas and Nebraska where I serve) have rejected the idea of receiving refugees. They are pandering to our worst fears and failing to lead us to be our best selves as a nation. They are making a strategic mistake and giving aid to our enemies. This culture war will be won by the Christian values of love, tolerance, mutual respect and hospitality. As a nation and as states, we need to welcome the stranger among us.” — Bishop Scott Jones.
Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland are the strongest possible rebuke to ISIS propaganda. I understand the (not unreasonable) fear that many have about welcoming refugees into our communities, but to turn them away is turn our backs on the clear witness of scripture and to do exactly what ISIS would like us to do.
I read the Bishop’s article yesterday and resolved to write the above blog post linking to it today. Then I was confronted with the opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. The District Superintendent called and said they were looking for United Methodist Churches willing to support and sponsor Syrian refugees. She wondered if Abilene First might be one of those churches. After consulting with the lay leader, the chair of the church council, and both lay delegates to Annual Conference, Jenny and I have decided to call a congregational meeting after worship this coming Sunday. Recently we, as a congregation, have practiced holy conferencing around the issues of homosexuality and the separation of church and state. My hope is that we can do the same around this issue.