Last week’s blog dealt with what the government can do to help stop mass violence. From a religious perspective it can do little because of the prohibition of the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. However, the governments, local, state and federal can utilize the underlying principles found in the Christian approach to managing violence. Also, steps are being taken to identify potential mass shooters and bombers before they have a chance to act on their plans.
The understanding of mass violence in the form of school and mall shootings and public bombings like in Boston is hindered by the fact that most shooters die in carrying out the violence, so psychologists and sociologists don’t have much to work with. The suicides, whether self-inflicted or by police, do tell us something because suicide is really an attempt to stop emotional pain. And, in the case of mass violence, it is linked to extreme anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion usually caused by the frustration of being blocked or thwarted from doing something, and the underlying emotion can be identified. Sometimes anger is caused by a feeling of helplessness, vulnerability or powerlessness. One man who was prevented from carrying out a mass shooting said he was angry because society doesn’t work. This was his way of saying he could not cope in society. He experienced the frustration of not being able to fulfill the role he envisioned for himself in society, and that frustration generated his anger toward undefined others. Proverb 17:4 says wrath is cruel and anger is outrageous, but neither can stand before envy. And, envy is a byproduct of pride. It’s coveting what others have that you don’t have. Frustrated envy can drive some people to do things that they might not otherwise do.
Anger can sometimes be a defense mechanism to mentally protect us from ourselves. It can be a denial device to shift blame from ourselves to another or others. I had a white German Shepard named Snowball for over 14 years before she died from swallowing small pieces of barbecue spare rib bones I gave her as a treat. She couldn’t digest the bone and her stomach bloated, putting pressure on her heart. The vet could not save her. In my pain I became angry at Snowball for dying. How could she do that to me? I knew in my head that my anger towards her was unwarranted. It was really my fault Snowball died. But it was still two days before I could get myself over from being angry at her and accept the responsibility for her death. In another way I was trying to protect myself, because Snowball had been a part of my life for more than 14 years, and part of my existence died with her. In that sense I felt vulnerable and partially exposed. My unfounded anger was an emotional defense reaction to losing the part of me that died with Snowball.
Society doesn’t work by itself. God didn’t design society to work without His direction. We cannot operate this world well without God’s direction. The would be shooter was right in that respect. The historical books of the Old Testament tell story after story about how the Jews lived well under God’s direction, but failed miserably when they tried to manage their affairs on their own. And societies are, of course comprised of collections of individuals. Therefore Christians have two paths to take in confronting the issue of mass violence, the corporate, or group workings, and individual action. And, the best action to take is preventative work. This is also a two-fold plan. First, intervention in planned violence and second, bringing up children who have a Christian foundation for coping with society. Politicians don’t like long-term solutions because the public won’t see the results in time for the next election. But the God-based approach is the only one that works, because it’s based on the principles given by the One who created the universe and society.
Our secular society is failing miserably just as the Jews’ attempts at self-governing failed. We are legalizing and glorifying sin, and then we wonder why the crime rate is so high, and why we have so many (God imposed) natural disasters. Intervening in societal violence requires a proactive approach. It’s not driving around looking for someone with a car full of guns and ammo, but rather spreading the offer of help with eliminating the root causes of the extreme anger. It’s offering a way for persons who feel threatened, vulnerable and angry to be free of these emotions and to learn how to appropriately and constructively cope with society.
Proactive is the the key word here. Many Christian programs just start up, announce their existence, and then sit back and wait for others to find them. It’s embarrassing to say it, but the cults are far better at reaching hurting people than are most Christian groups. Think about it. What groups send people to knock on your door? Exceptions do exist, like the Dream Center in L. A., California. When the Center first started, the volunteers went out into the neighborhood to help the residents with their concrete problems and needs. Help first, evangelism next. They transformed the neighborhood in a short period of time. The Dream Center today is housed in what used to be a huge hospital. It helps thousands of people every year to get back on their feet and become productive members of society. When a new person comes to the center, the first thing a workers asks them is, “What is your dream”, and then the center helps them to accomplish that dream. The Dream Center is so successful because ultimately it’s God who founded it and is operating it, and because they actively engage others in social media, advertising and with public relations efforts.
Intervention in potential mass violence means being available to talk with and help persons who may otherwise become school or mall shooters. It’s befriending the teen who is the school outcast, or the person who has just lost his job that he’s held for 20 years, and finding aid for the mentally challenged so they can become productive and accomplish their dream at some level. It’s making potential shooters and bombers feel a sense of personal value and worth and that they matter to others. It means figuratively popping the safety valves on emotional pressure cookers.
Personal action by individual Christians doesn’t mean wandering around city streets thumping a Bible and handing out tracts. It means engaging others in conversations. It means finding out what’s bothering others by really listening to them. My dad, out of frustration, once told me I’d never learn anything with my mouth open. It would be better, he advised, for me to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. That was good advice. We need to listen to others to find out what their problems are-and about their dreams.
In the photo above, Napth, a street evangelist, is sitting with a couple in Old Town Albuquerque listening to and talking with them about their concerns and about Christ, and how Jesus relates to solving their problems. He’s not preaching to them, he’s having a discussion with them about their concerns. Approaching people this way means talking with many people that you’d probably rather not talk with, not to. It means talking with others about their concerns and not talking down to them, and treating them with respect and kindness, even if that person is homeless and hasn’t had a bath in two weeks. It means being humble and not putting yourself above these people, whether it’s a corporate executive with emotional
problems, an out of work military veteran, or a man sleeping under a city bus bench.
My city has a Christian out reach program near me that I never hear about in any media or from the street people I talk with. They advertise on the Christian TV station, but they are ineffective in reaching the people they claim to be helping. On the other hand, I heard about three other outreach centers almost as soon as I moved back to this city, because the homeless people I spoke with told me about them. The word of mouth testimonials were positive and enthusiastic because these three places care about the people they are reaching and treat them with care and dignity. The result is that their clients are eager to spread the news about these places.
And, here is something else that’s embarrassing to me as a Christian: Nine out of ten people who start talking to me on the street about Jesus are homeless people. It’s Christians who have nothing of their own who are doing the most to help others. It’s not the church goers who approach me, with the rare exception of someone like Napth.
Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go out into the world and teach everyone about Him and the gospel’s good news. The word gospel actually means good news. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a homeless person reading this on a public library computer, or the president of a corporation reading it on your phone over breakfast. You can be effective in reaching anyone God sends you to reach. For example, I used to attend a morning coffee club weekdays. My friends and I would discuss what was happening in the city and with us. One morning I kept getting the urge to leave. Finally the urge was so intense I had to leave. A man with two young daughters asked me for change as I passed a bus stop. He seemed embarrassed to ask, so I inquired if he was trying to get bus fare. He was. I carry extra daily bus passes for those who really need them, so I gave him passes that would allow him and his daughters to ride all they needed to for the whole day. God gave me the urgency to leave the coffee club so the man and his girls could get to their appointment on time. The passes were theirs since before the beginning of the world. I just had custody of them until they needed them.
My point is this: what if someone had taken an interest in the two boys who committed the Columbine, Colorado, school shooting? Or some Christian had talked to the Walmart shooter about his problems, and cared enough to help him. “What if” didn’t happen, but it should have. Wishing the violence away won’t work. My maternal grandmother had a little poem about wishing: “If wishes were fishes, we’d have some fried. If wishes were horses we’d go for a ride.” Doing is what works. And today is the best time to start doing. You may never know what effect you have on someone you speak with, or what positive consequences manifest themselves down- stream from your interacting with someone, or who they may reach if they become a Christian. But you can be assured that God will see to it that the consequences are positive. If you work with a Christian resource center, start being more proactive in dealing with the community and get the word out about your ministry. It’ll make a world of difference, so start now.