Church Shootings and the peace of Christ

This past week, I facilitated a workshop at the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Council of Churches on the topic of gun violence. Members of the Council’s Peace and Justice Commission had put the workshop together hoping to provide resources for clergy and lay leaders to help them talk with their congregations about the constellations around gun violence: domestic violence, mental illness, toxic masculinity, suicide, etc, Our goal was to begin to educate ourselves and others about ways to talk about gun violence in our congregations that get beyond the current polarized debates and see gun violence as a pastoral issue as well as a public health concern.

We included a few items about how churches might respond to the possibility of an active shooter. In fact, participants in the workshop were most concerned about that issue and we spent a lot of time exploring questions around preparedness for an active shooter and balancing our values of openness and welcome with the need for security.

In the workshop, I provided some information about the rise in shootings at houses of worship as well as results of studies examining past incidents.

There have been a number of articles in recent weeks that take a closer look at the dynamics behind church shootings most are not random. The largest number of shootings are related to robberies. Other significant factors include the shooter’s feeling unwelcome or rejected by the church (17% in one study) and mental illness (11% in that same study, cited by CNN)

A recent CNN piece published after the Texas shooting included results from two recent studies:

Drake counts 147 church shootings from 2006-2016. Looking more broadly at all violence at allhouses of worship, Chinn has tallied more than 250 incidents each in 2015 and 2016. Through August, there had already been 173 this year, according to Chinn.”


Among the shooters’ motives cited in those studies:

  • Over 25% robberies
  • 17% shooter felt unwelcome at church, or had been rejected
  • 16% domestic violence
  • 14% personal conflict (not family related)
  • 10% mental illness
  • 9% religious bias

The set of resources we offered is available at the Wisconsin Council of Churches website:  It is a work in progress and will be updated.

Two recent articles by Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today explore important aspects of the issue. On domestic violence: Kate Shellnut, “A Top Reason for Church Shootings: Domestic Abuse” Christianity Today, November 7, 2017

Among the statistics she cites:

And on the relationship between “God and Guns” in the minds of many conservative Christians: Kate Shellnut, “Packing in the Pews: The Connection Between God and Guns” Christianity Today, November 8, 2017

As I said in the interview, balancing openness and welcome with the need for safety is an important issue. More important, however, is that we remain true to our call to follow Jesus Christ and to share the love of Christ with the world. In a nation awash with guns, where violence seems to be the first recourse in any conflict, our faith in God must overcome whatever fear we might have, and our witness to Christ’s love must include being agents of reconciliation and models of other ways of resolving conflict and building community.


Perfect love casts out fear: Christianity and the American culture of violence–updated

Another act of mass violence today. The media went wacko. Meanwhile, yesterday in Chicago, nineteen people were shot, including eight in a drive-by shooting. Roger Ebert pointed out the parallel.

A story on inner-city Philadelphia examines the effects of gun violence on the community and on individuals, focusing on the trauma caused by the level of violence:

Between January 1, 2001, and May 29th of this year, 18,043 people were shot in Philadelphia. That equates to about one shooting every six hours. In that same time period, there were 3,852 murders—a new body yielded up for disposal nearly every day. The entire length of the conflict in Afghanistan hasn’t produced as many dead Americans as we’ve picked up off our city’s streets.

As others have pointed out, media coverage of mass shootings conforms to our own fears. Random shootings seem to receive more attention than targeted ones (does this explain the relative lack of attention to the Oak Creek shootings?) We’ve become inured to certain kinds of violence–the shootings in Chicago being an excellent example, and our own ongoing participation in wars abroad. It’s only when that violence affects us, or people like us, that we seem to take notice.

There have been many attempts to make sense of the recent epidemic of shootings. Of course each shooter had his own set of fears and disappointments, his own set of demons, to make generalization dangerous.

What strikes me about our national mood is our level of fear. We are afraid of the future and afraid of the future direction of our country and world. We worry about the economy, about our jobs and families. We worry whether we will be able to make ends meet, or whether we will have adequate resources or medical care in our retirement. That fear percolates under the surface all of the time and is given voice in our degraded political culture.

One thing that unites these recent shootings is that the perpetrators are all white men. Elizabeth Drescher has pointed to the significance of this:

Whatever the unique complex of psychosocial, religious, financial, moral, political, or other issues that tormented the mass killers recently populating Twitter feeds and news headlines, they all sought to solve their problems with a particular expression of gun violence that maps easily to particular configurations of masculinity—apparently across classes and political ideologies. Those of us concerned with how religious ideologies participate in narratives of domination and violence, then, would do well to explore the masculinist roots of Christianity or other religious traditions, particularly as male authority and normativity are emphasized in more conservative expressions.

How do we as communities of faith respond the shootings as well as the underlying fears, the very notion of “redemptive violence” that permeate our culture? How can we offer hope and life in this culture of fear and death?  How can we proclaim a gospel that might work toward the transformation of our society? How can we name and combat the evil in our midst and offer life-giving alternatives?

That phrase from I John 4, “but perfect love casts out fear,” has been running through my head the past several weeks. If we can experience that sort of love in our hearts. If we can experience that sort of love in our congregations, if we can invite and express that sort of love with those we encounter in our neighborhoods and communities, we will go a long way toward overcoming our national culture of fear and violence.