A Christian Response to Tucson: Embracing Words That Heal

Cultivating a Christian response to tragic events such as those in Tucson can be tricky business. The emotions are immediate, of course. We feel pain, grief, even fear. We look at the pictures of the warm, vibrant 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and wonder why this happened to her. We hear the story of how she was born on 9/11; her destiny, it seems, is to be given to the world and taken from it in the midst of national tragedy. Once the emotions begin to ebb, we move past them as we to try to make some sense of what has happened and formulate our response.

That those who were killed and wounded by the shooter were attempting to participate in the grassroots of American political discourse makes the Christian response even more challenging. We Christians struggle with our involvement in the political realm. Too often we conflate our ideology, be it liberal or conservative, with our faith, baptizing our political beliefs with Christian language and attacking those who disagree. Perhaps this is because we have not realized that our faith is itself a politic -- a way of organizing our common life together -- meant to transcend typical left-right distinctions. Our faith is meant to define the way we interact with the world, the way we meet all reality, even pain and death.

In Kansas, our new governor, Sam Brownback, recently invoked a statement by Anne Graham Lotz, the granddaughter of Billy Graham, who responded to 9/11 by saying we had, as a country, told God to get out of our government, our schools, our businesses and our lives and that he basically complied. These are not words that heal. These words engender a cynicism all too common among those who claim to follow Jesus. Brownback and Lotz would do well to remember the Christian Scriptures teach that God will never leave us or forsake us. That God is present in the midst of what appears to be God-forsaken is the essence of Christian hope.

Cynicism like this is easy. Dallas Willard, a professor in the School of Philosophy at USC once noted, "We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt." Cynicism might be cool, but it's not Christian. Faith, hope and love must never be considered the crutch of the naive and simple mind. President Obama encouraged our nation to choose words that heal over words that wound. When he did so he reminded us that our cynical skepticism is never benign commentary because it shapes who we will become. It impacts the future.

The most basic tenet of Christianity is that the future of God has broken into the present time through Jesus Christ. Thus we are not victims of the way things are, but we are now free to participate in God's redemptive project. We may have limited capacities, but we have the ability to choose the future we wish to enact. Our response to tragedy cannot be one of cynicism, skepticism or despair. It must be the response of hope and healing. Our participation in the national discourse at this or any other time should not be infused with the rhetoric of the right or the left because this is not the future to which we are committed. Our words call into being a certain kind of future -- one which transcends national politics. Embracing words that heal and eschewing words that wound is a Christian response.

We live in a pluralist society. But this should have little impact on the church which professes faith in Jesus. We live toward a specific vision for the future, no matter what sort of government we reside under. Prayer is not mandated in school, but no one can stop a child from praying silently at his or her desk. The question is not whether there will be prayer in our schools, but what kind of prayer will it be? Will we teach them to pray that we will become a Christian nation? Perhaps we should aim higher. Perhaps we should teach them to pray as Jesus taught us, "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." Perhaps the prayer should be for words that heal. The Christian response to tragic situations must always acknowledge that there is evil in the world. Yet, our faith teaches us that the future has broken into the world in a radical way, and therefore we have reason to hope.

That we are now becoming what we shall one day be eliminates the cynical Christian response. If we are cynical we will enjoin a world of cynicism. If we are skeptical we will no doubt engender a world of skepticism. When it comes to cynicism and despair, there are no victims; there are only willing accomplices. Christians can afford to be peaceful in a world with too much violence. We can be hopeful in a world with too much despair. It is a deeply Christian act to use words that heal, and healing needs all the words it can get.