West Texas bishops respond to recent shootings

Posted Jul 11, 2016

Dear Friends in Christ,

Grace to you and peace, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We write to you calling for prayers for the victims of murderous violence, following last night’s killing of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of at least seven others. It saddens us that this comes less than a month after our similar letter, in the aftermath of the shooting massacre in Orlando, Florida.

We commend to your prayers, and to God’s eternal care and keeping, those who were killed and injured by the shooter(s), their grieving families and their colleagues in law enforcement.

As you know, the killings occurred in downtown Dallas during a peaceful protest in response to the shooting of two black men by white police officers, in separate incidents in different states, earlier in the week. While it would be simplistic to link one with the other, it is true that violence begets violence, and it is often the innocent who suffer.

It will be tempting to assign blame for this latest rampage far beyond the person or persons who pulled the trigger last night. It will be tempting to take sides and debate causes and responsibilities like politicians, Facebookers and pundits will surely do.

We encourage you to resist those temptations and, instead, choose “a more excellent way.” (I Cor. 12:31), that is, the Way of Jesus. Jesus did not come to take sides, but to take charge, and we are called to follow him, choosing “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:41) We proclaim him as the true Prince of Peace and the One who alone can bring that “peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But it is not a peace that calls us to disengagement and indifference, nor a peace that withdraws in the face of pain. Jesus leads us into the sufferings of this sin-sick world—to offer healing and reconciliation, and to proclaim tirelessly the Good News that the Light has come and the darkness shall never overcome it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), and so those who have received and know his peace (and indeed, those who regularly “pass his peace” in worship) are called to make peace, share it with others. The great majority of Christian people are peaceable, so the first part is not the challenge. (We know we are preaching to the choir when we say we abhor the violence that infects our beloved country.) The challenge is in the peace-making, where the issues are so vast and deeply rooted that we can easily be overwhelmed.

No one—and no single church—can do everything. But everyone can do something for the sake of peace. Here are some possibilities for you to consider in your setting:

Pray without ceasing: for the most recent victims of violence; for racial reconciliation; for law enforcement officers who serve us in increasingly complex and dangerous situations; for our country. (The prayer “For our Country,” BCP p. 820 is a good place to start. With its archaic but timely language, it may shock us into seeing how blasé we’ve become about the coarseness and degradation of our civil life.)

Know your community: alienation, isolation and violence occur at all levels and in all segments of society. What groups are working to overcome domestic violence, child abuse, and human trafficking? Who are serving the mentally ill and the addicted? Where are children and youth finding educational and social enrichment?

Know your church (and other local churches): What gifts and assets does your congregation have that can be used in peace-making? How might your church, together with other churches, collaborate to build a more peaceable community? Spend time as a congregation talking about your vision of what a peaceable community looks like and discuss how your church can contribute to that.

Know those who serve your community: How often does your church give thanks for, and pray God’s protection upon, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and first responders, teachers, etc? How can you show gratitude and support in concrete ways?

The most compelling images coming out of last night’s violence have been photos and video of police officers leading people to safety who only moments before had been protesting the police, police officers rushing toward the gunfire to help the trapped and wounded, and police officers sheltering protesters, sometimes with their own bodies. Those are Christ-like images, and they are powerful reminders of the ministry of peace-making to which we have been called by the Prince of Peace: to lead those who are in danger to safety; to go to those who are hurting; to offer ourselves, our churches, as shelter.

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace…”

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Bishop Gary Lillibridge

Bishop David Reed