By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”—Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
As we continue in this season of Lent, of sacrifice, of self-reflection and seeking God, we are called to wrestle with how we bring hope to situations of despair in our world. On Feb. 14, once more we found ourselves in anguish over the loss of young lives in a mass shooting—this time with 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded at a high school in South Florida. Less than three months into this year, 30 mass shootings have been reported in our country.
We pray for those young people suffering from bullet wounds. We pray for the families of the dead and injured students and teachers. We pray for those who have been traumatized by what they have seen in their school, in what should be a safe place.
We thank God for the first responders, teachers and others who put their lives at risk to protect and save the innocent; for the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who work to heal; for the volunteers who donate life-saving blood, both following a tragedy and year-round.
Many of you have heard me say there is a difference between wishing and hoping. Hoping includes a plan for fulfilling our wishes. As a society, we must move from wishing that this escalating problem will improve to hoping that it will by taking concrete steps to make our communities safer and reduce the possibilities of mass shootings.
As United Methodists committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence, we know we must address this escalating, yet preventable, slaughter of innocents.
For some of us, hoping means developing relationships with at-risk youth in our communities, surrounding them with a community of support and accountability. This work requires time, courage and an investment of ourselves and our resources.
For some of us, hoping means working with our legislators to develop realistic strategies that reduce the frequency of mass shootings while also supporting responsible gun ownership. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. This work also requires time and courage.
For some of us, hoping means working as a congregation alongside and within the schools in our communities to support teachers and school personnel in making sure that troubled young people don’t escape notice and slip through the cracks. Again, courage, time and personal investment will make the difference.
In this season of Lent, we must continue to pray for victims, survivors and their families. Let us also pray for the courage to put feet to our faith and to act in ways that bring healing and hope to a culture of fear and despair.
I hope that you will review on www.umcsc.org the resources for supporting young people after a school shooting. Join me during Lent in reflecting on how we as God’s people might make a difference in the lives of young people by our involvement in the schools, our support of families and teachers, and our advocacy with lawmakers.