News about the deadly shooting at Burnette Chapel outside of Nashville began to trickle out as I was leaving my own church in middle Tennessee.
Immediately, everyone began searching for answers about the tragedy and the gunman. Why would he do this? What has he hoping to achieve?
I have no insight into the mind and motives of the shooter. But his rationale has nothing to do with the truth we can learn from this shooting.
That truth was revealed by two different men: a pastor at another local church and one of the victims at Burnette Chapel.
We are family and we must act like it.
I sat glued to my television Sunday afternoon watching local TV reporters try to explain the facts and interview people on the scene. One such person was Ty Perkins, a pastor at another local church.
According to the Facebook page of the church, Faith Hope & Love Fellowship, Ty was recently licensed into the ministry by the congregation.
Despite his being new to the role of pastor, Ty seemed ready for the task as he spoke with the TV reporter. Before going on air, he apparently spoke about all the churches in the neighborhood having a close relationship.
Here’s how he answered the reporter’s question about it.
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“This is our family. We stick together. That’s what we do in Christ. God tells us to come together in one accord. So when it’s happening, when it affects them, it affects us.”
Hearing his words, I wept. Thinking about how divided our nation is and how dismissive we are of others, I cried at the beautiful truth of Ty Perkins’ words.
He’s a black pastor coming to express solidarity with the church of a white pastor because they both follow the same Christ.
“When it affects them, it affects us.” If only we all would remember that truth. But that’s not the only thing we can learn from this tragedy.
We must love even when it’s hard.
Caleb Engle found himself in horrific circumstances. An armed gunman opened fire on his church. But instead of cowering in fear, he chose to confront the killer.
The gunman pistol-whipped Caleb, but in the midst of the confrontation, the gunman shot himself. This allowed Caleb to retrieve his own gun and hold the shooter at bay until police arrived.
But the bravest thing Caleb did was not charging toward the gunman, it was choosing to express love and forgiveness toward the gunman.
After being called a “hero” by many and having his actions lauded by authorities, Caleb issued a statement to the media.
I’ve been going to this church my whole life, since I was a small child. I would have never, ever thought something like this would have happened.
I ask everyone to pray for the victims, family members of the victims, our church community. Please pray for healing. Also, please pray for the shooter, the shooter’s family and friends. They are hurting as well.
I pray that through all of this that people will come to know Christ and I ask our nation to reflect on Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In asking for prayer for the gunman, Caleb followed the commands of Jesus, who told His followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.
But more than following Jesus’ commands, Caleb followed Christ’s example in praying for the very ones who crucified Him.
That’s the better way. Caleb showed bravery in working to physically resist evil and he continued to show bravery in recognizing that evil can only truly be defeated spiritually.
Those two things are not in conflict. We work for good here and now because it reflects the good for which we pray. We’re asking God to bring His kingdom “on Earth as it is in heaven.”
The hidden truth
As more information about the shooter comes out, he will become the focus.
His motives and perspectives will dominate the news coverage, but that doesn’t change the truths revealed in this tragedy through the words and actions of Ty and Caleb.
Hidden truth is no less truth and is often even more important for us to hear, reflect on, and implement in our own lives.
Those who claim the name of Christ need to acknowledge the pain and perspective of our heavenly family members. We also need to reject the path of hatred and choose instead to show love even to those who seek our harm.
That’s the real truth behind the Burnette Chapel shooting.