How to be the church in an age of terror
BY DR. ROBERT E. FOWLER
Like you, I hope and pray that tragedies like the one we witnessed in Orlando will stop and go away — forever.
Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be ready to happen any time soon.
In an era of randomized terror, it is exceedingly difficult to protect ourselves from acts of violence in shopping malls, schools, churches, movie theaters or on the streets through a lens of a cell phone camera.
It is infecting, and affecting, our everyday lives. Which is exactly what it’s designed to do. And hence, it’s called terror.
So we pray — even when we are not sure what or how to pray. And often, our prayers consist more of tears, fear and desperation than they do of words. We are heartbroken. And we suspect our hearts will soon be broken again.
How do we respond as Christians? As church leaders? As pastors and neighbors? As parents? As citizens?
Clearly, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or dark depth of what’s happening.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all.
But here are some reflections that I hope and pray can be helpful for Christians and church leaders. What you do is important. And how you respond, in things large and small, matters so much.
1. What the church is doing is more important — not less. Doubtlessly, the church is in an era of deep change. Given the rise of terror and violence and observable mistreatment in the streets, the days of playing church or simply going to church are drawing to a close. This is the time to be the church — because what Christians have to offer is a radically different ethic, an alternative to hatred and violence. The Gospel is a needed ethic in our culture, and it’s being lost in the noise. You can debate parts of the scripture all you want, but one thing that is undeniable is that Jesus said his followers would be known by their love. This, more than anything, is what Christians need to be known for. Families need this love. Victims need this love. Perpetrators need this love. Children need this love. The Gospel moves us to love when all that is left is hate.
2. Confession and humility are more important than ever. Confession and humility are increasingly rare. And yet they are two characteristics of Christianity that run to the core of our faith. The opposite of confession is blame — and that’s an instinctive reaction most of us have. Lack of humility pushes people (and nations) into stand-offs that deepen the divide and escalate the ruin. The truth is, other religions aren’t the only religions that have spoken hate. Christians have spoken hate as well. We need to repent. We are perfectly capable of hating and killing each other without intervention from foreign groups that hate the West. And sometimes, we do. We need to pray, and repent, and carry deep inside of us the knowledge that we too are broken. We too need a Savior. We too need grace. We too are forgiven. That posture can’t change everything, but it will change more than you think. It can deeply alter the dynamic and dialogue at a micro-level. When the micro-dialogue and the micro-dynamics changes, it is only a matter of time until the macro changes.
3. Faith is a dividing line that ultimately can become a uniting line. The reality, of course, is that if you’re a Christian, there’s no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.” The early church realized that when Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women and every ethnicity imaginable came together under Christ. It was tremendously radical then; it will be just as radical now. We live in an age where faith is increasingly seen as divisive and extreme. More and more people feel that way about Christianity as well. Yet Christianity, which man sees as divisive, is ultimately unifying because it ultimately unites radically different people groups under the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.