What does the church owe Gabby Giffords?
The senseless shooting of a U.S. congresswoman and others in Tucson, Arizona, has people talking. As with every tragedy, we seek to make sense out of it by blaming someone. If we can categorize this act, we can deal with it rationally. But theological reality runs in the opposite direction. This act was evil, and evil is irrational. There are no categories of reason for an act like this one. The angst in Christians overreaches in trying to pin this action on explainable deeds. Last night when I pulled into my steep uphill driveway, I was greeted by six inches of snow that fell while I was out of town. My tires had no traction on the incline. I sat there, wheels spinning, going nowhere—like our words that try to explain irrational evil.
The other tendency is to demonize and dehumanize the man who did this. Similar to what Nazis did to Jews, when we demonize someone we make that person less than human and thereby legitimize his or her extinction. But the young man in Arizona is fully human and evil. He is a chilling reminder of what we are all capable of being. We must remember that one of us did this to one of us. This man is no alien, but a person who lives in a community. By calling him human, we are able to call his deed evil. And it is right that justice be done to the evildoer. We cannot relieve ourselves of this dark reminder of what humans are capable of by placing him in a non-human category.
So what do we do with this situation and our responses to it?
I am grateful for the call that has risen for charitable discourse among political dissenters. Both sides of the aisle and every political movement could stand a heavy dose of respect for a fellow human. I think the church of Jesus could play a stronger role in leading the way toward mature conversation among those who differ on issues. In A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things that Divide Us, my newest book (to be released in February), I address the practices of Jihad that have made their way into the church as a pattern for dealing with dissent. I write about labeling, half-truth, scripture-quoting, grandstanding, and enemy-making as practices that have found a home among us. While the octane and anger of the political rhetoric bothers me deeply, I am even more concerned that our pulpits and church conversations have become so toxic.
But the thing that weighs on my heart for Gabby Giffords and others is not those issues. What the church owes Gabby and the world is to do our work in the trenches of human brokenness. No other organism or organization in the world is more strategically placed to care for the broken, sick, and deranged among us. The church of Jesus is located on the avenues of community life. We know who these people are in our towns. I have often thought that God gave the congregations I served more than their fair share of the unbalanced. Caring for them is hard work. But it is our responsibility to care for them, give them a community rather than isolation, get them to medical help if needed, and seek to bring healing to them. They are the neighbor in the ditch. We are the Good Samaritan.
When the church adds to public anger rather than calling for a civil discourse, it fuels these folks. We unleash an anger in them which they may not be capable of controlling. I am not suggesting that this shooting was the fault of the church. As I learned early in life, God does not will every situation, but God has a will in every situation. Maybe the will of God in this moment is that his people embrace our calling to heal the broken. Maybe it is a moment to reprioritize what we are doing. Rather than seeking to out-entertain the world, install over-powering technology, and get noticed, maybe we should do the thankless work of befriending these needy neighbors.
What do I hope? I hope our pastors will teach their people to pray for government leaders rather than hate them. I hope we can learn to discuss political issues without being divided as a body of Christ. I hope we will seize this moment of tragedy to renew our commitment to care for the deranged.
This is what we owe Gabby Giffords.