School Shootings and the Christian Faith May 26 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Our hearts break every time we hear about another school shooting.  And although the odds of being killed by someone with a gun in school are extremely small (about one in 2.5 million in any given year), there is something particularly difficult about seeing young people lose their lives or be injured by a bullet in a place that should be a safe haven.   The deadliest school shooting in U.S. history took place in 2007 in the very building where I took engineering classes at Virginia Tech.  The shooting was 35 years after I graduated, but it was shocking that it could occur in a place where I spent so many hours, even though removed in time.  And it is even more shocking for those who have to live through such an incident in a school that their own child attends. 

A Wikipedia site tracks school shooting statistics back to the 1840s. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States#1840s

See a summary below, listed by decade.  The current year has been a particularly tragic one, with the Parkland, FL and Santa Fe, Texas high schools fresh in our minds.

Decade
Beginning
 Number Decade
Beginning
 Number
1840 1 1930 10
1850 4 1940 11
1860 5 1950 14
1870 3 1960 44
1880 2 1970 37
1890 13 1980 51
1900 12 1990 93
1910 12 2000 112
1920 5 2010 175

 

So how did we get to this point? It is quite telling to read through each of the accounts in the Wikipedia site and see what is said about motivations for the killings. Each shooting event is described, and it is interesting to read about the individual incidents back through the decades.  Some of the common words found in these descriptions include: “argument,” “dispute,” “disgruntled” “relationship problem,” “upset,” “revenge,” and “in response to discipline.”  The shootings are almost always linked to some sort of injustice perceived by the perpetrator.  It is sad when this takes place, and even more sad when uninvolved students and teachers get caught in the line of fire.

The temptations for doing evil are not much different today than they were in the 1800s.  In fact, the inclination to sin today is not very different from what was involved in the very first murder on earth, when Cain responded angrily to a perceived injustice and killed his brother Abel.  Perhaps what is different today, and possibly explains part of the spike in school shootings in the last 10 years, is the prevalence of social media, and extensive exposure to violent video games.   It is not unusual that mass killers have researched prior killers and learned from their tactics.  Pure, calculated evil does not begin to describe how indifferent people can become to the value of human life. Although there are still debates in academia about the link between violent video games and physical violence or aggression, one thing is for sure – this is not the way to teach the younger generation about how to love their neighbor. 

Each one of these events makes the case for why the world, and our local communities, need a vibrant Christian witness.  So think about it.  What societal problem does the Word of God not have an answer for? 

  • How many shootings would there be if everyone lived by Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31)?
  • How much revenge would be taken if people took the “Love Chapter” of the Bible seriously, like “love does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5)?
  • How many arguments would occur if everyone lived by Philippians 2:3? - “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” 
  • How much coveting, greed, and theft would occur if, like Paul, we all could say “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity …” (Philippians 4:11-12)?
  • How much discrimination would occur if everyone lived by the principle in Galatians 3:28? - “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • How much better work places would there be if everyone lived by Ephesians 6:5-9? – “Slaves (or employees, in today’s terms), be obedient to those who are your masters (employers) according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ … With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him”?

The solutions to every societal problem are in the Scriptures, and we are commended to live them out in our homes, churches, and communities.  The list of relevant Scriptures goes on and on. But as we know, lasting change comes not through outward reformation, which is merely trying to follow a set of rules, but by inner transformation of the heart, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

To be sure, an orderly society and government can be cultivated when people follow biblical principles in a secular sense, and even our secular court system has a Judeo-Christian foundation. But a life transformed by Jesus should result in a daily response of gratitude for what God has already done for us, starting with our salvation.  Even as believers, we are well aware of how we fall short of following these principles and how strong the pull of the flesh can be. But in the end, lives transformed from the inside represent the ultimate solution to school shootings.  Actions taken by government and individuals can deter evil to an extent, but absent transformed lives, the root of the problem is still there.

Having said all this, one of the jobs of government is to help protect its citizens from evil (Romans 13:4), and leaders will need to figure out how to do that for students, within the resources available to them. This is not a political blog, so don’t expect any opinions on this to come out of BCF.  Suffice it to say, brothers and sisters, Jesus is still the answer! After thousands of years of trying, secular systems are still struggling to find solutions to the sinful propensities of man, but ironically, they have managed to marginalize the very principles of the Christian faith that could help them succeed.  That is why we dare not shrink back from highlighting the relevance of our faith to contemporary life, not as a political force, but as those who humbly but visibly minister and have an impact in our families, neighborhoods, businesses, rescue missions, prisons, workplaces, and yes, in our schools.

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Steve Smith