Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On Sunday morning we awoke to the shocking news that yet another individual had deployed high-powered weapons in a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 49 innocent citizens and injured dozens of others. With horror we watched the media images of the sickening carnage caused by a single armed individual. All of this is made even more horrific by the fact that it seems the victims were targeted because of their sexuality, and the perpetrator’s actions were fueled by an evil perversion of a world religion.
With all Americans, we mourn the loss of so many precious people – each one a beloved child of God. We weep with the families and loved ones whose lives have been forever marred by this senseless act of violence. With the prophet Jeremiah we cry out, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Our hearts cry out, and our prayers go up – “Lord have mercy!”
Violence and loss such as this interrogates our soul causing us to doubt the basic goodness of God’s creation and how it can be that one person can inflict so much pain. It is in times like this that we affirm that we follow a resurrected Lord. This means that we live with the faith that love is stronger than hate; life is more powerful than death. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We will not allow this great evil to rob us of our hope.
Our place as Christians is in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones. This is what Jesus taught us by his own life and by the manner of his death on a cross. Our prayers dwell with all who mourn, and our loving-kindness will be evident in our words and actions.
There is no place among us for words and actions that disparage the Islamic faith and that threaten the safety of our Muslim neighbors. This act of terror and actions like it are carried out by people who have taken a world religion and perverted it to their own evil purposes – not unlike others have done with Christianity in past centuries.
Finally, as we pray, “Lord have mercy,” we seek God’s mercy not only for the healing of our grief and wounds, but also for our collective need for forgiveness. These mass shootings occur with increasing frequency only here in the United States. They are a function of a culture that glorifies violence, particularly gun violence, as a way to solve problems. We are all in need of God’s mercy here for “what we have done – and for what we have left undone.”
Brothers and Sisters – I ask that you join me in prayer for victims, all who lost loved ones, peace among neighbors and a commitment to respectful, peaceful solutions.
In the hope of Christ,
Bishop David B. Zellmer
South Dakota Synod, ELCA