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Mass shooting at Texas church prompts strong words from religious leaders

A bouquet of flowers lies at the base of a roadblock where law enforcement officials work at the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing and wounding many. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(RNS) — A small Southern Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, has turned into a crime scene, with at least 26 people dead and about 20 injured. As the nation reels from another mass shooting, religious leaders were quick to react to the latest tragedy.


COMMENTARY: When you attack a church, you attack God


Here’s a sampling:

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and leader of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas

“This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at Churches while people were worshipping and at prayer. We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society. A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who Himself is Peace, send us His Spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture His peace among us all.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines

“We are praying for the families of those who were killed as well as those who were wounded. We pray that God will lay His merciful hand of healing on all who have suffered and have been injured. May God bring healing and hope to the church and the city. May God bless all the police officers serving in that area. And may God prevent further incidents like this throughout our nation in the days to come. Our hearts and prayers are with you.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas

“Today’s horrific church shooting is every pastor’s worst nightmare and is proof of the reality of evil. Although the Bible never diminishes the pain of evil, it does promise that one day when Christ returns, evil will be defeated forever. Until that time, we pray that the members of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, will experience the promise of Psalm 34:18: ‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.’”

The Rev. Katharine R. Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary in New York

“God is setting before America a choice between life and death — we must choose the way of life that means a breaking of the death grip the National Rifle Association (NRA) has on our politics. The way of life is to grieve for those who have died and commit ourselves to a more peaceful future without this plague of gun violence.”

Mark Bane, president of the Orthodox Union Lay Leadership

“The leadership of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations is outraged by the heinous attack that occurred last night at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and wounding many more during a prayer service. This act of senseless violence and brutal terror has no place anywhere in the world, but particularly not in a house of worship. Indeed, the perpetrator has violated all houses of worship with this vile attack.”

The Rev. Robert Schenck, president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, D.C., and subject of “The Armor of Light” documentary

“As a nation, we must call on our most experienced, knowledgeable, and strategic professionals to weigh in with their wisdom in how to deny murderous people the means for committing atrocities like this. The killer in this instance could have done far more damage much more easily by throwing a hand grenade into the sanctuary, but he didn’t because he can’t get a hand grenade. The question we must answer is why and how people bent on death and destruction can carry out their dastardly deeds so easily? Just as we frustrate our enemies on the battle field by interrupting their supply chains, let’s do the same with psychopathic killers.”

Sarwat Husain, president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

“During times of tragedy and heartache, all Texans must, and will work together to help alleviate suffering and to offer material and spiritual support for one another. We pray for the loved ones of those killed in this senseless attack and for the speedy recovery of the wounded.”

Phyllis Hill, Southeast regional director of the “Live Free” campaign of PICO National Network

“The devastating and, sadly, preventable deaths of congregants at First Baptist Church of Sutherland is a yet another violation of sacred worship places and sanctuaries — our temples. This constant barrage of homegrown terrorism is allowed by the convenient misinterpretation of the 2nd amendment by the NRA and anyone else who takes their money. Yet, we are ALL complicit and have blood on our hands because we have the answers to avoid senseless killings happening to us, Americans. How long must we send our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers? How long before we manifest our sincerity with a change in policies and leadership?”

The Rev. Lee B. Spitzer, general secretary, American Baptist Churches USA

“American Baptists categorically reject all forms of unnecessary and senseless violence, regardless of motivation. Throughout the country, I know our churches will mourn and pray for the church and the town they serve in solidarity with all who have experienced grievous loss. I ask for every church to dedicate a special time of prayer for First Baptist Church and Sutherland Springs when you gather for Bible study, service or worship this week.”

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life

“The killing of 26 people in a place of worship is a senseless act of evil. My heart is in anguish for the victims and loved ones whose lives have been scarred. As a pastor, I believe our nation’s response to this tragedy must not stop with prayer. Congress must pass common-sense gun policies that prevent tragedies such as the massacres in Las Vegas, Charleston, Orlando and Sutherland Springs. Our lawmakers have a moral responsibility to keep weapons of war out of killers’ hands in the first place. Our lives are at stake.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

42 Comments

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  • Here is an appropriate verse from the Bible…

    Isaiah 1:15 “Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood”

    We must look only to ourselves to prevent these tragedies. Praying failed long ago.

  • Well, STRONG WORDS! Take that, ammosexuals.

    Trump and pence sent their thoughts and prayers. Ryan said something similar and weak. But no political leader in the Dominant Party said jack. In three days, we’ll forget all about this and wait for the very next time.

    Meanwhile, A Henderson, Nevada man shot and killed his son because the 14-year-old was gay. Wendell Melton shot his son Giovanni after an argument about the teen’s sexual orientation.

    Another beautiful gay kid dead, along with 26 other innocents IN CHURCH, because our bestest, most christianest country in the whole wide world thinks that thoughts and prayers are sufficient for the latter, and that the poisonous rhetoric of the hyperchristians when it comes to gay people, and anyone else in their gun sights, is just fine.

  • Atheists sure know the bible don’t they !! Actually the “New International” Version is even more relevant …

    Isaiah 1:15
    When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
    even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.
    Your hands are full of blood!

  • Yes, things are getting increasingly tragic in America. It’s almost as if America was in the beginning stages of some sort of widespread judgment, or unraveling, or something.

    A straight father kills his own gay son in Nevada. A gay man who tries to pick up guys in Orlando, decides to kill 50 other patrons at a big gay nightclub. A straight interracial couple in Kansas feeds their straight little boy to the pigs, literally.

    And that’s on top of all the well-planned church shootings and the country-music concert shooting, and the Boston Marathon, and the non-stop black-on-black action in Chicago, featuring dead/maimed black kids.

    So tell us what specific gun-control political legislation YOU will actually stop all these tragedies. Give us your great atheistic solution, please.

  • In Australia about 20 years ago, there was a horrible massacre in Tasmania…35 people were shot dead and many more wounded. Australia banned handguns and semiautomatic weapons and bought back all guns that were not specifically bolt-action hunting rifles or sport shotguns.

    Australia has not had another mass shooting since then. Suicides down too!

  • That’s the entire scripture you partially quoted. If you read it in full, you will see why the Lord said such and how He said they could rectify that.
    But it would be a good scripture for some for today – those who rebel against the Lord.

    Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;

    for the Lord has spoken:

    “Children[a] have I reared and brought up,

    but they have rebelled against me.

    3 The ox knows its owner,

    and the donkey its master’s crib,

    but Israel does not know,

    my people do not understand.”

    4 Ah, sinful nation,

    a people laden with iniquity,

    offspring of evildoers,

    children who deal corruptly!

    They have forsaken the Lord,

    they have despised the Holy One of Israel,

    they are utterly estranged.

    5 Why will you still be struck down?

    Why will you continue to rebel?

    The whole head is sick,

    and the whole heart faint.

    6 From the sole of the foot even to the head,

    there is no soundness in it,

    but bruises and sores

    and raw wounds;

    they are not pressed out or bound up

    or softened with oil.

    7 Your country lies desolate;

    your cities are burned with fire;

    in your very presence

    foreigners devour your land;

    it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.

    8 And the daughter of Zion is left

    like a booth in a vineyard,

    like a lodge in a cucumber field,

    like a besieged city.

    9 If the Lord of hosts

    had not left us a few survivors,

    we should have been like Sodom,

    and become like Gomorrah.

    10 Hear the word of the Lord,

    you rulers of Sodom!

    Give ear to the teaching[b] of our God,

    you people of Gomorrah!

    11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

    says the Lord;

    I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

    and the fat of well-fed beasts;

    I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

    or of lambs, or of goats.

    12 “When you come to appear before me,

    who has required of you

    this trampling of my courts?

    13 Bring no more vain offerings;

    incense is an abomination to me.

    New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—

    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

    14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts

    my soul hates;

    they have become a burden to me;

    I am weary of bearing them.

    15 When you spread out your hands,

    I will hide my eyes from you;

    even though you make many prayers,

    I will not listen;

    your hands are full of blood.

    16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;

    cease to do evil,

    17 learn to do good;

    seek justice,

    correct oppression;

    bring justice to the fatherless,

    plead the widow’s cause.

    18 “Come now, let us reason[c] together, says the Lord:

    though your sins are like scarlet,

    they shall be as white as snow;

    though they are red like crimson,

    they shall become like wool.

    19 If you are willing and obedient,

    you shall eat the good of the land;

    20 but if you refuse and rebel,

    you shall be eaten by the sword;

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

  • While we’re at it…

    how many shootings take place in our country where the body count is under four? Every day? Every other day?

    The F.B.I. defines a “mass killing” as the killing of three or more people in a public place, but the federal agency also defines a “mass murderer” as someone who has killed four or more people in the same location.

    There have been 307 such shootings so far in the united states THIS YEAR ALONE.
    But we don’t have a gun problem. Nosireee. We need more god, more guns, and less gays..

  • Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, Churchgoers should arm themselves while attending church.

    Ready…amen…fire?

  • Oddly enough (“oddly,” that is, if you’re ammosexual-phobic) it was an ammosexual who disarmed the shooter and brought the incident to an end. Go figure (not that you will).

  • This cliché just became a truism:
    “The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
    And your only answer to that is, “He should have gotten there sooner”?

  • Oddly enough, very oddly, this was one of the very few times when there was a good guy with a gun ready and able to stop the bad guy with a gun.

    Not for the pulse massacre.

    Not for the church massacre.

    Not for the Las Vegas massacre.

    Not for the columbine massacre.

    And certainly not for the 307 murders of three plus people that have occurred in this country in this year alone.

  • The crux of the problem seems to be the misunderstanding of difference between Christianity and civil religion. Civil religion feeds on jingoism, bigotry and hegemony. Its priests see nothing wrong with all that. They will stand behind the political leader who supports their beliefs.

  • Amazing gun how sweet the shot,
    That killed a wretch like thee.

    Devin Kelley sang that verse 23 times. Me thinks, the alter calls at Ken Paxton’s kind of church are way to long.

  • Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

    Evangelical Christians voted for trump 81% precisely because of jingoism, bigotry, and hegemony, and precisely because its priests and money changers see nothing wrong with it as long as it promises them power, money, and dominion— and get the gays.

    They will stand behind the political leader who promises them those things and supports heir beliefs.

  • Not nearly as “oddly” as you want to imagine – especially in Texas, where people drive around with gun racks in the back windows of their pickup trucks. But beyond that, the basic principle applies anywhere: to whatever extent guns are available to law-abiding citizens in any jurisdiction, to that extent they can be, will be, and are used to deter crimes, stop crimes in progress, and/or “detain” the criminals. https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/cdc-study-use-firearms-self-defense-important-crime-deterrent

  • CNS got it wrong. The 2013 report referenced is the Consensus Study Report on Priorities for Research on Strategies to Reduce the Threat of Firearms Violence. The part they got right was that it was Obama ordering the report – to make up for two plus decades of federal research in order to identify the most pressing research needs (which the article actually links to). Here is the press release issued as to what the actual report and its contents are http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=18319

    And a recent paper rebutting your assertion. http://www.nber.org/papers/w23510 And as to the frequency of use of guns in self-defense in property crimes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25910555 or more serious crimes http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable15.pdf

    And finally an earlier article with links to some papers from a 2015 article, https://www.livescience.com/51446-guns-do-not-deter-crime.html

  • That makes two “good guy with guns” incidents over several hundred mass shootings nationwide over and the last 50 years.

    Statistically guns are 10000x more likely to be used on ones self or close relatives than in crime prevention. Gun owners are more likely to use them to escalate violence than prevent it.

    NYC has restrictive gun laws and a lower crime rate than many cities that are much smaller. Outlaws get their guns from places like Texas and Virginia.

  • Restrict gun ownership to bolt action and muzzle loading rifles, and cap and ball revolvers. Doesn’t violate the sacrosanct 2nd amendment, it upholds the well regulated militia part.
    Common sense dictates that the Australia solution would be highly effective.

  • The 2013 CDC Report we are both referencing made its findings on Defensive Gun Use perfectly clear: there is plenty of it – and it works. This is what they actually said:

    “Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed . Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.”

    “A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

  • Actually the conclusion was needed further study. Those estimates of use were extrapolated from a small sample of responses from a number of surveys. Kleck’and Gertz are the dominant researchers cited in favour of defensive use of guns but methodology and resulting data/conclusions have been questioned by a number of researchers. In addition, Kleck himself admitted that likely up to 64% of reported SDGu was likely illegal – not used in legitimate self-defense. Other scholars have posited using NCVS an annual SDGU of only 108,000 – basically a fifth of lowest estimate that you cited – which you can also read in the same paragraph cited. So in summary, it is a starting point with some hotly contested and generally dated research.

    The CDC is currently evaluating research funded under the program and it will be up to the CDC and likely vetted politically as well as to whether they will actually release any of the research findings.The programs is considered terminated due to lack of any further funding. California just created a centre for this purpose in June because of the lack of leadership and impartiality shown federally.

  • “Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed.” The sources you cited and the discussions you referenced are part of that ongoing dispute.

    Two things NOT in dispute (from the Report):

    1) “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals…”

    2)“…consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims…”

    Or, in other words…“common, and effective.”

  • See my response to LLD, above. According to the CDC report, Defensive Gun Use is both common and effective. Mass shootings, in contrast, are a unique circumstance, since by definition they occur where people are assembled in mass – a situation that obviously presents unique security challenges.

    But to bring the discussion home to the current case – as far as the Texas shooting is concerned, the urgent cry for lawmakers to “finally do something” is particularly misplaced and misleading, in view of the fact that a simple application of the laws already on the books would have squelched the spree before it even started.

  • Probably. But that’s part of the limitation on the “good guy with a gun” system. You have to be in a position to use your weapon accurately, effectively, etc. I do think more people will be arming themselves at houses of worship though.

  • Yeah I saw how you got your behind handed to you with stats showing how vacant your position is.

    More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/more-guns-do-not-stop-more-crimes-evidence-shows/

    Gun control laws actually work, according to new research
    https://www.popsci.com/gun-control-laws-work

    “Good guys with guns” are more likely to be using their guns negligently than preventing criminal acts. Not a single mass murder was prevented by armed citizenry. Not even this one.

  • First “all National Surveys” refers to those that Klerk did. And even Klerk admitted that up to 67% of the incidents involving SDGU also occurred in the context of unspecified illegal activity. Denton and Fabricus looked at gun deaths and woundings as reported by the news, police reports, court documents and coroner’s reports for a 6 month period in Maricopa County area which represented about 42% of Arizona’s population and 48% of gun uses. They found only 2 DGU killings in that period – one incident in which both were engaged in ‘mortal combat’ and one in which the victim was a bystander in the line of fire. According to Klerk’s model, there should have been 98 killings or wounding and 236 firings. Their findings were even lower than what the the NCVS study would have predicted. The study has flaws but certainly casts serious doubts as to ‘common’ and ‘effective’ In terms of effectiveness as a deterrent, in fact an unloaded gun was suggested.

    With respect to mass shootings, only 3% have been stopped by an armed civilian while 13% were stopped by unarmed civilians. (The rest – either the shooter committed suicide or simply stopped.)

  • Still ignoring what I said in favor of what you wanted me to say. That’s kind of your trademark rhetorical move, isn’t it? And “gun control laws” failed the people of Sullivan Springs, didn’t they?

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