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Pence tells grieving town ‘Faith is stronger than evil’

Vice President Mike Pence hugs Evelyn Holcombe at Floresville High School during a stop Nov. 8, 2017, in Floresville, Texas. A man opened fire inside a church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday, killing and wounding many; Holcombe was in the church during the shooting but escaped. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

FLORESVILLE, Texas (RNS) — Vice President Mike Pence traveled to this rural stretch of Texas to offer prayers and words of comfort to a stricken community three days after a lone gunman killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday morning church service.


RELATED: Texas church to be demolished, like other mass killing sites before it


The memorial service was held Wednesday (Nov. 8) on a high school football field in the neighboring town of Floresville, about 13 miles from the site of the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The service followed Christian tradition and was replete with Bible readings and prayers to Jesus.

It offered few political points and no mention of guns, mental illness or domestic violence.

Pence said he was inspired by the strong convictions of the people of Sutherland Springs and especially the victims of its historic church, and he expressed his solidarity with their faith.

Off to the side of the stadium, a section was reserved for victims’ families, and it was to them that much of the prayers and words were addressed.

“Faith is stronger than evil,” Pence reassured the families. “Faith is the antidote to fear and despair.”

Thousands of people responded with shouts of “Yeah!” and “Amen!”

Earlier in the day, Pence visited the hospital where many survivors are being treated and met with the families of the victims. He also spoke briefly to reporters outside First Baptist Church, cordoned off with yellow tape.

“This evil must come to an end in our land,” he said, citing “bureaucratic failures” that allowed the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, to buy multiple weapons, including the Ruger AR-556 rifle he used at the church, despite having been admitted to a psychiatric hospital while he was in the Air Force.

Federal law prohibits gun possession by anyone who “has been committed to any mental institution.”

Kelley was also charged with assaulting his wife and stepson.

Pence said the Air Force and the Department of Defense were conducting reviews.

“We will find out why this information was not reported in 2012, and we will work to make sure it never happens again,” he said.

At the evening rally, Pence was introduced by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who offered his own testament of turning to God after an accident severed a vertebra in his spine and left him in a wheelchair.

“I questioned God, but you know who didn’t give up on me? God,” Abbott said. “God brought me all the way forward.”

Floresville’s Bernard Cenney, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who came to the service to pay his respects, said the faith emphasis was a natural part of small-town Texas culture.

“Belief in God is really, really big here and it transcends going to church,” Cenney said. “There’s this wholesome belief in God and in something greater than us.”

Closing his speech, Pence invited his wife, Karen, to offer a prayer.

“We’re a family that believes in prayer,” she said. “Lord, thank you for being here with us right now.”

Asking for prayers in the wake of a mass shooting has become as expected as thunder after lightning. But outside Texas there were some signs of dissent.

On Monday, Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Southern California, walked out during a moment of silence held on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the Texas shooting victims.

“I can’t do this again,” Lieu said via Facebook Live after his exit. “I’ve been to too many moments of silences. Just in my short career in Congress, three of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred. I will not be silent. What we need is we need action, we need to pass gun safety legislation now.”

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, boycotted a moment of silence on the House floor for victims of October’s Las Vegas shooting, calling it “an excuse for inaction.”

In 2016, Moulton and two other Democratic members of the House walked out during a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting. A Twitter hashtag, #NoMoreSilence, popped up about the same time and is being used in reference to the Texas shooting as well.

Still, studies show communal grief rituals, like prayer vigils and moments of silence, can be crucial to the grieving process. A 2014 study by Harvard researchers showed that such rituals — whether public or private, religious or secular — can help people deal with negative feelings after a loss or tragedy.

“Since people who have suffered some kind of loss often feel as if their lives are out of control, using rituals can help restore that feeling of control and, in turn, make it easier for them to cope with grief,” Romeo Vitelli, a psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder, wrote of the study in Psychology Today. “While rituals can vary widely, the underlying principle of restoring a sense of control is usually the same.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

43 Comments

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  • God’s and his kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17) are greater than men and their governments; and graciously will soon replace them all (Daniel 2:44).

    Then will start the loving, peaceful and just millennial rule of that government over all meek mankind on earth after it puts an end to all wicked ones on earth (Isaiah 11:1-5). That will be accomplished by its King (Isaiah 9:6,7), and God’s son, Christ Jesus (Matthew 3:16, 17).

    The best is yet to come!

  • Rituals are no doubt important in dealing with grief but the rituals need not be religious in nature and certainly do not require belief in any god. Another ritual the researchers found effective was:

    “Step 1. Please draw how you currently feel on the piece of paper on your desk for two minutes;

    Step 2. Please sprinkle a pinch of salt on the paper with your drawing;

    Step 3. Please tear up the piece of paper;

    Step 4. Now please count up to ten in your head five times;

    Step 5. You have now completed this task.”

    As stated in the report on the research from Harvard, “The evidence to date suggests that using rituals, whether the formal rituals associated with many religions or the informal rituals we can create for outselves [sic], can help people regain some feeling of control in their lives as well as cope with loss.”

    There is little doubt that ritual and its benefits are one of the reasons religion persists.

  • Sure, rituals are important. But they are not a substitute for reconsidering the second amendment and the failure of the Air Force.

  • When is then? Waiting? What about the next shootings? …already been 3 killing by shooters in my city since Sunday…so we just put up with the shootings until glory time.

  • Reconsider and rescind the Second Amendment. Mike Pence and Greg Abbott ought to bear the responsibility to do this. They owe it to the citizens of that small Texas town. Only the relatives of those who were killed understand the pain.Not Donald Trump, not the NRA nor the pro-gun folks. So reconsider the Second Amendment and rescind it altogether. Ban guns, what the heck!

  • Another meaningless, pious platitude.

    Faith wasn’t stronger than bullets. God wasn’t stronger than our lack of gun control.

    26 more Americans are dead, victims of yet another mass shooting. Today, there will be at least one multiple murder of at least three people, because we refuse to do anything about guns.

    Mr. Pence and whatever he has to say are not part of the solution. He is part of the problem.

  • Nothing wrong with the second amendment. The problem is too many paid shills and ignoramuses miss the part of it which uses the term “well regulated” and promote the treasonous idea that it is supposed to enable domestic terrorism and the murder of law enforcement officers.

  • Faith won’t stop these killings. But keeping high-powered weapons out of the hands of loonies will slow them down.

  • Since your religion-du-jour is gun control, please tell us what gun-control fixes you got.

    California’s gun-control didn’t stop the San Bernadino Massacre in 2015.
    Chicago’s gun-control is the laughingstock of every black gang on (and off) the map.
    DC’s handgun ban was struck down by the USSC as a clear violation of the Constitution.

    High roller Paddock got his weaponry LEGALLY, just like the gay shooter Omar Mateen.
    Devin Kelley got his massacre weapon, ILLEGALLY. Gun laws didn’t matter.
    Dylann Roof did his massacre without obtaining any AR-15’s. Just a .45 & ammo.

    So tell me what’cha got in mind, Ben. You hate God, especially the God of the Sutherland Springs church, okay got it. Just say how you gonna wave that gun-control wand and fix everything.

  • So how come you haven’t offered a way to keep high-powered weapons out of the hands of loonies? And (in the case of Dylann Roof) ordinary .45-cal handguns?

  • Stupid, slanderous, insulting. Trifecta!

    But the good part, you brought up Chicago, therebye proving my expectation and my point.

    But the best part? My “gun control religion”. At least my religion isn’t supporting the murder of innocents. And unlike your god, doesn’t sit on its hands while the innocents are being slaughtered.

    As for hating god? A being I have no belief in? Do you have any new material? Or am I just sensing that even you can’t make any sense out of 26 people being murdered while worshipping your all powerful, all seeing god?

    Yeah. I think I might be on to something.

  • A list I came across – some of these suggestion are meant to address the fact that people lose their lives to guns outside of mass shootings – apparently 168 every 2 days. Just one person’s list though, there is lots out there.

    1) Enforce current laws
    2) More comprehensive, meaningful background checks and waiting periods
    for all types of sales everywhere – meaning no loopholes or exceptions,
    including private sales.
    3) Reinstate the assault weapons ban.
    4) Restrict aftermarket modifications which make killing more people faster easier
    5) For goodness sake, don’t fall for “the hearing protection bill” that would allow silencers
    6) Elect people to office who believe in common sense gun regulation
    7) Insist they create common-sense gun legislation.
    8) Crackdown on interstate sales of guns in order to skirt state gun laws
    9) Crackdown on online and other black market sales
    10) Vote for people who will enact legislation that addresses mental health parity and universal health coverage.
    11)Enforce laws and implement laws that keep violent offenders (domestic
    violence, assault, battery, road rage, explosive anger) from being
    allowed to purchase a firearm.
    12) Require sales of other tactical and military grade gear to be registered: bulletproof vests, night vision goggles…
    13)Recognize that you don’t have to be mentally ill to not be emotionally
    healthy and that there are many emotionally unhealthy people who are not
    mentally ill who have no business with firearms.
    14) Require safe storage of firearms.
    15) Require gun owners to carry insurance and be recertified periodically.
    16) Ammunition sales are monitored and/or limited.

  • bbeck,

    We have been living in the “last days” of a wicked era as Jesus prophecied we would be. There is nation again nation, increase of lawlessness with a decrease of love, pestilence, earthquakes in one place after another, and fear of what is happening on the entire earth (Matthew, chapter 24; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21).

    The good news of God’s kingdom, or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17) is being preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations before the end of this era comes (Matthew 24:14).

    Because God’s government shall soon come (Matthew 6:10) and put an end to and replace all human governments (Daniel 2:44), it will then start its millennial rule after destroying all wicked ones on earth (Isaiah 11:1-5).

    It will be throughout that millennial rule that millions of persons who have undergone death, no matter the reason, including actions of wicked ones, such as in this case, will be resurrected back to life on earth from their sleeping in death (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10).

    That millennial rule will be loving, just, righteous and peaceful, and there will no longer be wars, weapons, prejudice, hate, injustice, greed, and selfishness of today’s world, but only complete and loving brotherhood of man (Micah 4:3,4), no matter the race, culture or nation.

    Not only that, but that government rule will also put an end to all sickness, disease, infirmity, old age and death of humans on earth (Revelation 21:3,4), which no man, nor any of his governments, will ever accomplish.

    The BEST is yet to come and God is not slow respecting these marvelous promises (2 Peter 3:9), which will definitely become reality!?????☝️

  • This guy “Rep. Ted Lieu … Democrat” – we all know what he’s up to, don’t we, Yonat Shimron and Kimberly Winston? LIEU’s doing nothing IN LIEU OF everything. Nothing to see here, folks, other than:

    (1) LIEU “walk[ing] out during a moment of silence held on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the Texas shooting victims” – IN LIEU OF walking with a gun-control bill for a sign-off, into the HQ offices of the victimizers – Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, Smith & Wesson, Glock, Sig Sauer, O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Savage, Springfield Armory, Beretta, Taurus International, Keystone Sporting Arms, Kahr Arms, Barrett Firearms, Norinco, and Hi-Point Firearms!

    (2) LIEU press-releasing “Statement on Deployment of U.S. Ground Troops in Syria … demand[ing] answers” from Trump “to … questions” he’s “left wondering” with – IN LIEU OF coming right out in-your-face to oppose and end that mass killing machine!

    (3) LIEU calling for an investigation into Wikileaks’ “allegation that the CIA lost its arsenal of hacking tools” that were designed to destroy “the privacy of Americans” – IN LIEU OF coming right out to prosecute the CIA and get that over with, whydoncha!

  • Fran, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don’t forget to wear your nose ring -the big steel one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting.

    This time, though, when the swirling starts and the Big Pull begins, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in your last practice session.

  • True that – “Mr. Pence [and his] meaningless, pious platitude [is] not… the solution”.

    But true this – “Bullets … [are]n’t stronger than … faith”.

    And true this – “Our lack of gun control … [i]sn’t stronger than … God”.

    Yes, true this, too – “we refuse … guns … [yet] there will be at least one multiple murder of at least three people”.

    “Mr. Pence” is clueless, but I have the solution. Who wants to hear it and do it? Send me a million first.

  • She’s been busy trying to get her head out of the “capsule intake”. See above under her comment.

  • What about the guns by billions in number from US government & corporation that have now suited up an equal number of individuals here, there & everywhere on the planet? “Ban guns, what the heck!”????

  • Fran, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don’t forget to wear your nose ring -the big steel one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were last practicing for the Uplifting.

    This time, though, when the swirling starts and the Big Pull begins, close your mouth so the
    floaters don’t get in like they did in your last practice session.

  • bbeck,

    What God (him) promises will definitely come true, whether any of us believe it or not. But it really shows how much God cares about and loves the human family!! ??☝️??☝

    So I will continue to remain optimistic, even in this crazy and messed up world of ours today!

    At the same time, I will continue to observe the promises of our world’s politicians/governments as being “fake,” and the reality of their promises coming true (which are NOT the best!!) as being “impossible”!!

    I have been around for more than 60 years, my friend, so I can speak, with experience, about their promises (ugh!) and their miserable results, from experience! Enough is enough! ????

  • Lisa,

    Thre is no rapture; however, time will vindicate God, and all his promises, to everyone on the planet!!

    Both good/meek people, who will inherit a paradise earth Matthew 5:5) with eternal life; and bad/wicked people who refuse to change and will inherit eternal death (and not eternal torment) will receive direct proof from God that whatever he promises or purposes comes true! Just wait and see!

  • Not sure if you are ‘channeling’ Floyd or not for me ‘cuz there ain’t any gun control in Chicago any more.

  • Fran,

    No, there was a rapture yesterday (Doug 11:20), but you weren’t ready and missed out. Tough sheet for you; now all you can do is wait to die and become wormfood like all the other shortbeards (Bertha 9:17)

    Better towel off now. Your thick facial hair is still wet from your last practice flush, but the capsule has already left the rapture platform. You missed it.

    Signing out now from intergalactic radio on the electromagnetic rapture capsule! Happy wormfeeding, not.

  • I will say I was disappointed to discover that Floyd was telling a bald-faced lie about Chicago. I took his assertion initially as being true – lesson learned – fact check everything. But maybe, he just needs to learn to fact check first.

  • Strictly speaking, he isn’t lying. It’s more of a direct, refuse to acknowledge reality obfuscation. They do have gun control laws in Chicago. But not 20 feet outside the city limits.

  • No, true this about you coming from your fellow traveller:

    According to Stephen LeDrew, an atheist himself (cf. The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement, Oxford University Press, 2016):

    Atheists’ “intolerance [is] quite dangerous. … [They] exhibit some totalitarian tendencies with respect to the use of state power … Major intrusions by the state on individual freedoms, as well as imperialist projects, are frequently legitimated ideologically through the rhetoric of security and protection. … [All atheism does is it] legitimates the current neoliberal world order”.

  • Thanks for the correction. Skip read Politifacts re: Sarah H Sanders comment about Chicago and gun control to the end.

  • The delusions of religion in a modern educated nation is an insult to all. These people are no smarter than the other desert, goat-herder religious fools.
    America has stopped all forward progress with this Presidency and his brainless dominionists and other aberrant evangelicals.

  • So it’s true, then.

    According to Daniel Fincke, an atheist himself (cf. “Why I Criticize My Fellow Atheists”, Camels with Hammers, June 17, 2013):

    (1) “They [atheists] give little impression they are interested in the kinds of ongoing introspection and self-suspicion that are invaluable to personal growth.”

    (2) “Out of some animus … prejudice or malice”, they “have gotten into this movement to indulge in their feelings of superiority to those they pitilessly disparage as ‘stupid’ or wicked. … They are just in this to throw rocks at the ‘retards’. I have no sympathies with such people and am ashamed that they’re associated with me.”

    (3) To make things worse, atheists don’t “criticize [their] ‘own’ side … acknowledg[ing] when and where [they]’re wrong”, because they’re just “ethically lazy or self-righteously self-satisfied.”

    (4) When “atheists … shar[ing] many of my core intellectual and moral values … are in violation of those values”, such “hypocrites … make all atheists, including me, look bad and set back our cause.”

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