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The Targeting of Christians and How Christians Respond: Reflections on the Oregon Shootings

Pray for the families for whom this is not “another mass shooting,” and then act in these ways.

Overnight, CNN reported the Oregon shooter singled out Christians to murder.

Wounded survivor of a gunshot, 18-year-old Anastasia Boylan, reportedly told her father the gunman entered the class and said before shooting the professor, “I’ve been waiting to do this for years.”

Boylan also told her family he used reload time to ask for student’s religion. “And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.’”

After being shot Boylan played dead to survive.

Survivor Rand McGowan, who was shot in the hand, said the shooter asked “Do you have God?” If the victim said “yes,” Mercer reportedly responded “This won’t hurt much,” or “This won’t hurt for long.”

I’ve written a post for USAToday this morning, geared toward their audience and with the caveat that these reports often turn out to be incorrect. However, I’ve expanded on those thoughts here, specifically writing for Christians, with things that are true in all tragedies like this.

People will run to conflicting narratives and debates following such tragedies. Some will say that this is a gun control story, others a mental health story, and for others, a story of Christian persecution. But compassion and lament should precede debate, and initial reactions should be shaped by our compassion and our beliefs about the gospel.

As such, our first reaction to such horrific events must be to pray for the families of the victims, the family of the shooter, anyone else who is facing the hardest days of their lives in the weeks ahead.

Then, secondly, Christians must ask, “How do we respond to something like this?” in light of our faith.

There will certainly be more ways than this, but let me share four simple ways we must respond:

1. We must be ready to give an answer for the hope we have.

This might sound ridiculous at first because students at Umpqua Community College may have been killed for saying they were Christians. However, as followers of Jesus, and as ones who have sacrificed our lives for the kingdom of God, we must remember that being a Christian means we put our hope in a story that goes beyond our numbered years.

As God’s instruments of justice, Christians should lead the conversations in that pursuit and to that end.

When Christ rose from the dead and ascended into eternity, the trajectory of human existence went with him. The gospel tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and that he is going to prepare a place for us where the brokenness of this world cannot kill and tears will be wiped away forever.

In the face of targeted attacks such as these, or perhaps even more specific persecution in the future, Christians must remember that our hope is not in this life, but in life beyond the grave.

2. We must fight to forgive.

By the grace of God, when evil came knocking on the door of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, forgiveness answered. We need to learn from them and their response where friends and family responded not with hate-laced rhetoric, but with the forgiveness they have found in Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness is far from easy, but if we’re honest, that which is right is rarely easy. It truly can be a fight to forgive. C.S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” This is too true, isn’t it? And how are we to forgive something as reprehensible as a mass shooting? We forgive others by the same grace God forgave us, motivated by the love Christ has for us.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.