At 1:30 am on Sunday, August 4, 2019, Pastor Charlie Carroll was startled awake by a phone call from one of the members of his church. A gunman had killed nine people in the Oregon district of Dayton, Ohio, just three blocks from City Church, where Carroll is the lead pastor. After praying all night and speaking to congregants and community members over the phone, Carroll faced his congregation the next morning and offered a message to help them process the tragedy they had just witnessed. Now, Carroll has a message for the broader church: We cannot get distracted from our purpose, which is to be the first responders in the battle against evil.
When shootings such as these happen, Carroll says we quickly gravitate toward conversations that blame “absolutely everything but evil,” and this conversation is actually distracting the church.
Evil Is to Blame for the Dayton Shooting
Speaking to ChurchLeaders.com, Carroll says whenever shootings such as these happen, the church often gets caught up in the nuances of the tragedy, like arguing about who is to blame and what the government should do to fix it. But Carroll says we need to stop asking what happened and start asking why it happened. That should be an easy answer for the church, considering the Bible tells us over and over again that evil is afoot in our world and that our adversary has come to steal, kill, and destroy.
The reason these tragedies happen repeatedly, Carroll believes, is because the church gets lured away from its true calling, which is to represent the heart of God to the communities of which they are a part. “Too often we’re allowing culture or political systems to be the tail that wags the dog in the church. The church forfeits an opportunity for influence because we’re not saying ‘here’s how the Lord thinks about this situation.’”
Carroll admits that with his congregation, which is an ethnically and economically diverse group of people who have walked with God for varying amounts of time, he thinks about the possibility of something like this shooting happening in his congregation on a weekly basis. This is the risk one takes when entering into ministry, though. Carroll reasons this reality is similar to what the early believers had to deal with as well. “It’s a liability we have to accept,” he reasons, as we simultaneously lean “into the fact that the Lord is in control.”
We as the church cannot act as people who have never read Ephesians 6, the passage of Scripture that explains what exactly we’re fighting against. Once again, the conversation around mental health, radicalization, and access to firearms should boil down to the need to stand against the spiritual darkness in our midst.
“The shooting has made our congregation and our staff very aware of the reality of evil…We hate it…it’s tragic and your heart breaks for all of the victims.” Despite the tragedy, Carroll says “There is so much good happening in our city right now that we understand why some of these things happen.”
Carroll wrote a moving post on Instagram that gives voice to the suffering his community is experiencing.
View this post on Instagram
My heart breaks for the victims and families impacted by today’s shooting in #dayton. This includes the perpetrator and his family. I was reading varying stories from across the country when I saw a picture from an international news source where the perpetrator was deceased, facedown with his hands tied behind his back. I had to hold back tears as I instantly felt grief for his family, specifically his mom and dad, in light of losing both a son and daughter. Oh, how much you’d want to still run to him, to hold him one last time, no matter how horrible an atrocity he had just committed. You see, he, too, was a victim of some sorts. I did not know him but do know enough about childhood trauma to know how internally tormented he must have been to do what he did. Pray. Pray for everyone. Pray that we as a society stop giving so much time and attention to “how” these things happen and instead start searching for a more holistically driven “why” these things happen. Solely my opinion, but we have to stop ignoring evil and start considering the consequences of entertaining ourselves with it, in light of the day and age in which we are living—a day where mental health services are almost impossible to obtain and obsolete to those who need them most, while $3,000,000.00 was just awarded to the winner of a first-person shooter video game. When everything but evil gets entertained as to why this happened, history is doomed to repeat itself. #prayfordayton
The Local Church Is the Hope of the World
According to Carroll (and several other church leaders), as the local church goes, so goes the community. This applies even more so when we’re faced with a tragedy.
Carroll thinks of the church as ambassadors that have been given the spirit of God with power and who have been armed with tools such as prayer. “Will the church step up and see itself at the forefront of this battle against evil?” Carroll asks. Instead of getting sucked into the minutia of politics, Carroll says church members should act more like first responders who do their jobs of not only helping the wounded in these battles but also proactively going out to find those, like the person responsible for the Ohio shooting, “in their torment and isolation” to help them heal. And we are uniquely equipped to take on this role, Carroll says, because we’ve been given the same Spirit Jesus was given, which is the Holy Spirit of God.
Politics, medicine, and law are all things that are a “direct reflection of the local church,” Carroll says. We have the next engineers, politicians, doctors sitting in our pews, he reasons, and if we can teach them how to respond to these tragedies, we’ll have a better response in the community.
Not only are we equipping leaders to do their day jobs, the church also has another point of influence in a community: That of modeling how a body functions in a healthy way. “One of the signs of health is that when one part of a body hurts, the other parts hurt with it and compensate for it,” Carroll explains.