There was another shooting in a crowded public space late this week. This time it was in a movie theater in Lafayette Louisiana. Once again the shooter, John Houser, a white man with a criminal record and a history of mental illness and violence had a legally purchased handgun. And he had a hatred of “liberals”, a fascination with Neo-Nazism and a distorted understanding of the Gospel.
As the New York Times reports:
Mr. Houser believed that women should not work outside their homes, and “had a lot of hostility toward abortion clinics,” Mr. Floyd said. He was the sort of person who believed “that all the trouble started when they took Bibles out of school and stopped prayer.”
On Twitter, antigovernment discussion boards, and other forums online, a person using the names Rusty Houser, J. Rusty Houser, and John Russell Houser praised the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members, driven by a loathing of gays, stage protests at military funerals; Timothy J. McVeigh, who bombed a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168; and even Adolf Hitler. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and antigovernment groups, said the posts were all from Mr. Houser.
The authorities on Friday outside the Grand movie theater in Lafayette, La., where a gunman opened fire on Thursday night. Several times, he described the United States as a “financially failing filth farm” that deserved to collapse, and would do so soon.
Sadly there is every reason to expect that there will be more opportunities to consider why it is that we as a people allow men like this to legally purchase the tools they need to kill children and our neighbors.
But in this moment, the Episcopal Bishop of Western Louisiana Jake Owensby, in whose diocese this latest shooting happened, asks us to pray for the victims, and because Our Savior commands it, to pray for the shooter as well.
He writes on his blog Pelican Anglican:
“My heart and mind—probably much like your own—are reeling with the specific horror and agony of the Lafayette shootings. Nevertheless, I am also mindful that these shootings join what seems like an endless stream of senseless violence across our country.
This is not the time to outline a detailed Christian response to our epidemic of violence. But there is space to name it for what it is: an epidemic. The medicine for this epidemic is the Gospel. And that Gospel teaches us to be peacemakers.
We followers of Jesus are not helpless in the face of violence. But we must take the risk to ask how we contribute—in many cases unconsciously and unintentionally—to a cultural addiction to violence. And we must have the courage to take the risky steps and to make the difficult changes to overcome violence with the peace that passes all understanding.”
I imagine Mr. Houser thought he understood the Gospel. He didn’t. He perverted it and then used it to justify violence against people he found “troubling” to his understanding of how the world should work. It’s time for those of us who struggle to follow the teachings of Jesus to stop standing by as people to twist the Gospel to their own purposes, to justify violence, destruction and death.
Pray for shooter. Pray for the victims. Believe in the Gospel. It is the only hope we have for the healing of the World.