Another day, another horrific mass shooting. The entire country is in heated debate about what must be done. Students across the country are protesting. But the vast majority of churches across America have remained fairly quiet, with the exception of some prayer before the sermon. Prayer is essential but how can pastors enter the gun violence conversation?
Some pastors believe churches should stay out of controversial topics because it may be a distraction from their vision and mission. But this isn’t necessarily the case. With everyone talking about it, pastors are missing an incredibly opportunity to teach congregants, engage the community, and speak truth, peace, grace, and unity in a divided society.
Here are four positive and Christ-honoring ways pastors can talk about gun violence.
NOT ON SUNDAY
The gun violence debate isn’t an appropriate topic for a sermon and pastors rightly avoid preaching on the issue. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a place to talk about it. Pastors can move the discussion away from Sunday services to a special event or perhaps a small group series. This can be an opportunity to minister to people who don’t don’t have a faith background and a good starting point for them to explore the church. Take advantage of the six and a half days that aren't Sunday mornings.
When children are being killed it’s hard to not respond emotionally. A quick glance at anyone’s social media page and it’s clear that the majority of posts and memes about gun violence are filled with anger and desperation. It’s important for pastors to remember that perceived threats can lead to PTSD, so as they engage with and minister to congregants, it may be impossible to have a rational dialogue. Pastors should affirm people’s emotions, regardless of how it’s expressed, and approach discussions more like counseling than a conversation.
One of the most important things a pastor should do in engaging this topic is to remain neutral. The issue has unfortunately become very politicized. Fake news and out of context data spews out from every camp. There is no way for a pastor to take sides and present objective information while fostering respectful and unifying conversation. Everyone can have their personal convictions and this can be shared in a private setting, but in public, pastors need to remain neutral.
REMEMBER THE PURPOSE
Pastors need to remember that it’s not about gun control or the second amendment. Daring to tackle a controversial topic of this magnitude needs to have a higher purpose. It must point back to Jesus Christ. Since gun violence is an extremely divisive issue that is so convoluted with politics, emotions, cultural differences, and misinformation, a pastor’s goal is to bring unity to the congregation and community, in the name of Jesus. The Church is not in the business of government. It is in the business of heart and soul transformation. When God begins to transform people, that’s when the world will see the kingdom of God on earth.
It’s understandable that pastors will steer clear of talking about gun violence. It doesn’t seem to fit the vision and mission of the church. It’s not directly about God. But everyone is talking about it and the majority of what is being said is not Christ-honoring. Pastors can bring hope, civility, reason, compassion, perspective, and ultimately Christ into this unpleasant conversation.