A Sunday morning shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, claimed the lives of 26 people, while injuring 20 other church-goers. Among the slain were both young and elderly attendees, according to officials who spoke at a press conference on the weekend. Americans are finding mass shootings to be depressingly common but no matter how regular they seem, the pain is always acute. To make sense of the devastation, American faith leaders responded to the Texas church shooting, and they're calling for strength, unity, and social change.
"Christianity has never advanced in a context of comfort," John David Smith, preacher and director at the Baptist Missionary Association of America, tells Bustle. "Christians all throughout history have endured difficulty because of their faith in some form of another."
For those afraid of going to church after what took place in Texas, Smith offers his support in standing strong against feelings of anxiety. Those concerned for their safety shouldn't give into "a spirit of fear," the preacher suggests.
The organization American Baptist Churches USA responded to the shooting with a similar message, calling for people to "express love and not fear." In a letter penned by Rev. Lee Spitzer, the reverend advised, "Do not give in to reactionary fear that promotes unhealthy responses to violence. May we keep the doors of our sanctuaries and buildings open, not locked."
It isn't just Christian leaders who have responded to the Sutherland Springs attack — leading Jewish and Muslim figures have shared their thoughts as well.
In addition to churches witnessing mass shootings, mosques and synagogues have been victims of gun violence as well. In 2016, a Texas mosque was reportedly shot at, leading to extensive property damage to the front of the establishment. In March, the synagogue known as Temple Adath B'nai Israel reported that someone allegedly fired at one of their windows in Evansville, Indiana.
No one was hurt in either reported incident but the fear felt throughout the communities was unmistakable.
"Every faith leader in America from every faith should be crying out for reasonable gun safety measures."
Qasim Rashid, the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.S., borrows from Martin Luther King Jr. in his message for those who are afraid at this time. "Like Dr. King said," Rashid tells Bustle, "the arc of the universe is towards justice." He also says people shouldn't "recoil" or "close doors," but instead take open stances against endemic violence in the United States.
As Rashid says, everyone needs to "stand publicly against all forms of hatred and violence like we unfortunately saw yesterday."
Senior rabbi Michael Adam Latz of Minneapolis' Shir Tikvah synagogue tells Bustle that those are afraid of going to church should "mobilize that fear into ... righteous indignation."
"To the people who are afraid, I honor your fear. You are afraid for good reason," Latz says. "People are responding in fear for a good cause. We now have an epidemic of gun violence in the United States of America. The NRA and the Republican Congress has turned weapons of war into idols they bow down [to] and worship."
Addressing gun violence should be the next step for everyone, according to the rabbi. Latz points to the New York City terror attack that claimed the lives of eight people as well as Donald Trump's response to "immediately terminate" the diversity visa lottery.
"We have one man from the diversity immigration lottery who committed a terrorist attack," Latz says. "One in 27 years, and there are calls to close the diversity lottery. We have had over 300 mass shootings in the United States of America since Jan. 1 and the Republicans throw up their hands as if there's nothing we can do."
"Every faith leader in America from every faith should be crying out for reasonable gun safety measures," Latz says. But if you feel afraid, Latz wants you to know it is a normal human reaction. "We should turn that fear into creating a world in which gun violence in the United States of America does not make the headlines every single damn day."
Simply because we can't eradicate violence doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to reduce it. ... Mobilize that fear into activism and righteous action that says we value human lives. It is our moral duty to stand up to the amoral tyrants who are harming our places of worship, schools, concerts, malls, and places of work. We should turn that fear into righteous action, turn that anger ... into recreating a moral landscape so that every human being — no matter what they believe, no matter how they worship — can live with some level of peace and dignity.