This post was originally sent to the members of Chester ARP Church as a pastoral letter written in response to the tragic school shooting in Nashville, TN on March 27, 2023.
Like most of you, I watched the news in horror Monday evening as the reports came streaming in from the most recent school shooting in our country. Sadly, these kinds of reports have become all too familiar to us.
I remember standing in the lobby of Burgaw Hall on the NC State Campus as the news from Columbine High School was reported in 1999. I was shocked that someone would open fire in a school. But that was then. In the 24 years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 15 of their classmates and injured another 24, we have seen over 350 more active shooter situations on our K-12 school and college campuses. That is staggering.
Thankfully, most of those situations have not ended in mass casualties. However, that does not mean that the collective numbers of those shooters’ victims are insignificant. One report following the May 2022 incident at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX indicated that at that time 554 children, educators, and school staff had been victims of gun violence on school grounds since 1999. The same report went on to say that 311,000 students have been exposed to gun violence in its various forms while at school during the same time frame. There have been an additional 23 people killed or injured while on school grounds in 2023 alone. This is simply unacceptable for a civilized nation. We have a problem.
Admittedly, the news from the Covenant School hits me differently. The Covenant School is a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Nashville, TN. One of the children killed Monday is the 9-year-old daughter of the congregation’s lead pastor, Chad Scruggs. I’m sure you are already connecting the dots. I am a pastor whose kids attend a Christian school. One of mine is also 9. Patti and I can’t begin to imagine the pain and confusion that Pastor Scruggs and his family are enduring today.
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is a sister denomination of the ARP with whom we have an extremely close relationship. I have spoken with several ministers in the PCA since Monday and they are all hurting for the families who lost loved ones in the tragic shooting and for the Covenant congregation as well. You can certainly imagine how we would rally to the aid of our brothers and sisters if this had happened to an ARP congregation. In the community of God, we can rally to the good people of Covenant Presbyterian’s aid in prayer as well.
Inevitably, there will be many solutions offered to our ongoing crisis with gun violence. I do not profess to have any of those. I do not understand the ins and outs of policing, school safety policy, or what may or may not be reasonable gun control legislation. I will leave those discussions to the people who are equipped to evaluate our current cultural and legislative moment and make decisions moving forward. I will, however, commit myself to praying for the families of these most recent victims of gun violence as well as the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who are impacted by gun violence regularly. I read one telling statistic yesterday that claims that 59% of Americans have experienced gun violence (including suicide by firearm) or know someone closely who has experienced it. That’s 6 out of every 10 of you reading this letter!
God promises to hear our prayers and answer them. He heals the broken-hearted and comforts the grieving. He also moves among the nations to establish righteousness and justice among men. We must pray to that end.
Join me, if you will, in bringing the following requests before our God.
As we pray, we should also be willing to take practical steps to improve the safety of our communities and schools. Let’s secure our weapons, practice proper gun safety and teach our children and grandchildren to do the same, advocate for good mental health, and collaborate with people from different backgrounds and perspectives to address our ongoing crisis with gun violence. The number one cause for death among our children should not be “death by firearm.”
May our Lord be pleased to hear our prayers, protect our children, and heal our land.