Many of you who read my blog will no doubt be aware of this incident which occurred today. ABC News has some interesting coverage if you have not heard about it. I am interested in the story for more than the obvious reason: my former employment as a pastor. The story dovetails with my research into public acts of violence (more specifically) school shootings and other killings. Because the venue for the murder is a public space as opposed to the more private space that most homicides are committed in, these acts of violence carry a peculiar social reaction. The response to these events often instigates radical precautionary policies and systems of vigilance and prevention. What is altogether unclear is how effective these measures are in being able to actually prevent violence. Even though many of the systems that are developed can report significant engagement with potentially violent individuals, most programs have a very difficult time claiming actual prevention. This is largely due to the fact that these public acts of violence are some of the most randomly occurring acts both in their actual rate and in the perceived reasons that trigger these types of actions. The scope of my research is evaluating how policies might actually contribute to the occurrence of these types of public acts. And more importantly, my research is investigating how these systems affect the fabric of social order in various community contexts. I have been trained in the formal threat assessment program available to the regions schools. The correlating strategies see schools transforming their facilities into fortresses of high surveillance. This strategy is intended to allow the school to become more quickly aware of dangerous elements who might enter into the facility. It is also intended to provide parents and the general public with a sense of safety in response to the moral panic which these incidents engender.
But my interest goes farther than that:
It is interesting to me to see how followers of Christ respond when the worst of situations occur. How to they express their faith in meaningful terms?
Along with a call to prayer the statement reads:
In this day, where uncertainty seems to abound creating an environment in which people are vulnerable in doing things they might not do otherwise, one thing is certain, we, as human beings need a foundation upon which we can live our lives. We at First Baptist Maryville, along with other Christian believers, share this conviction: that foundation is God's Word. In the pages of the Book we call the Bible, we find the pathway for peace, hope, and a quality of living life despite what circumstances we find ourselves in.
What do you say at a time like this? For me this statement really emphasizes grace founded on several important convictions. I would say on the whole this statement seems to intentionally avoid the natural disposition that an event like this could have toward fear and despair. What remains to be seen is what pathway this church seeks to take in the next months and years as it comes to terms with this tragic loss. This church, and I would suggest, churches in general have an opportunity to address the roots of fear based social constructions and provide a meaningful counterpoint. We should not forget to pray for this aspect of the tragedy.