By Herman Yoos, Bishop, South Carolina Synod
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Our words fail us in light of this senseless tragedy that has claimed the lives of 58 persons and has wounded over 500 mostly young adults attending an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Although our words are inadequate, God's Word and promises always speak hope and comfort into our deepest experiences of suffering. In Psalm 46 we read,
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult... Be still and know that I am God... the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress."
The psalm writer reminds us that our strength in the face of evil comes not from ourselves, nor from our government, nor from our police and first responders but from the one who is and always will be our refuge and strength. It is moments like these that we realize that our interconnectedness with one another and with God is far more important than our political preferences and the things that so often divide us from one another.
In 2013 the Conference of Bishops put out a statement that I think is helpful for this tragedy today. We don't often put out statements but since I am writing this from the fall Conference in Chicago, it seems especially appropriate to share these words with you.
Rev. Herman Yoos, Bishop
From "A Pastoral Letter on Violence adopted by the ELCA Conference of Bishops, March 4, 2013"
We begin by listening: listening to God, to Scripture, and to each other. Providing a safe place for people to share their own stories, together we discern courses of action. Together we act. And together we return to listening - to assess the effectiveness of our efforts to reduce violence.
In the Large Catechism Luther says, We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting. Violence begins in the human heart. Words can harm or heal. To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation. Yet, guns and access are keys to the challenges we face.
We recognize that we serve in different contexts and have different perspectives regarding what can and should be done. But as we live out our common vocations, knowing that the work will take many forms, we are committed to the work of reducing and restraining violence. This shared work is a sign of our unity in Christ
We invite you, our sisters and brothers, to join us in this work:
- The work of lament - creating safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one another, and sharing the hope in God's promise of faithfulness
- The work of moral formation and discernment - listening to scripture, repenting, modeling conflict resolution in daily life, addressing bullying, conducting respectful conversations, and discerning constructive strategies to reduce violence
- The work of advocacy - acting to address the causes and effects of violence Knowing that we are not saved by this work, we undertake it trusting in Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the world and who calls us to be peacemakers, to pursue justice, and to protect the vulnerable.
In this, as in all things, Christ is with us. Thanks be to God.