Over the course of this past weekend, the United States was forced to witness two horrible mass shootings that took a total of 31 precious lives and injured 51 others. The first of the two shootings took place Saturday morning in El Paso and was the largest act of domestic terrorism in this nation since the Parkland, FL shooting last February. The other took place Dayton, OH at 1A.M. Sunday morning.
Even though we don’t have the full knowledge of the motivations of these two shooters, there are indications that the El Paso shooter was inspired by racist, white supremacist ideology and was set on targeting Hispanics, particularly Mexicans. It also seems that an anti-immigrant, racist manifesto which was posted just minutes before the mass shooting was possibly written by the suspect. This may explain why he chose El Paso since it is a city that has prided itself on being one of the safest in the nation in large part due to its cultural diversity. El Paso is about 85% Hispanic, most of whom are Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants.
So, as a Christian, and as a local pastor, I am compelled by the Jesus that I love, serve, and proclaim to speak out against this murderous act of hate-filled violence and the white supremacist ideologies that have inspired acts like these. We mourn the loss of each precious life and grieve with the families and friends of every victim. No one should ever have to endure such tragedy. Together with my family, and our church family, we pray for El Paso, Dayton, OH, and everyone connected to the precious lives that were lost. In addition to that, the El Paso incident hits a very deep, sensitive, and painful nerve in my soul. As a Mexican immigrant born along the Texas/Mexico border who currently pastors a church in a predominately Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant neighborhood in Houston, not only is it extremely easy for me to place myself in these victims’ shoes, I simply can’t help it. Why? Because—unless strong evidence comes out to prove otherwise—this means that I was being targeted in this shooting. It means my wife, son, mother, step-father, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins were this criminal’s targets. The only difference is that we live in Houston, not in El Paso. The thought of that fills my heart with grief and my eyes with tears.
If it can happen in a city known as one of the safest in this nation, who is to say that it can’t happen in our own city of Houston, whether in the Greater East End, or in any other predominately Hispanic neighborhood in our city? This is why silence can no longer be an option, especially for White Evangelicals who have historically stood painfully silent while ethnic minorities in this country have been maligned, villainized, caricatured, and targeted. The gospel compels us as Christians to speak up, speak out, and advocate for the marginalized. This can look like anything from standing up for people of color who are maligned in public, to calling and e-mailing your representatives and senators demanding that they pass laws, acts, and propositions that will protect the marginalized, and all people in general. Christ himself came to earth in lowly fashion, as part of a marginalized ethnic group, born in a Middle Eastern slum. He did not begin his public ministry seeking to preserve his safety and comfort with numbing silence in the face of injustice and oppression. Instead, he spoke up, spoke out, and advocated for those who were being marginalized by the political and religious elites of his day. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we worship and serve a brown, middle eastern, Jewish Savior who was unjustly treated, maligned, villainized, caricatured, and targeted. It is a constant temptation for the American Christian to pursue a life of comfort and ease, but let us continually swim against that current. Let us continually remember the roots of our faith, and the heritage of our Savior. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal." Those words have never rang more true than now. Silence cannot be an option, fellow Christian.
To our Sojourn East End members, and to all of our fellow East End Houston neighbors, especially those of Hispanic heritage, we want you to know that you are safe, loved, and welcomed in our church. Sojourn East End is not and will not be a place where we remain complacently silent when any ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, or gender group is maligned, villainized, caricatured, or targeted because we firmly believe that all human beings are made in God’s image and carry within them inherent worth and dignity because of it. By God’s grace, we will continue to be a faith community whose worldview is not confined to American political ideology that would cause us to view atrocious sins like xenophobia, racism, white supremacy, and ethnic cleansing purely through limited, American political lenses. Instead, we will continually submit ourselves passionately to God and His holy scriptures so that we examine and view the issues in our world primarily through gospel lenses. What does this mean for us? It means that our commitment to the gospel will often compel us to call evil evil and boldly stand against it even when it goes against our preferred political party’s ideology, regardless of which party we lean toward.
May God’s Church in El Paso, Dayton, and the rest of America be filled with power, wisdom, strength, and resolve to step into the gaping wounds of their cities and neighborhoods, and apply the healing balm of Christ’s love.
May we as God’s Church be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace across local churches, denominations, and networks and endeavor to work together for the glory of God and the shalom of our neighborhoods and cities.
May God fill every officer, authority, politician, and public servant in El Paso, Dayton, and our entire nation with perseverance, strength, wisdom, and ability to continue serving those in need, and to do whatever they can to push back the tide of hate-filled violence in the jurisdictions, spaces, and places they’ve been entrusted to serve.
May the God of all comfort, and Jesus our sympathetic High Priest, provide every hurting heart with comfort and peace through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and may God provide the victim’s family members and friends with strength as they continue the long and painful journey of grieving their loss.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Sojourn East End Lead Pastor