Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, along with students and speakers at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24, 2018

Enough is enough

By the Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson

In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting — this time in Parkland, Fla. — politicians were quick to offer their thoughts and prayers. The backlash to what felt like empty platitudes was swift and biting, as social media exploded with comments noting that thoughts and prayers are not enough. It is not enough for our elected officials to offer thoughts and prayers with no real action. It is not enough to allow legislative proposals to stall and languish, rather than be enacted. Neither is it enough for the church to offer thoughts and prayers.

What is the role of the church in times of tragedy? Society has relegated us to a position of handholding, uttering prepared prayers and offering a penitent presence. Surprisingly, we are accepting of this marginalized role because it is safe and noncontroversial. No one is upset when clergy enters after the fact to pray and comfort. It is the acceptable and appropriate response. Thus, clergy willingly don collars so that people know who we are when we dry tears and offer hugs and soothing words. We pray that God will comfort those who are mourning. And when enough time passes, we return to our regularly scheduled lives.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the power of prayer; I believe in providing a prayerful presence. These responses are the essence of ministry. But they feel so reactive and neutered. Moreover, there is more to ministry than handholding in the aftermath. As the church, have we not grown tired of such a marginalized role, where we are rendered impotent and ineffective? I know I have. I am tired of church leaders who are asked to pray but expected to remain silent when the substantive conversations begin. I am tired of the fear that causes us to hold our tongues lest someone be offended or alienated by our words. I am tired of negating the prophetic aspect of ministry that requires us to be vigilant and vocal. I’m tired. Aren’t you?

Clearly, high school students have grown tired, and I applaud their actions. Students have traveled to state capitals, as well as the nation’s capital, to meet with elected officials. They have marched and rallied. They mobilized a movement with the hashtag “enough.” In Massachusetts, students are staging school walkouts as a way of demanding comprehensive gun reform. They refuse to be silenced. They refuse to remain marginalized. They refuse to be pacified and told that they are too young to know or understand. May God bless their efforts.

May God also bless us to be open to their leadership. We, as the church, have much in common with these “children.” Societally, we continue to expect children to be seen and not heard, relegated to secondary positions and not in the way of “grown folks’ business.” This is true of the church as well. We want the pastor to pray the sandwich prayers — before the business starts and after the business ends — and to otherwise be quiet. But what if we refuse? What if we say, “We won’t be silent; we demand action.” What would that look like?

Can you imagine churches deciding to gather on a Sunday morning to walk out, marching the streets to sing and chant that we want reform? Can you imagine church members storming the offices of elected officials or staging sit-ins in capitol buildings to demand change? Can you imagine pastors writing editorials, using their words, voices and influence to make a difference? I can see it. The vivifying power to do this kind of work is in us because we are followers of Jesus Christ and emboldened by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Here is the point: God has not given us a spirit of fear. Neither has God called us to simply remain passive and reactive. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Change and action are required. The children are leading us, but we, as the church, need to come alongside. It is our call, and it is our work. So, let us summon the holy boldness that is in each of us as disciples. Something must change so that we might eliminate mass shootings in our time. Let us, as the church, not only comfort and care but also prophetically press for change and reform. And let us march on until victory is won because enough is enough.

The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. Her book “Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7Rs of SANCTUARY for Pastors” is available through Judson Press.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.