Saturday’s mass shooting in El Paso is an unmitigated tragedy. What we know at this point is that, once again, a shooter was guided by a naked white supremacy and white nationalism. There is no glossing over the reality now staring America in the face: Demonic evil is at our doorstep; it is an evil akin to a home grown radicalism manifesting itself in resurgent racial hatred and violence. Anything short of unequivocal Christian condemnation of these actions is a failure to be Christian. We cannot countenance the blood-and-soil nihilism that so many young men are being radicalized by.
The profile of these shooters is beyond coincidental at this point. They are typically younger, white, and male. This reveals a social contagion to which individuals of this subset are particularly susceptible. It’s a point that many have made prior to last weekend’s violence. Something is afoot culturally that is preying on while, male disillusionment and turning them into the very worst form of predators.
When atrocities of this nature occur, there’s a sense of helplessness that many Christians feel. For one, I think this is because we’ve begun to internalize the idea that prayers are now emblematic of inaction, as many progressives are prone to accuse. That’s, of course, wrong. But two, there’s a sense in which the feelings of solidarity that many Christians feel are designed to be put into action to stave off further evil.
I’m a Baptist Christian, and I view the local church as the epicenter of Christian response to anything and everything. Yesterday at church, I thought to myself, “What does the church have to say in moments like this?” A few objectives came to mind.
For one, the church can speak to the myriad of explanations and trends that typify a shooter’s profile. And it’s worth mentioning that monocausal explanations never suffice in explaining why these atrocities occur. Instead, we have a culture and milieu crisis to which younger, white males are particularly vulnerable.
As individuals and as a culture, we do not love our neighbor as we should. This is not because everyone is equally a racist; it is because as sinners, hate resides in every heart. Hate and strife are the defaults of the heart, and they are capable of being projected onto any group we deem is a threat to our way of life. So part of the church’s response in this is for pastoral proclamation and discipleship around what it means to be made in God’s image and how God commands us to love our neighbor. Where ethnic enmity besets every heart, Christians read of a Savior who torn down the walls of ethnic division in order to make “one new man” (Eph. 2:15).
As a culture, the family is in steep decline. Marriage rates are in decline, especially the lower you go on the socioeconomic ladder. Absentee fatherhood has produced a culture of aimless, wandering males looking to fill the void where a father’s affirmation is supposed to exist. Whether that’s a chain of endless YouTube videos from voices hawking conspiracies or xenophobia, the church must respond by claiming the fatherhood of God to disaffected males. To further this point, the church must internalize a culture where males are afforded spiritual fathers to discipleship them. Male discipleship inside the church is not something we can export to Jordan Peterson YouTube videos.
Whatever your politics, I think we can all agree that community vigilance with those we know could help prevent attacks. The social contagion of resentment, conspiracy, withdrawal, and hatred to which young, white males are susceptible to radicalization, can be combatted. This means, inside and outside the church, we must take responsibility for those in our midst who we see tending toward isolation.
Between failing to understand the dignity of the other and a culture of absentee fathers, to the wandering listlessness that characterizes the profiles of shooters, much of the male malaise in our culture is the result of the commands of Genesis 1 and 2 turning in on themselves. What do we see in Genesis 1 and 2? The design for individual and social flourishing. Genesis 1 proclaims the authority of God as Creator along with the creation of humanity as bearing God’s image. Genesis 1 speaks of industry, stewardship, and responsibility in the command to exercise dominion. Genesis 2 speaks of the formation of the family as the essential unit for society. What this means is that casting off the blueprint of Genesis 1 and 2, and seeing the corresponding regressions to anarchy, hate, listlessness, and family implosion is an opportunity for the church to speak formatively. Every culture is designed for and patterned after the Genesis 1 and 2 blueprint. Where there’s a vacuum, a culture will replace it with the opposite, which is what we’re seeing in many corners of our culture.
The local church must be a place where a culture of love for God’s authority, God’s creation of humanity, God’s plan for an individual’s industry, and God’s design for the family are heralded without embarrassment. The church must be a place that speaks to the patterns of American culture that are failing people. This means that the church must be a place that is less concerned with bourgeoisie sermons about coaching Americans into a happier American dream and more concerned with pulling a culture back from the cliffs of despair.
At a time where the culture wants policy to fix our problems (which is worth discussing), the church has theology to address the subterranean issues of the human heart. We must proclaim that in Christ, disillusioned males can find meaning and purpose; they can find spiritual fathers; they can learn to love the person unlike them; they can exchange fear for love; they can trade internet saturation and radicalization for real fellowship; they can learn that God calls everyone to a life of vigor and productivity.