Reading: James 3
This morning I was asked to say a few words about this weekend’s shootings. I prepared a message related to our Sunday school passage, however, I will honor this request.
I don’t know the reason for the shooting in Ohio, but we do know what motivated the El Paso shooter who drove 9 hours in order to shoot up a Wall Mart. We know because people have read his statements on social media, and he shared his motivations with the world. He attacked the people of El Paso in response to what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
The word invasion shouldn’t be a surprise, we heard it before when speaking of Hispanic immigrants. We have heard terms of invasion, we have heard the word infestation used along with complaints that they are breeding in our cities. We have heard it said: “They are not people, but animals,” and we have heard the whole group, based purely on their ancestry, called a danger to our nation, our democracy, and our way of life.
These words name a people group as a problem, and they describe the problem in a way that suggests the solution is extermination. Invasions are fought and killed, breeding infestations are exterminated. Enemies of our nation and our way of life are fought and destroyed. When people are described in such a way, these words lead to the action of killings. If these words continue to be used, the killings will continue.
It would be easier if we could name one source of all these words, and suggest that one person is responsible for radicalizing the El Paso murderer, and that same individual would also be responsible for radicalizing the man who shot up Tree of Life synagogue last year. Unfortunately, it was not one man. One man, no matter how well known, cannot do this. If it were one man, his dehumanizing words would be heard as the ravings of a lunatic. There is plenty of blame to go around.
It is not one person who is guilty, but at least 30 million people. The El Paso murderer was not the first young man radicalized through social media, and he will not be the last. One does not need to go to the darkest places on the web to find people talking in these dehumanizing terms, or terms that suggest violence as a solution. I can find this language if I read the facebook pages of people I went to school with, nice church people, and even fellow pastors. We don’t need neo-Nazis to radicalize a young domestic terrorist; our own language is bad enough and there is blood on all our hands.
There is a reason why James warns us of the power and danger of words. With our words we can destroy a person’s reputation. With our words we can make somebody seen as dangerous and less than human. With our words we can motivate others to murder.
I know it seems like there is nothing we can do to change the behavior of 30 million people — but, we can change our own behavior. We all need to pray that God will help guard our tongues, and we need to be careful about what we say.
One of the biggest dangers is social media. It is too easy to share something and not think about what you are saying. It is too easy to hit `share’, without thinking about what you said — it is too easy to spread slanderous lies, or even words that suggest genocide as the solution to a problem without thinking about the impact of our words. We all need to stop and think carefully before hitting share. We need to research what is behind that meme. Too many of us have blood on our hands. Nice, ordinary people, careless with the share button on Facebook have worked to radicalize people to domestic terrorism.
I know if everybody in this room is careful going forward, and we make sure that our words are guided by Philippians 4:8: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise” we are still just a drop in the bucket. The thing is that this bucket is full of drops, and just because we cannot change others does not mean we should not change ourselves. If we want the killings to stop — we must change ourselves.
The good news is that there are very few who are glad when these shootings happen. Most of the drops in the bucket are people just like us — nice people who repeated things without thinking about the consequences of their actions. We can repent of our sin, pray that God heals our hearts and our tongues. We can take responsibility for our actions and work to change. All those other drops in the bucket can do the same, and things can get better.