The Danger of Turning Tragedies into Personal Platforms

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

In 2002 this writer received an email from a college acquaintance. It said that a mutual friend had been killed in action overseas. This announcement was immediately followed by a diatribe against the war in Iraq. 

In the August 10th, 2013 episode of the skeptic broadcast Reasonable Doubts, the panel talked about the Aurora movie theater shooting of a month before, criticizing people for turning to religion rather than thanking the people involved in rescuing and caring for the victims. 

Evangelist Ravi Zacharias gives an example of a funeral where the minister had no sooner delivered the eulogy than he began to use the death as a platform to preach his political beliefs, while the shocked and grieving family and friends listened on. 

On Sunday, November 5th, 2017, at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas, a gunman shot and killed at least twenty-six people, with at least 20 others wounded. This kind of tragedy is becoming all-too familiar to Americans since the Columbine school shooting of 1999. And so the national reaction has become predictable. For a day or so there will be national shock and sorrow. Then, quick on the heels of the shock, pundits, preachers, politicians and people will begin using the tragedy to push their pet platform. Gun Control will be debated. The existence of God will be alternately attacked and defended. Government funding of schools will be questioned. Video game and movie violence will be attacked. And soon, the tragedy of the situation will be lost in the muddled mass of argumentation. 

Some of this is well intentioned. People are looking for solutions to prevent these things from happening. But just as often, people are looking for a target for their anger, frustration, and sorrow. Worse, some simply see these events as an opportunity to motivate people to their cause. 

Whatever the motivation for these kinds of arguments and discussions, it is deeply inappropriate and a slap in the face of the devastated people involved in the tragedy. Whatever it is that the victims require; comfort, encouragement, or support, it is not to have people use them as a convenient banner for whatever cause they are already committed to. 

If a person is already convinced of their particular position, and a tragedy like this simply reinforces their convictions, that is all well and good, but it is not helpful to others to point to a funeral and say “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  

If, on the other hand, a tragedy like this causes a person to seek answers outside their current convictions, it is their prerogative to be able to explore and ask questions without having someone else’s ideas shoved down their throat. 

This writer encourages his readers to please consider what they say and do in response to this tragedy, and to remember that these are people whose lives have been destroyed, not political or religious causes. 

For the Christians who hear of this tragedy, it would be wise to remember the words of Paul as he said “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” and “weep with those who weep,” the words of James who says "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction," and the words of Christ who said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.