Pastors call for prayer, address evil in wake of school shooting

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 05:02 AM

As many people turn to religion to explain what could lead to the shooting deaths of 27 people last week — the vast majority of them young children — local pastors and other religious leaders referenced the Newtown, Conn., shootings in their sermons this past weekend.

For some, the solution was prayer, but for others, a longer sermon was in order.

Wendell McGee, pastor at Morningside Presbyterian Church who also works at First Presbyterian Church, said Monday he witnessed some of both strategies. First Presbyterian Pastor Arnold Lovell stuck to prayer requests, McGee said, also evoking the story of John The Baptist crying out in the wilderness as a reaction to the evil in the world.

For his own flock, McGee said, the shootings were a large focus of his sermon. He said he preached awareness of evil and the importance of stopping evil — but also the importance of always refraining from fighting negativity with negativity.

"There has been evil and problems with us forever," he said. "And as Christians, we need to make sure there's no hate involved [in responding] and, forever, we need to be just seeking solutions to such problems."

Cameron Presbyterian Pastor Whitney Wilkinson — who is also a food columnist for The Herald — said her entire sermon on Sunday was devoted to the massacre, and that it was the most difficult sermon she has ever preached, admitting that she wept throughout.

She said she had originally planned to focus on a message to ancient Jewish slaves to keep their faith and celebrate despite their harsh surroundings, but knew she had to tweak that plan when she heard of Friday's tragedy. The original message, she said, actually translated fairly well — especially after she combined that Biblical passage with the imagery of Maya Angelou's poem, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."

Wilkinson said she encouraged her congregation to remain joyful, although such a horrific event is something that she couldn't find any way to explain when people in her congregation asked how it could have happened — and how a single person could inflict that much suffering.

"Maybe it was time to rise above all the hatred and fear," she said Monday. "... We're caged by the reality of evil in the world, and injustice, but we're still able to sing with God in our midst."

Ira Sutton, pastor at Cool Springs Baptist Church, said that this past Sunday he simply asked churchgoers to pray for the families and community in Newtown. However, he said, he gave a sermon the week before — in which he compared school shootings to a famous Biblical anecdote known as the Massacre of the Innocents — to illustrate the struggle between good and evil.

"I had actually shared in my main theme of my message that Christmas did not eliminate evil, Christmas did not eliminate suffering, but that what it did was it gave the eviction notice for evil and suffering," he said. "And I actually used two school shootings as an example of that and compared it to the passage in Matthew when Herod orders all baby boys under 2 years old to be killed. I said, 'You know, even on Christmas 2,000 years ago, we had this kind of thing going on ... and even when Jesus was born he didn't end pain and suffering, but he will one day.'"