For example, even though cliques thrive in many churches, we’re supposed to act lovingly towards everyone who seeks our fellowship.  At times, of course, this “love” may take the form of wise confrontation, such as when somebody is disruptively interacting with others. Knowing the difference between genuine awkwardness and intentional abuse within one’s fellowship is key to helping everyone integrate well and participate in the church’s mission.

And, speaking of sloppy science, a cursory review of the backgrounds of these shooters paints what appears to be a mixed bag of awkwardness and abuse. Clearly, the willingness and determination to kill another human being involves a pathology most of us are ill-equipped to adequately address on our own. But it’s not as though every unmarried guy who doesn’t fit well into our groups is going to end up murdering first graders or first responders. Most misfits simply need honest friends.

Reaching Beyond Ourselves

After all, doesn’t our faith involve serving as Christ’s hands and feet to not only those we can easily befriend, but also people who require extra work on our part? Look, we spend most of our time in church discussing ways we can improve every other aspect of our faith walk. But do we spend enough time contemplating the social unpleasantries for which Christ’s Gospel also holds hope?

Might the violence shattering our national consciousness be some degree of proof that we’re not?  

Does Christ expect us to cloister ourselves in our churches and Bible studies, while we expect gun legislation, more police officers, and less violent Hollywood movies to sufficiently address the evil in our world? Yes, Christ ministered to the marginalized and demon-possessed of His earthly ministry in ways that smack us Westerners today as being too bizarre for our competencies. Yet the Gospel that broke chains binding those people in Bible times is the same Gospel that can break evil’s chains today. We say we believe it when somebody professes faith in Christ, but maybe it’s just easier to believe it when it’s people like us coming into God’s Kingdom.

Meanwhile, all those weirdos out there are somebody else’s problem.

But should they be?

We’ve learned quite a bit about the guys who’ve perpetrated this violence across our country, and generally, they’re guys “normal” people didn’t try very hard to befriend. One reason is that, yes, these guys are hard to befriend, and in our society today, we aren’t used to investing long and hard in relationships that likely won’t benefit us in a reciprocal fashion.

But if we’re heirs of the Hope of the world, shouldn’t we – of all people – be the most willing to at least make honest attempts at befriending those in our midst who aren’t easy to befriend?

Maybe it all sounds too corny to you, thinking that being a friend to somebody in church, or at work, or the gym, or in a college class of yours, could make any impact on the tide of violence washing over our country. But if our national dialog on the subject is going to dwell on institutionalized responses, where’s the one-on-one intervention going to come from? Where will displays of humanity, friendship, and the grace of Christ come from?

You’ll probably never encounter anybody as unstable as a crazed killer. But to whom might you owe that probability? To God, of course, but maybe also somebody who took the time to befriend somebody they thought was a social misfit.

And fit him into their life in such a way that Christ’s love proved irresistible.

From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.

Publication date: January 15, 2013