What Would I Have Done if the Atlanta Gunman Was from My Congregation?

I am going to start off by letting you know today’s entry is going to be a little longer than normal.

Last week a white gunman killed eight people, most of them of Asian descent, at two massage spas in the Atlanta area. This is a tragic story.

The gunman who perpetrated this heinous crime was an active member of a Baptist congregation. The gunman grew up in the church, was an active participant of the youth group, played drums on the praise ministry, helped set up chairs, and was a regular in the Bible Studies of the church.

The gunman’s home church removed this individual from membership and fellowship, and has openly questioned whether this person ever knew Jesus at all.

As I read this story, I wondered what we would have done had this happened at our church. I wondered what I would have done as a pastor if the young men were one of our’s at the Little Church and Lakewoodgrace.

I can’t speak for the church as I haven’t had a chance to speak with the staff or session regarding this. However, I want to share with you what I would have done as your pastor.

First, in no uncertain terms, I would denounce the violence and heinous murders in the strongest terms.

  • Murder is NEVER okay.
  • Murder is NEVER acceptable.
  • Murder is NEVER right.
  • Murder is NEVER God’s will.

The gunman must be held responsible for the terrible crimes and the consequences of his actions.

Second, in no uncertain terms, I would extend grace and an opportunity to repent to the gunman. What the gunman did was atrocious. It is absolutely a heinous crime against humanity and against God. However, I would extend God’s grace and an opportunity for this young man to repent because that’s what Jesus would offer to this young man.

As hideous as this crime is, it is not the unpardonable sin. There is only one unpardonable sin: blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31).

While these murders are terrible, they are NOT blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Did these actions go against the Spirit and the heart of God? Absolutely. But so does every lie, every thought of envy and jealousy, every feeling of hatred and prejudice. There are a multitude of sins. Every one of them goes against the Spirit of God. However, they are not blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. There is only one unpardonable sin: blasphemy.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the consistent and on-going denial and rejection of the Holy Spirit. When we go to the grave denying the Holy Spirit, that is unpardonable because we choose to reject God to our last dying breath. That is blasphemy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the moment we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, our hearts, desires, and thoughts were automatically changed as well? When we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, our status is absolutely changed from sinner to a child of God. When we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, while our status is absolutely changed, our personality and character hasn’t changed. Our personality and character will need on-going change. This is called sanctification. We are made more and more into the image of Christ as the days go by.

The gunman was in the process of sanctification and made a horrendous decision. He will pay for the consequences. Lives were lost. Devastation ensued. Some failures have deadly and devastating consequences. But it is a mistake to equate deadly and devastating consequences with blasphemy.

Finally, I would lead the congregation through a time of mourning and lamenting. Mourning and lamenting does several things:

  • One, it declares what is happening is unacceptable. It declares that what is happening is not God’s will. That the present circumstances goes contrary to what God’s will and purposes. So we mourn and lament what could be if we would all obey God.
  • Two, mourning and lament accepts that even though God is at work, human freedom still acts out in heinous ways. We mourn and lament the presence and reality of evil and its work. We lament and mourn for the present knowing that there will come a time when God will make all things right.

The shootings in Atlanta, the gunman’s church removing him from membership and fellowship, all of it. All of it makes me sad.

For this pastor, I choose to side with God’s grace and forgiveness. I HATE the murders. I HATE sin and sin’s consequences. However, I choose to offer God’s grace and forgiveness to ALL sinners. Because when I don’t, I disqualify myself.

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