Las Vegas pastors are reporting trauma, ministry and prayer among their congregations in the 48 hours following the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
The shooting also has prompted reflections from Southern Baptists elsewhere, including Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), R. Albert Mohler Jr. of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and Charles Patrick of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A gunman opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel Oct. 1, killing at least 59 attendees at a country music concert on the street below and injuring more than 500 others before reportedly taking his own life.
Michael Rochelle, pastor of Shadow Hills Church in Las Vegas, told Baptist Press (BP) “a number of people” from the church “were present” at the shooting, with at least three individuals injured who are associated with the congregation.
“We have some of our college students pretty traumatized,” Rochelle said, including one young woman who “was on the ground and saw the young lady next to her shot in the neck, and she bled out and died in front of her.”
Shadow Hills hosted a special prayer meeting Oct. 3 and plans to host another Oct. 4, Rochelle said. Six of the church’s pastors have provided counseling at a local crisis response site, emphasizing scripture’s comfort in Psalms. The congregation is working with first responders and medical personnel to provide a variety of other ministries.
“The greatest emphasis for us right now is that we live in a broken world,” Rochelle said. “Tragedies like this highlight that brokenness, but the brokenness is here. And the answer is our faith in God. It’s our hope in Jesus Christ.”
Pastor John Mark Simmons of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Henderson, Nev., a Las Vegas suburb, called the congregation to intense, focused prayer in an Oct. 2 email.
“Disbelief and shock are words that describe what many of us felt when we learned the news of the mass shooting,” Simmons wrote. “So sad and troubling. It is a tragedy for our city, our state, and our country. We truly live in a sin sick world.”
Highland Hills hosted a special prayer gathering Monday afternoon and devoted a scheduled 5:30 a.m. prayer gathering Oct. 3 to the tragedy, Simmons said, with plans to focus Wednesday evening activities on prayer as well.
Simmons has asked the congregation “to pray for God to bring good even though Satan meant [the shooting] for evil,” he told BP via email.
Foothills Baptist Church in Las Vegas similarly opened its building for prayer Monday afternoon and hosted a community prayer gathering Monday night. Additionally, the church has been ministering to members whose loved ones were killed or injured, pastor Hoyt Savage told BP.
“What people need to hear is hope,” Savage, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said. “The Lord is a tower, and we run to Him. I shared with our people last night one passage that has given me great encouragement through the years in crisis times: Isaiah 41:10,” which states, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.”
Among Southern Baptists to publish reflections on the shooting:
– Moore, president of the ERLC, urged believers not to claim “this moment was God’s judgment on an individual or a city or a nation for some specified sin.” Instead, it’s important to “see this as real evil” and “lament with those around us who are hurting.”
“We do not know why God does not intervene and stop some tragedies when He does stop others,” Moore wrote in an Oct. 2 blog post. “What we do know, though, is that God stands against evil and violence. We know that God is present for those who are hurting. And we know that God will ultimately call all evil to a halt, in the ushering in of His Kingdom.”
– Mohler, president of SBTS, said the existence of evil ultimately points to God’s existence.
“Evil is a fact” and “a theological category,” Mohler wrote in on Oct. 2 commentary. “The secular worldview cannot use the word with coherence or sense. The acknowledgement of evil requires the affirmation of a moral judgment and a moral reality above human judgment. If we are just accidental beings in an accidental universe, nothing can really be evil. Evil points to a necessary moral judgment made by a moral authority greater than we are – a transcendent and supernatural moral authority: God.”
Mohler added, “Only the biblical worldview explains why sinful humanity commits such horrible moral wrongs” and “promises that God will bring about a final act of moral judgment that will be the final word on right and wrong.”
– Patrick, vice president for strategic initiatives and communications at Southwestern Seminary, wrote in an Oct. 2 blog post that the Las Vegas shooting prompted him to begin “taking inventory of [his] life responsibilities,” including ministering to his wife, discipling his children and sharing the gospel with lost people.
“October 1 marks the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history,” Patrick wrote. “If you (as a believer) and I were one of the dead, we would be face to face with our risen Savior. However, the more pertinent question for us is who do we leave behind? Do we leave behind a spiritually mature and provided for spouse, saved and spiritually prepared children, and new professions of faith, or do we leave behind a spiritual massacre?”
– Jim Denison, a Texas Baptist speaker and cultural commentator, noted God grieves with His children when they experience pain.
“I hate that our world is so unpredictable that what happened last night in Las Vegas could happen anywhere at any time,” Denison wrote in an Oct. 2 blog post. “… But I also know the Father is grieving with us. The Creator of the universe is a Father who loves His children so much that His Son died for us (Romans 5:8). He feels all that we feel, including our pain and grief (John 11:35). ‘The LORD is near to the brokenhearted’ (Psalm 34:18).”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)