NASHVILLE – As news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School spread Dec. 14, Southern Baptists active on social media began to offer their thoughts on the tragedy as well as their prayers for the people of Newtown, Conn., and messages of hope for all those impacted.
Immediately after news broke, many were left with questions about why such a place was targeted. Alvin Reid (@AlvinReid), a professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, “Early report that 27 have been killed at an elementary school in CT. Reports unconfirmed, but an elementary school?”
Later, Reid and the North American Mission Board (@NAMB_SBC) sent out a prayer request for Bryan Sims (@SBC_pastor), who leads Southbury Baptist Church just north of Newtown.
Bryant Wright (@BryantWright), former SBC president and pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, tweeted that he was “sickened by another mass murder of children. So angry at the evil one for using empty misguided souls for such evil. Sad, praying 4 parents.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. (@AlbertMohler) expressed his immediate thoughts on Twitter. “It has happened again. Connecticut. Agony. Death. Children. Grief. Guns. Unfathomable. Horror. Evil. Murder. Heartbreak. Grace? Pray.”
For Richard Ross (@richardaross), professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the murder of children demonstrated the need for cultural change. “They took canaries to old mines,” Ross tweeted. “Toxic gas would kill little lungs and give adults time to escape. Children suffer most from toxic culture.”
Terry Dorsett (@TerryDorsett), a NAMB church planting catalyst in Connecticut, reported what was happening in the area. “Prayer meetings are being held at several places around Newtown, CT, tonight. Proof that deep down inside, our nation still believes.”
Many turned to scripture to give comfort and hope. Dorsett retweeted Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Mark Dever (@MarkDever), pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., quoted from Psalm 142:2, “I pour out my complaint before Him; before Him I tell my trouble,” and offered his prayers “for those who’ve lost loved ones through this tragic sin.”
Rick Warren (@RickWarren), pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” quoted from Matthew 2:18: “A cry of anguish … unrestrained weeping and mourning. She weeps for her children uncomforted, for they are no more.”
Denny Burk (@DennyBurk), a professor at Southern Seminary’s Boyce College, and David Platt (@plattdavid), pastor of The Church at Brook Hills and author of “Radical,” both tweeted Bible verses and words from Christmas carols.
After quoting from Jeremiah 20:11, Burk tweeted lyrics from “Joy to the World”: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
Platt turned to Psalm 33 and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” for comfort: “O come, O come Emmanuel. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.”
Noting that the tragedy happened so close to Christmas, several linked the killing of schoolchildren in Newtown with the slaughter of young boys by Herod in Bethlehem recorded in the biblical Christmas narrative.
Bart Barber (@BartBarber), pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, tweeted, “How tragic that the season of Christ’s birth should be marred once again with the voice of Rachel weeping for her children!”
Thom Rainer (@ThomRainer), president of LifeWay Christian Resources, gave voice to the feelings of parents across the nation. “As a parent, I cannot imagine the grief the Connecticut families are experiencing,” he tweeted. “I am praying for all of them.”
Later, as time allowed pastors and leaders to write out more developed thoughts, many began sending out links to various articles crafted during the aftermath or dealing with related subject matter.
Several tweeted a link to Russell Moore’s (@drmoore) blog post “School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare.” In it, Moore, Southern Seminary’s dean of the school of theology, encouraged readers to recognize the true origin of such horrific acts.
“We don’t know why God didn’t stop this from happening,” Moore wrote. “But we do know what this act is: it’s satanic, and we should say so.”
Mohler also wrote a post that was shared across social media sites, “Rachel Weeping for Her Children – The Massacre in Connecticut,” noting that the Christmas story includes the mass killing of innocent children, but that the story does not end there. Christmas offers hope in Christ.
Mohler and Daniel Akin (@DannyAkin), president of Southeastern Seminary, retweeted links to a previous article they had written on the fate of children who die prior to being old enough to respond to the gospel.
In “The Salvation of the ‘Little Ones’: Do Infants who Die Go to Heaven?” they assert that although everyone is born with a sin nature, “Scripture does indeed teach that all persons who die in infancy are among the elect.”
As pastors were preparing to preach on Sunday morning, Greg Thornbury (@greg_thornbury), dean of Union University’s school of theology and missions, tweeted, “Jesus was born into a world of violence in which a lunatic slaughtered the innocents. He knows. This is what we should be preaching today.”
Moore sought to express what Sunday epitomizes for the Christian, especially in the aftermath of a tragedy, tweeting, “Sunday still dawns because Roman spikes, or a killer’s bullets, don’t have the last word.”
Overall SBC pastors and leaders attempted to convey that there can be hope in the midst of the pain and joy despite horrific circumstances. Many did this by looking not only at the first coming of Christ, but anticipating His second coming.
Eric Geiger (@RealEricGeiger), vice president of LifeWay’s church resources division, tweeted, “Horrific news today. Groaning with all of creation for Jesus to return and liberate us from all corruption (Rom 8).”
Trip Lee (@TripLee116), a Christian rapper, student at Boyce College and member of Capitol Hill Baptist, quoted from the lyrics of his song “War,” about spiritual warfare and the return of Christ. “People still dying, sin is still potent / The devil’s still tempting and evil ain’t slowin / Just wait until that trumpet gets blowin….”
The Billy Graham Evangelical Association (@BGEA) sent out a quote from Billy Graham that sums up the dichotomy of the Christian approach to such a tragedy. “‘Evil is real, but so is God’s power and love.’ – @BillyGraham #PrayforNewtown #SandyHook.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer in Wake Forest, N.C.)