I was 12 years old on April 20, 1999, when the school massacre at Columbine High School happened. I can’t tell you where I was when I learned of the tragedy, but I remember how the world changed for me after that day. I lost some of my childhood innocence. The world became a little bit darker, and it suddenly felt very different to go to school.
My oldest child is 9, and his world changed late last month. My wife, Crystal, and I knew that some of his classmates likely watched the news and would possibly talk about the Robb Elementary School shooting on the playground. So, we wanted to make sure he had accurate information shared with love and care, and to offer space for him to ask questions.
He had a lot. And he now has a better understanding of the “stranger danger” drills they practice at school. He will never unlearn this. He will never get that bit of innocence back that he lost tonight.
Many of us have had our innocence and sense of security taken from us, and while I deeply lament that, I know that we are the lucky ones. Many other young people – children – have had their lives stolen from them. The parents of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, aren’t consoling their kids in their loss of innocence, but are being consoled in their grief following the loss of their children.
At least 185 children, educators and other people have been murdered at school over the past 10 years since Sandy Hook, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post. The paper also found that more than 311,000 students at more than 331 schools have witnessed a school shooting since Columbine.
School massacres like the one at Robb Elementary School are no longer surprising. The question has become not whether there will be another school massacre, but when, where and how close will they come to our own families and communities? We know this reality all too well in our own community, where a school shooting took place in 2017 at Freeman High School, and the grief and healing continue.
The prophet Micah dreams of a future where nations will “beat their swords into iron plows, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Micah 4:3). We are still at the swords and spears stage, but we must have a resilient faith that each preventable act of violence spurs us a little closer to reasonable solutions rather than closer to apathy and surrender. While we offer our prayers in support of broken families and communities, those prayers must be accompanied by bold, courageous action.
In his pastoral letter on behalf of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Council President Bishop Thomas Bickerton calls us to not passively respond to violence after it happens, but to take action in stopping future violence. Bishop Bickerton writes: “Determine that you will actively work to transform lives from violence to peace, elect officials that will not settle for inaction and inject communities with the grace and love of Christ that will alter the course of our current behaviors.”
Our actions and advocacy as individuals and as a church need to be robust and ongoing. This week, I encourage you to begin by reaching out to your elected officials to demand action on preventing gun violence. You can call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and they can connect you with your representative and senator. To find contact information for your state representatives, use app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder.
May we share the light of Jesus Christ as we work for peace and justice in our classrooms, nation and world.
The Rev. Cody Natland is the Pastor of Moran United Methodist Church in the Moran Prairie neighborhood. He lives on the South Hill with his wife and three children.