by Brandon Lynn
(Ed. Note. The following post is a statement issued by a friend living in Florissant, Missouri after a recent shooting during an attempted burglary left a police officer paralyzed. You can read about the incident here.)
In the early hours this morning, a burglary suspect shot a police officer in Florissant. As a person who has lived in Florissant for a large part of the past 10 years, this has obviously hit home with me. There have been varying types of responses to the shooting that I have witnessed so far, some people expressing concern and prayers for the victim (but no expression of prayers for the shooter though), some people mocking the state of Florissant with disdain, some people expressing fear and a desire to insulate themselves and their children from the dangers late at night, some people expressing their frustration about how this shooting is going to affect the value of their house, and I can imagine that there are plenty of people who saw the news of the shooting and then called up a realtor to start looking for houses in Wentzville, or O’Fallon, MO. Here is a response that I have yet to see from people in Florissant: a desire to pray for the shooter and the depravity in Florissant, or a commitment to invest in Florissant out of a gospel-motivated love to build up the city and to bring the type of restoration to Florissant that can only come from Jesus and the good news of the Gospel.
Over the past few decades, there has been a common trend in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. The darker, urban depravity of drugs, gangs, and violent crime has progressively been moving outward from the city like ripples in a pond. Just ahead of this ripple of crime and violence and economic decay is a ripple of wealth, success, and safety. As the inner ripple began to expand, the outer ripple has expanded out further and further away from the city of St. Louis. Why has this happened? The answer to that is multifaceted and I can’t pretend like I know all the history of what has caused the current state and progression of St. Louis and St. Louis County. It involves economics. It involves government agendas. It involves political policy. It involves white flight. It involves the intense racism that is brewing just under the surface all over the St. Louis metro region, waiting to explode like a volcano. So while it is inaccurate to sum it all up and put the blame solely at the feet of one issue, I’m going to say that the blame can in a large part be placed at the feet of the Church in St. Louis. The Church at large in St. Louis has failed miserably at its calling to be missionaries in their context.
Why would I say that? Well let me ask you this, “Where are the largest church congregations located in the St. Louis area?” If you’re a Christian in St. Louis you probably know the answer: the largest, most “successful”, thriving churches are almost exclusively located in the outer suburbs of St. Louis, right in the midst of the outer ripple I just described. As the crime, decay, and violence has crept further out from the city, often times the churches hightail it outta there for greener pastures where life is nicer, safer, cleaner, more prosperous, and, let’s be honest, whiter. (I know that I’m speaking in generalizations and there are great exceptions out there and I’m certainly not saying that everyone who lives in the outer counties is a racist.) As the inner ripple has expanded, history has show that the churches move further outward as well, and I would say they do so out of fear. This has left the city of St. Louis and the inner suburbs without much of a church presence. (Yes there are lots of church buildings, but many times those christians aren’t invested in and living in the neighborhood.) What St. Louis needs is for christians to live in and be invested in St. Louis as missionaries and to not run to the safer counties the first time they hear a gunshot or see a homeless person.
So to all my Christian brothers and sisters in Florissant, don’t leave. Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers. The word used there for peacemakers is a word that describes someone who STEPS INTO a situation of conflict and violence and seeks to bring gospel-motivated peace and grace into the situation. As the Church, we are given the identity and responsibility of missionaries. So as missionaries called to be peacemakers, when shootings and other violent crimes start happening around us, we are called to stand up, step in, invest ourselves, and put ourselves on the line for the sake of the spread of the Gospel and out of our love for our city.
So, to the Christian in Florissant, here are some thoughts on how you should and should not respond to the shooting this morning:
1. Don’t move away from Florissant. Florissant is currently right on the boundary between the two expanding ripples. If the same trend keeps moving on, more and more corruption, decay, crime, and violence will probably continue to pop up in Florissant. Jesus never called His followers to stay safe. Jesus never called His followers to avoid trouble as much as possible. Jesus never said, “Keep to yourself and you’ll be okay.” Jesus called his followers to step into situations of conflict and be agents of grace and peace.
2. Don’t think and speak negatively and judgmentally about the shooter. He needs Jesus, just as much as you do. Mourn for him. Pray for him. Pray that God would use this situation to draw the man to Himself so that he can meet up with Jesus.
3. Don’t joke about the decay of Florissant. This is the city that God has you living in right now, so love it, invest in the people, be a missionary in your neighborhood, love Florissant, be the Church. Even if you’re just joking, who cares if the property value of your house is going down because of this shooting? As God’s covenant people, we have much more important things to worry about in this situation than our wallets.
4. Don’t be afraid. Did you know that is the most repeated command in the entire Bible? “Do not fear.” It can be real easy to get scared and move somewhere safer, but don’t be afraid. As Christians, we are safe and secure in Christ, our destiny is set in stone, so what are you afraid of? The Bible never promises us that our lives will be safe, prosperous, easy, and pain-free. The Bible actually promises that if we are really following Jesus, the opposite will be true. Jesus’ followers are told they will be mistreated, experience pain, trial, conflict, and violence. Our property may be plundered, we may witness crime, we may be victims of crime ourselves, our lives may even be forfeit, but if it’s for the sake of Jesus and the spread of the gospel into an area that desperately needs it, so what?
Many people talk negatively about how Florissant is “going downhill,” and if that is true there has never been a time when Florissant needs the loving, sacrificial, invested, missionary presence of God’s people more. So Christians in Florissant, don’t move. Stay here. Invest in your community. Love your neighbors. Tell people about the grace of God seen in Jesus Christ. Be a missionary on your street. Love Florissant sacrificially with the love of Christ. And above all, pray. Pray for your neighbors. Pray for the leaders of Florissant. Pray for the criminals in Florissant. Pray that God would use you and the Church in Florissant to spread the Gospel and bring about the health, beauty, and restoration that only Jesus can bring.
You can read more from Brandon at his blog, http://bindmywanderingheart2thee.tumblr.com/.