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Guns Don’t Stop Killers, People Stop Killers: Love, Shared Stories, and the Power of the Holy Spirit

Depending on your access to social media, you may not have heard about this story, or you may think you’re hearing about it everywhere. Either way, this story is not getting enough attention, and it probably won’t. I’m convinced human beings want Good News, but we’ve been conditioned by our world to settle for and wallow in Bad News. This is the condition that helps media outlets determine what stories will get ratings, which in turn feeds the culture to which the media is trying to cater. What we end up with is a vicious cycle perpetuating a culture of death. We’re entertained, fixated, horrified, and mesmerized by violence!

After the Sandy Hook school shooting, NRA President Wayne LaPierre famously said,

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” [1]

This logic seems sound to millions of U.S. Americans (even Christians!) who have been conditioned by our culture of violence and death. Then along comes a story like Antoinette Tuff’s, and the presumption that only greater violence can prevent violence is utterly shattered. Tuff’s story beautifully illustrates at least three things:

  1. The power of faith to produce love for the ‘other’;
  2. The power of shared stories;
  3. The power of the Holy Spirit.

Combined, these powers overcome the powers of mental illness, violence, hatred, and death. Take note people—is what Christian discipleship looks like in real life!

What Could Have Been a Massacre, Wasn’t:

 

Tuesday, August 20th, a young white male, later identified as Michael Brandon Hill, entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, near Decatur, GA.

“He stormed into a front office brandishing an AK-47 and demanded a TV news crew film his ensuing shootout with police, in which he intended to die.” [2]

Hill barricaded himself in the front office before he fired shots at officers, who then returned fire. No one was injured. But the hours-long ordeal was nothing short of a nightmare for parents and frightening for hundreds of students, in their second week of a new school year.

The school bookkeeper, Antoinette Tuff, found herself alone with Hill, who instructed her to call one of the news stations. She called Channel 2 Action News. Tuff told Channel 2,

“I just started praying for him. I just started talking to him and allowing him to know some of my stories and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK. And then let him know that he could just give himself up.”

Tuff said she spent almost an hour with the suspect throughout the ordeal and asked him to put the weapon down and surrender himself to police.

I. The Power of Faith to Produce Love for the ‘Other’

There is no greater ‘other’ than the one threatening you with physical, deadly violence. That is who Antoinette Tuff encountered—a young man prepared to die and willing to kill anyone who stood in his way. But instead of only thinking about her own life, and instead of considering his life valueless, she considered him a “hurting soul.” Tuff had an extraordinary amount of empathy for a person who was different from her in race, age, gender—and pointing a gun at her! This empathy was not produced by U.S. American culture. This empathy was not produced by the media. This empathy was produced by her faith. To Anderson Cooper, she says:

“He’s a hurting soul. And so, if there’s any kind of way I can help him and allow him to get on the right path. We all go through something. And I believe that God gives us all a purpose in life. He has a purpose and destiny for that young man.” [3]

Her empathy for this complete stranger, who could have been her murderer, is beyond understanding. She said in an interview,

“I just explained to him that I loved him. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know much about him, but I did love him.”

Love for one’s enemies is what Jesus says marks the children of God because it is characteristic of their Father. God loves those who don’t deserve it; he unconditionally and indiscriminately distributes his love to all people.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

– Jesus, Matthew 5.43-48

II. The Power of Shared Stories

Tuff’s extraordinary empathy didn’t just allow her to see this potential mass murderer as a human being—a “hurting soul”—it also allowed her to see some of her own story in his. As he told her that he had nothing to live for, and wanted to die, she could relate with him. She shared with him that she too had undergone suffering and had felt that she had nothing to live for.

The reporter for ABC’s World News Now said,

“Tuff began sharing her own story with that young man telling him how she’d lost her husband of 33 years, and that she felt that no one loved her at one point. And that’s when he began to open up and reveal that he had not taken his medication.”

CNN reports that the recording of Tuff’s 911 call relays that she told the young man:

“I thought the same thing, you know, I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me. But look at me now. I’m still working and everything is OK.”

Every person has a story. We are not merely a record of our worst decisions. Our lives have purpose, as Tuff shared. Her own story is one with tragedy and hope. And her willingness to share her own story gave hope to a young man who believed he had nothing to live for, and was willing to kill others because he didn’t feel loved.

There is power in connecting with one another’s stories. We want someone to hear us. And we want to hear others. We long for connection; we want to know we’re not alone.

One of my favorite stories from the Gospels, is the story of a woman who experienced the extravagant grace of God and wanted to give an extravagant gift back, so she anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. Jesus says about her:

“Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
– Mark 14.9

Like the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume, when we’ve experienced unimaginable grace, our stories are caught up in his story. Then, we can’t help but tell our story to others who need to hear it. This is what Tuff did. She saw a young man who had a story full of tragedy. She heard him, and then she shared her story of grace and hope with him because she knew his story didn’t have to end there. He too could experience grace and hope.

III. The Power of the Holy Spirit

Antoinette Tuff’s first instinct when she looked into the gunman’s face was to pray for him. She told an interviewer, “I just realized at that time, it was bigger than me. He was really a hurting young man. So I just started praying for him.” Who does that? A woman filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the response of a women who has entrusted herself to God.

Tuff is quick to give the credit for her choices to God. Some despise this practice as self-deprecating false humility. But there is another way to look at it. Does Tuff deserve credit for the choices she made? Definitely! But she also knows that she was moved to make those decisions by the power of the God in whom she has placed her trust. Therefore, her choices are a result of cooperation with God’s Spirit.

God desires covenant partners with whom he can act in the world. God is relational. By God’s very nature, God is self-giving self-communicating love. So it makes sense that God’s actions in the world would reflect God’s nature.

At the end of her interview picked up by ABC, Tuff said that what happened was a witness to the world that God is at work. She said that it was for unbelievers to believe in God:

“…that they’re able to see a God in action.”

Amen!!

Antoinette Tuff’s heart was prepared for the challenge she met when a gunman entered her school. She had given her heart and mind over to be used by God in any moment. She had also had her heart conditioned by the grace she’d received from God. She knows what it is to suffer tremendous loss, feel unloved, and feel that she has nothing to live for. Because she has been wounded, she can now serve as a wounded healer. Tuff is an example to us all. A woman who was courageous in the face of grave danger, trusting in the Holy Spirit.

How are we preparing ourselves to be used by God in a crisis?

Have we allowed our hearts to be filled with God’s grace, so that we can empathize with the ‘other’—even the one who would wish to harm us?

How will we allow Antoinette Tuff’s story of courage and trust in God’s Spirit to change our vision of how violence is dealt with by Christians?

 

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  1. http://youtu.be/aASfk-ii0BM
  2. Daily Mail “Atlanta school hero reveals she told shooter she loved him as his brother” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2398664/Michael-Brandon-Hill-Atlanta-Georgia-school-shooter-stopped-secretary-Antoinette-Tuff.html
  3. CNN “Georgia school shooting: Antoinette Tuff hailed as hero” http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/us/georgia-school-shooting-hero/?hpt=us_c1