Shortly after 10 pm on the evening of October 1, 2017, chaos erupted among country music fans who’d gathered at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Shots fired into the crowd by gunman Stephen Paddock eventually left 58 people dead and 851 more injured.
As these traumatized survivors returned to their various communities feeling physically and emotionally wounded, churches in those communities were left wondering how to best care for the significant spiritual and emotional needs created by the shooting. On the one-year anniversary of this tragic day, it’s important that churches realize how crucial ongoing spiritual and emotional care remains to survivors’ long-term healing.
In research studies we have conducted at Humanitarian Disaster Institute after three different mass shootings, we found that survivors who looked to their faith for strength and support experienced greater meaning and psychological resilience after the event. It’s clear that churches have an important role to play in caring for survivors of mass shootings as they offer that essential support.
Here are three ways that churches can help meet survivors’ psychological and spiritual needs in the wake of mass shootings, drawn from research that my colleagues and I presented in a symposium on religion/spirituality and mass shootings at the 2016 American Psychological Association Convention.
Don’t Tell Survivors What to Believe, Think, or Feel
After a gunman opened fire and killed five police officers at a July 2016 protest against police shootings in Dallas, our team explored how people made meaning of this tragedy and coped with loss in light of their spiritual beliefs and views of God. According to University of North Texas researcher Laura Captari, who presented our team’s findings at the APA symposium, “In the wake of a mass shooting it is common for people to experience anger and confusion toward God as they try to make sense of what happened.”
Because of this, Christians who want to “help” are encouraged to assume a safe, caring posture of presence, and avoid offering judgment or instructions about what to believe, think, or feel.
“When responding to those impacted by the shooting,” Captari says, “it is important to avoid telling people what to feel or think about God. Avoid theological debates and cliché Christian responses. Instead, just be there. Offer your presence. Cry with them. Take time to listen and validate their pain, confusion, anger, and inner turmoil. Their questions about God are real and important, but don’t feel as if you must provide the ‘right’ answer. Instead, show them that God is safe, caring, and present—not judgmental or distant—by embodying that in your own safe and caring presence.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jamie Aten