A Time to Keep Silence: A Dissenting Perspective on the Nashville Massacre
This massacre was perpetrated by one person in one place and toward one group of people. Even granting that we share a faith and formal ecclesiastical ties, there is a case for many of us keeping silent and not presuming to advise or to otherwise discuss the matter. In a matter so awful even consolation can come across as callous, especially when it comes from strangers and via digital means.
The year that I graduated high school the county in which I lived was greatly affected by a jeep wreck that killed two young men who attended that same school. I suppose the news outlets in Charlotte were strapped for news that day, so at least one of them apparently sent a reporter out into the hinterlands to ‘get the scoop’ on what had happened. That caused no little furor among some of the locals, who objected that such a thing was an inconsiderate and insulting thing to do at a time when many people were in shock at such a sad affair.
I am paraphrasing/filling in the blanks and working from secondhand testimony here, but the objection was that under normal circumstances the media paid no attention to the county. Indeed, many of them were probably unaware that it existed, and even those that had a vague idea were probably not inclined to visit or to generally think or speak well of it: the meteorologists in particular caused an irritation every time there was a major thunderstorm and they mispronounced the name of one of our communities. And yet when something tragic – read: newsworthy – happened they acted as though they had a right to invade the community and interrogate total strangers about their feelings about the situation. Strangers, it might be added, whom they would probably look down upon under normal circumstances. The local rejoinder to all of this was something along the lines of ‘mind your business and leave us to grieve in peace, for we are hurting and have no interest in our pain being used as a revenue-generating spectacle in your news program.’
This affair came to mind after the recent outrage in Nashville. And as I watch people fall all over themselves analyzing, discussing, well-wishing, and politicking in response to that sad episode I am inclined to think that the response of my fellow citizens in the former case is wise and well-suited to the present moment as well. There is an important difference in that the former case dealt with a tragedy in the form of a vehicular accident, whereas in Nashville a heinous crime was willfully perpetrated by a person as a responsible moral agent. Still, the basic response in the first case is useful here as well.
This massacre was perpetrated by one person in one place and toward one group of people. Even granting that we share a faith and formal ecclesiastical ties, there is a case for many of us keeping silent and not presuming to advise or to otherwise discuss the matter. In a matter so awful even consolation can come across as callous, especially when it comes from strangers and via digital means. Those who have actual relationships with the grieving have an obligation to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), but those of us who do not have such relationships would probably do well to keep silence and to let our efforts be restricted to interceding with God for mercy for the grieving: this is a “go into your room and shut the door and pray” moment (Matt. 6:5-6).
Job’s friends are a helpful example here. They did not come from afar to console a stranger, but one whom they knew well. And they did not come in speech that presumed to comfort but sat speechless in the elements, exposed for seven days to the Near Eastern sun and the desert nights in torn garments while they waited for Job to break the silence with his laments (Job 2:11-13). That forms a remarkable contrast to our present situation, and it involved a sacrifice far greater than what I am suggesting. I do not ask you, dear reader, to lay aside your temporal affairs to travel to Nashville to sit in sackcloth and silence. But I do suggest real good might be done by simply not talking about the matter on the internet, and I think that you might consider whether your own behavior until now falls short of that of those who have otherwise become a byword for people who fail to comfort in a time of need.
Central to my thinking on this matter are several points. One, it is not appropriate to discuss the suffering of others in public. It is in fact rather rude, being actually a form of gossip. Two, there is such a thing as respect for the dead and for the survivors and the grieving, and such respect includes a solemn refusal to speak in the presence of or about those who have been killed or who have lost loved ones. Presence in our day includes not only real presence, but the digital sphere as well. I fear that such respect is in short supply at present, perhaps even among some believers. Three, it is not right to pretend that one knows or cares about people and places that one does not know and would not know or care about absent exceptional events that bring them to one’s attention. (That remark is directed to those in our wider society who have no relation to the victims whatsoever, not those of us that share a faith and ought to feel a general compassion for all our fellow believers, whether they are personally known or not: Rom. 1:10-13; Col. 1:29-2:5.) Four, opportunism is always revolting, and there seem to be many in our society who have no qualms about using a crime perpetrated against strangers as an occasion for sounding compassionate and important, or for their advantage otherwise.
Lastly, as for the specifically political opportunism, there is much in the present case that shows the civil affairs of our nation are in a poor state. It is the depth of brazen knavishness to use a massacre committed by someone in one of your side’s favored groups as an occasion to demand that your own preferred policies be enacted posthaste, especially when those policies would tend to make the victims more defenseless against those and other groups that conspicuously hate them. Then too, the concepts of dignity of office and proper civil decorum seem to be wholly unknown to many in our society, including some who have attained to high office: we have many of whom it can be said that they “neither fear God nor respect man” (Lk. 18:4). I have no interest in entering too much into a partisan political discussion of that, but it does much to reiterate that we are as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:17), and that we ought to be diligent in prayer that the ruling authorities will be just and wise, and that we might “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). And as for the larger matter at hand, let us recognize that this is for many of us “a time to keep silence” (Ecc. 3:7) and act accordingly.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Five Forks (Simpsonville), SC. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not of necessity reflect those of his church or its leadership or other members. He welcomes comments at the email address provided with his name.