Chattanooga Shooting: A Challenge to Overcome Evil with Good

Bishop Tony Richie is a member of the SCUPE Advisory Board. He is a third generation Pentecostal Christian, an ordained Bishop in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) and an Adjunct Professor of Historical Theology and Systematic Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). He has over thirty years of experience as a Senior Pastor and currently serves at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN.

Please watch his interview with a local Chattanooga TV station below:

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With many others in our nation, I feel deep sorrow and pain, and, yes, anger over the horrific shooting in Chattanooga Thursday morning. I am earnestly praying for families, friends, and for the Chattanooga community now suffering indescribable bereavement and loss. The school where I teach part-time in Cleveland, TN, Pentecostal Theological Seminary, was on lockdown for several hours during yesterday’s incident. It was a precautionary measure simply because we are so close to the site of the shootings. However, it certainly made the whole incident more immediate and personal. I admit to feeling some sense of fear for my family, friends, and for my community. If such an atrocity, can happen in Chattanooga, it can happen anywhere—even in Knoxville or Knox County. What are we to do?

Although a senior pastor in East Knoxville for over 17 years (at New Harvest), for nearly a decade and a half I’ve been heavily involved in interfaith studies and dialogue on local, global, and national levels. I’ve especially explored Christian-Muslim relations. In the aftermath of 9/11, I determined that on the basis of my Christian faith I should try to do something to at least work toward viable solutions. Recently (April 9), I moderated a meeting at my local church with a group of pastors from around the Knoxville area. Sponsored by the New Evangelical Partnership (Washington, D.C.; see link below) and with representation from Religions for Peace USA (Nashville, TN; see link below), we discussed congregational understandings of Christian-Muslim relations. I can say that this topic is something with which Knoxville clergy and congregations are wrestling.

In part due to controversy over the infamous “Murfreesboro Mosque” (or the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro), which was only finally rebuffed on June 2, 2014 when the Supreme Court of the United States declined the case, Tennessee has already been something of a focal point regarding Christian-Muslim tensions. Now the Chattanooga slaying of five unarmed servicemen (4 Marines, 1 Sailor) and wounding several other service personnel and police officers by Mohammed Youssef Abdulazeez—apparently a radical Islamic extremist—will undoubtedly add to that tension. More so than ever before, many eyes throughout the nation are upon Tennesseans. How will we handle our pain, anger, and fear? What will we do about domestic terrorism? How will we address religion related violence?

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t think there are any easy answers. However, after years of prayer, study, and working with both Christians and Muslims, I am certain that a couple of general guidelines can be greatly helpful as we work our way through these difficult times together. First, I suggest that we should acknowledge the incredible complexities of the situation. Some would deny the danger of radical religious extremism altogether while others demonize entire religions different from their own. Plainly put, both are wrong. On the one hand, there are and have always been fanatics who pervert the values of religion for their own evil and violent ends. On the other hand, authentic people of faith in both Christianity and Islam can and must, in my opinion, partner together to overcome the evil in our midst. That won’t be easy. But it can be done.

Second, I suggest that we should avoid stereotyping each other. I have been a Christian pastor for over 30 years. I’m an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). I understand that in my own denomination, and yes, to some extent in my own local congregation here in Knoxville, there are often differences of opinion and always vastly differing personalities and temperaments. I have found it to be the same in my encounters with Muslims. I have met openly radical Muslims who were supportive of what I view as terrorism. I have also met devout Muslims who were, if possible, even more appalled than I at the horrible hijacking of their religion by brutal and cruel perpetrators of violence. And without minimizing the fact that this Chattanooga shooting was apparently a case of extremist violence in the name of Islam, the fact that it happened on the same day as the verdict was issued in the James Holmes mass murder case in Colorado is a reminder that not all extremist violence comes out of the Muslim community.

In my opinion, key to overcoming Christian-Muslim tensions in Tennessee, and in the United States and the world, is an active and honest partnership between the truly devout against the evil imposters. Accordingly, even while we maintain strong security measures against attackers, let us cooperate and dialogue with our allies. This two-pronged approach will be exponentially more effective than either one alone. After Thursday, all eyes are on Tennessee. What will we do?

Sunday morning our local Pentecostal congregation directly addressed this tragedy through the theme of “Overcoming Evil with Good” (Romans 12:21). After a time of prayer for those who are suffering, we affirmed our refusal to add to the evil by allowing our pain, anger, and fear to move us to respond to aggression and violence in kind. We also resolved to rely on our greatest weapon against evil, the power of good—particularly, of God’s goodness. We are fully persuaded that this represents the best path to victory and that is the honorable and noble path for those who call upon the name of the Nazarene.

As New Harvest firmly believes, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ overcame the suffering of betrayal, arrest, scourging, and crucifixion not by striking out in anger but by rising up in resurrection power. We believe that the dove of the Holy Spirit symbolizes the sure way to victory over the evil of the serpent. Accordingly, we will not be passive but proactive. We are determined to reach out to our community, including Christians and Muslims and others, to foster cooperation and build partnerships embodying and demonstrating the loving-kindness and goodness of God for all of us.

*Helpful resources for further information:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/us/on-religion-six-days-after-9-11-another-anniversary-worth-honoring.html?_r=0
http://www.rfpusa.org/community-and-religious-leaders-respond-to-chattanooga-tn-shooting/
http://faithandculturecenter.org/
http://www.rfpusa.org/our-muslim-neighbor-initiative/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-richard-cizik/could-charlie-hebdo-happe_b_6459818.html
http://www.newevangelicalpartnership.org/christianmuslimdialogue/

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