By now, you probably have heard the story of Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school bookkeeper who this week helped to prevent a tragic school shooting by talking with the 20-year-old man who entered the school armed with an AK-47. Many people are talking about, writing about, and celebrating the heroic actions and bravery of this woman. Ms. Tuff kept the potential shooter talking while he decided what to do: whether to attack students and staff, injure himself, or surrender to the police. For half an hour, she kept calm and spoke wisdom to this young man until, ultimately, he laid down his gun without having injured or killed a single person.
This is a tremendous story of love and compassion in action. I want to highlight a few principles for us to consider:
- This threat was met with the love of Christ. As I listened to the recording of Ms. Tuff’s 911 call, I was amazed by how she spoke kindly to him, treated him with compassion, and even told him that she loved him. She spoke openly of pain in her past that led her to consider suicide, but she reassured him that this was not the best answer. She told him that she was proud of him for giving up without hurting anyone. The love of Christ is powerful, because even in tense and dangerous situations, this love empowers us to treat other people as human beings with real needs. “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
- This threat was met with nonviolence. This story should be a powerful reminder to us that dangerous situations can be handled appropriately with nonviolence. Historically, the Church of God is a peace-loving organization. We believe that the way of Jesus is one of peace, not violence; hope, not fear; love, not anger. Jesus instructed a disciple to sheathe his sword when the Lord was arrested (Matthew 26:50-52). Jesus himself, while being beaten and ridiculed, did not fight back against his assailants (Luke 22:63-66). Even when the end result was his own death, Jesus was never violent – and his disciples carried on that tradition at his instruction.
- This threat was met with preparation. School employees undergo regular training on what to do in exactly this scenario. Ms. Tuff gave witness to that after the fact; the training helped her handle the situation with her instincts. Put differently, the training formed her into the kind of person that could appropriately handle this potential shooting. Jesus was tempted by the devil before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus invested heavily in his disciples so they would know how to behave after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Later, Paul instructed young Timothy to persist in his spiritual practices so that his life would be transformed, along with the lives of those around him (1 Timothy 4:12-16).
What would our lives look like if we were to live by the love of Christ, an attitude of nonviolence, and daily spiritual preparation? How would we – and our culture – be transformed?