When the Columbine shooting hit the news cycle in April of 1999, everyone was in a state of shock. Two teenage boys shot and killed 13 people and wounded 30 others before committing suicide. People everywhere scrambled to process the event, and it wasn't long before they began to find things to blame - music, video games, pop culture, gun culture, bad parenting, bad schools, lack of religion, bad religion, politics, and more.
I wasn't shocked when the news broke. Nor was I in sorrow. My first thought was that I was surprised it didn't happen sooner.
The simple fact that that was my response led me to conduct a self-assessment. What led me to that belief? Why was my initial response not heartbreak? Why had I seen this as inevitable? Why did it almost come as a relief?
My school-aged years were spent among the kids who were excluded and ended up isolated. We banded together and created a sense of community among the weird kids and over time, lives were literally saved. The risk of suicide was high for many of the group, and the possibility of violence against others was high as well. Their exclusion and eventual isolation fueled a lack of self-worth, lack of intrinsic value, a lack of self-respect. When one feels undervalued, what's left? Hurt, pain, suffering, and oftentimes, anger. Our group offered understanding, support when further hurts or offenses were committed against members, and a network of people to talk others down when the pain became too much. For me, it was only a matter of time before someone acted out because they didn't have the supports we created for one another.
Once I sorted out my feelings about Culombine, my heart truly was broken. Hundreds of people lost more than just their family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Parents, siblings, and extended families lost their children - the lives they knew were lost forever. Classmates lost friends, teachers, and a basic sense of safety in a world that was designed to guarantee it, at least for their childhood years. Community leaders - clergy, politicians, health professionals, and civil servants- were faced with an incredible challenge to redefine what the future looked like for Littleton, CO. And it was all muddled with fear, hate, sorrow, grief, and further isolation as people closed in to protect their loved ones.
Hate Fueled Violence (HFV) is what it's called. Today, HFV - hate crimes, political violence, mass violence and terrorism, and violence targeting marginalized populations - are all historically high. Seven out of ten Americans feel personally affected by HFV. Political violence has reached its highest level in half a century. Houses of Worship are now targets, leaving worshiping communities uncertain at best, and in fear at worst. And it all impacts our clergy who are ill-equipped, despite incredibly good intentions, to address the issues, let alone be able to help someone who may be at risk in their own House of Worship.
That's why we are deeply honored to announce our founding partnership with Bedrock.US. Committed to ensuring safety and belonging for all, Bedrock supports the institutions and leaders working to prevent HFV in America. In 2022, the United We Stand Summit at the White House brought together a bipartisan group of Directors of White House Domestic Policy from four presidential administrations who all made a committment to address HFV in America. The eventual outgrowth is more than 50 national partner organizations committed to addressing HFV and saving the lives of those at risk under the Bedrock umbrella, bringing forward what Martin Luther King Jr. called, "the solid rock of human dignity."
Ultimately, as King is known to have said, hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. All clergy deserve our support to ensure that their love, compassion, experience, and leadership reach the hearts of every member of their communities, so that no one ever feels lonlines, isolation, and disparagement. Our work with Bedrock and partner agencies gives everyone a shot to ensure that events like Culombine, Las Vegas, Orlando, Blacksburg, Newtown, Sutherland Springs, Pittsburgh, and Uvalde never happen again.
To support The Parsonage Project visit us at parsonageproject.org.