After a Southern Baptist church in rural Texas suffered the deadliest church shooting in US history, Russell Moore penned a powerful op-ed reflecting on why such tragic events don't intimidate the Church.
"While millions of other Christians were singing hymns or opening their Bibles or taking communion this past Sunday, at that very moment, a gunman was opening fire on the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas," Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, began an op-ed published in the Washington Post.
"This, the largest church shooting in history, ends with 26 people killed. Several children were among the fallen, including pastor Frank Pomeroy's fourteen year-old daughter Annabelle. Whatever the shooter's twisted objective might have been, we do know this: it won't work."
While the shooter, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, was "obviously deranged and unhinged," his goal -- terrorizing worshippers -- has been "attempted constantly over the centuries and around the world," Moore said, pointing out that Jesus himself experienced horrific persecution.
The perpetrators, often "cold, rational governments and terrorist groups," all thought they could, "by the trauma of violence, snuff out churches, or at least intimidate those churches into hiding from one another."
However, such violent tactics "always end up with the exact opposite of what the intimidators intend: a resilient church that, if anything, moves forward with even more purpose than before," Moore said.
If such killers looked overhead, in almost any of the churches they attempt to destroy, they would see the cross, he pointed out.
"To eradicate churches, our opponents will need a better strategy," he said. "They should see that Christianity can be easier suffocated with comfort, to the point that we forget who we are, than it can be terrorized with violence. Those who try to confront the church with the threat of death only remind the church that we were dead, and are now alive in Christ."
He added, "The days ahead will be awful for the grieving community of Sutherland Springs. But one thing is certain: Come Sunday, they will be gathered again, singing and praying and opening the Word. That church will bear witness to the truth that shaped them: Eternal life cannot be overcome by death. And over that church will be a cross."
The massacre, which has been identified as the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, left about 4% of the small town's population dead. The slain victims ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old.
The killer was found fatally shot a short time later in a neighboring Texas county,
On Sunday evening, more than 100 people -- including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott -- gathered after dark for a prayer vigil near the church. While holding flickering candles, attendees sang hymns and hugged one another.
Mike Gonzales said, "The people of this church are wonderful people. We're coming together to pray for them and show the world that now, in the midst of darkness, there is light."
On the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Facebook page, thousands from all over the world offered prayers and words of comfort for church congregants.
"It is with sadness for the actions of one that we offer our thoughts and prayers. We pray for comfort and peace as you go through the coming days. May Jesus wrap His arms around you and keep you," wrote Betty Tucker Herring. "Psalms 18:2-3 'The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer:my God, my strength, in whom I will trust.......I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from my enemies.'"
Wrote Jamie Mendoza: "'The Lord is close to the broken hearted; and He saves those who are crushed in spirit.' - Psalms 32:18. Know that God's love is always with you and will never leave you. I am your sister in the Lord and my heart is with you and I'm praying for your church family right now."