Shun - Not For the Lost or Hopeless

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, August 1, 2013 0 comments

“Such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil”. I found this quote in an article on Wikipedia that talked about the criticism that a certain religious group of people faced because of their decision to respond to evil with love and compassion. I chose to begin this post with it because I believe it is at the core of why we are so quick to judge, condemn, and shun others in this world. We fear that an attitude of love and peace in response to acts of evil will paint us as weak, naïve, or accepting of that which is wrong. This fear causes us to constantly point out the sins of others so that we can at least appear to be distancing ourselves from them.

On October 2, 2006, a gunman took a classroom full of Amish girls and their teacher hostage in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This story hit particularly close to home for me because I was still living in PA - where I grew up - at the time and was only about a half hour from where it happened. In addition, a friend of mine who is a pastor had the family of the gunman, and the gunman himself at one time, in attendance at his church and had tried to help them through their struggles. The gunman was battling his own past and depression and reportedly had a plan to do much more damage than he was actually able to do that horrible day. Based on the items he had purchased and what he brought to the scene that day, investigators concluded he had planned to molest the girls and then kill them. He had let all the males leave the room before he began to carry out his plan. Before he could follow through with it, however, the police were breaking into the room after they had been called by a family member of one of the released male students. The police were able to save some lives, but not before the gunman was able to shoot ten of the girls, killing five of them, before committing suicide. This one man’s evil actions brought long-lasting grief to an entire community of people, and anger and a desire for vengeance to many more who knew neither the gunman nor the victims. How would you respond if you were one of those young girls’ parents? Would you be upset that the gunman “got off easy”? Would you take out your frustrations on those who associated with him, especially his wife and young children? In a matter of hours, the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania had gone from their typical avoidance of media and outsiders to being thrust into the national spotlight. How would they respond to this horrible circumstance? How could such a tight-knit community possibly overcome something this destructive?

When I hear the word “shun”, the Amish community is the first thing I think of because it is a common practice of theirs. However, they took a different approach to this devastating situation. Just a few hours after the incident, members of their community were showing up at the home of the wife and children of the gunman and offering their condolences and support. Rather than respond with anger or intentional avoidance, they actually went out of their way to bring love, forgiveness, and hope to the family who had just lost a husband and father. Furthermore, they issued a challenge to the members of their religious community to not hate the man who committed the horrible crime and to instead trust his judgment to the God of justice.

Their response showed the world that the practice of shunning is not for the lost and hopeless. It is meant only for those inside their faith community who have chosen to walk in ways they believe are wicked. While I won’t sit here and argue the Amish standard of morality is based completely on Scripture, I will say that the way this group of Amish people decided to handle this tragedy was an excellent model of Christ for all of us. The criticism they faced also put them in his company. In Luke 15, the Pharisees (Jewish experts in the law) had a problem with the fact that Jesus did not shun those who they thought he should. “They muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (v. 2). Jesus went on to share with them the three well-known parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, explaining in each case that there is much more rejoicing over the return of what is lost than what was never gone in the first place. Through these stories and many others where Jesus went against the expectations of the religious experts, he showed them that the redemption of the lost was always the highest priority.

The question for each of you is what is your highest priority? As Katie shared in Monday’s post, there are times when shunning a person or behavior is appropriate. But even in those situations, we should be examining our true motivations and asking ourselves whether our choices are ultimately more helpful or harmful to Jesus’ mission of bringing the lost to faith in him as Savior and Lord. I challenge you to learn from the example of the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and welcome even those who have caused you pain, especially if you know they desperately need the Lord and the hope he has given you.