Magazine article The Christian Century

Soul Searching after Texas Church Shooting

Magazine article The Christian Century

Soul Searching after Texas Church Shooting

Article excerpt

On a normal day in Sutherland Springs, Texas, all there is to fill the country air are the barks of local dogs and the hum of cars passing by.

Sunday, November 5, was not a normal day. A lone gunman shattered the town's tranquility with a hail of bullets that left 26 dead and 20 wounded in the First Baptist Church.

"It's a peaceful town; everyone knows everyone," said Rita Serna, who grew up in Sutherland Springs and sang her first solo at First Baptist. "It's sad, disturbing, ... but possible in today's times."

Church life permeates much of Texas culture: the state has more than 200 megachurches and dozens of evangelical colleges and universities. Churches like First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs still define the daily rhythms of many rural communities, say Texas natives such as Bob Roberts, who pastors the 3,000-member NorthWood Church, an evangelical congregation in Keller.

"It's the kind of little church my dad pastored when I was growing up as a kid," he said. "I think there's going to be some serious questioning, some serious soul searching after this.... It's one thing when someone gets killed while hunting. When somebody can come in with a Ruger AR-15, you just can't say, too bad, that's the way things go, there's nothing to be done"

He noted that the assailant was born in that part of Texas.

"There's something in our culture that's really out of control," he said. "We're producing our own bad apples; we can't blame it on ISIS."

According to reports, at the end of the 11 a.m. worship service Devin Patrick Kelley of New Braunfels opened fire on the congregation with a Ruger semiautomatic rifle, before being shot at by a local man and fleeing in his car. He was found dead of a gunshot wound a few miles away. Kelley's in-laws attended the church, and officials said the shooting arose from a "domestic situation."

Kelley, a former member of the Air Force who was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child and later kicked out of the service, was not legally allowed to own a gun, according to both U.S. and Texas law. Gov. Greg Abbott said Kelley was denied a right-to-carry license, but reports say he purchased the Ruger at a San Antonio gun shop. …

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