CHICAGO -- Reports of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday tragedy have flooded the news, prompting some to ask if God forgot His people on the most sacred day of the Christian calendar. Over 300 dead and more than 500 injured from bombings that targeted churches in Sri Lanka's Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo's Kochchikade districts during Easter morning services. Those outside the Christian faith are asking a tough question of church leaders: If God is all-powerful, loving and good, why would He allow such a high-profile tragedy to take place in His houses of worship on a day set aside to honor Him?
While the death toll in Sri Lanka is horrific, this is certainly not the first time that tragedy in church has drawn media attention. Individual congregations face crises far too often for their own comfort. Sexual misdeeds, financial troubles or acts of violence connected to a house of worship can suddenly and shockingly force a faith community into the spotlight.
In 2018, Willow Creek Community Church, a popular Chicago suburban megachurch, was forced to deal with scandalous allegations of misconduct by its founder. Members of Charleston, South Carolina's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church mourned the mid-service murder of nine members in 2017 by a man later quoted in the media as saying, "I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did."
The church is not immune to tragedy. And when it occurs, people ask, "Why?"
For the Biblical Christian, there is only one honest answer: only God knows. Throughout history, those who place their faith in the Judeo-Christian God have been persecuted for it. Today's evangelical Christians recognize that scripture records a future of horrific deaths to be faced by true believers. The Bible offers up one particularly gruesome example in Hebrews 11:37, which reads, "They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword..."
For those who do not ascribe to God's Word, this makes little sense. However, church leaders should not shy away from the opportunity to speak to the media. Using the following options, Christian spokespeople can tackle tough scenarios with confident compassion:
Be real. This was a horrific tragedy in Sri Lanka: Trying to talk past the truth of the evil presented is not wise. Express sympathy and understanding to start. An appropriate response could begin with, "There is no question this was a heinous act perpetrated by evildoers who chose to attack Christians on their most sacred day."
Share your own reaction to personal tragedy. Explain that there is often no logic or reason for the horrible things that can happen: If you have gone through the unimaginable, or can share the story of a fellow Christian, this is an opportunity to simply say "While I cannot imagine the devastation of those who are suffering in Sri Lanka, I do understand what terrible loss feels like." One real life example is the story of a Chicago man who went blind just before his wife had a stroke that left her wheelchair-bound elicits pity. The fact that together they trust in God and exclaim joyfully that, "God is up to something!," produces awe-inspiring wonder. This couple may not understand why they were hit with two major simultaneous health challenges, but they have chosen to trust that God would use it for good.
Place the burden on Jesus: Followers of Christ are called to depend on Him for everything and to trust Him to supply the right words at the proper time. Before a Christian leader speaks to the media about any matter, it would be prudent to pause and ask the Holy Spirit to edify the audience through one's response. A pro-life media relations strategist developed a respectful relationship with a woman who proudly supported the abortion industry through her publicity work. One day, she asked the life advocate how he knew that Jesus was real. "I paused for a moment and the Holy Spirit gave me the words the share with her," he explained. "Just ask God if Jesus is for real and if you should believe in Him to be saved. If it's true it will change your entire life. If Jesus is not real, so what if you have wasted a minute of time praying." He reported that those Spirit-directed words got the woman's attention.
A Christian who responds to the secular media about heart-rending tragedy with truth and compassion honors both Jesus and reporters.
Believers in God accept Jesus' assertion that "in this world we will have trials and tribulations" and Christ's assurance that He "has overcome the world" on our behalf. When worldly people observe a Christian's trust in the Lord - despite circumstances - the Holy Spirit is given an opportunity to influence hearts in a supernatural way. With the broad reach of today's media, God provides His people with an amazing opportunity to magnify that message.
About TC Public Relations
TC Public Relations is a Chicago-based firm managing reputations for businesses and nonprofit organizations. President Tom Ciesielka and staff handle media relations, social media strategy and crisis communications for clients that range from attorneys, authors, churches and social change advocates. Visit tcpr.net.
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