Over Spring Break, there was a massacre in New Zealand. On March 15, I woke to news alerts proclaiming that two racially targeted mass shootings occurred consecutively at mosques in Christchurch, resulting in 50 fatalities and 50 more injured. In the days that followed, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made two important announcements: first, that the government would unveil new gun safety reforms immediately, and second, that she would never speak the gunman’s name. Both decisions spoke volumes to me about Ardern’s leadership style.
First, she responded to a tragedy with more than a voice. The United States is no stranger to mass shootings, nor are we strangers to the gun-control debate. I believe that we have, at times, suffered from poor leadership. I am used to hearing people offer their thoughts and prayers to those affected by tragedy, but to be completely honest, if my child, sister or husband was murdered and I was offered the thoughts and prayers of millions but the actions of none, it would be hard for me not to lose my faith. As a disclaimer: I am not here to offer my opinion on the gun control debate. Rather, I am discussing a different and more foundational topic: love.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul gives a definition of what we know to be agape love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:47).
Notice the timeline. Love always protects. It always trust. It always hopes. It always perseveres. Love is more than your thoughts and prayers. It is a lifelong commitment to ensuring protection, trustworthiness, solace and perseverance, and to providing those things with patience, kindness, humility and forgiveness.
It was encouraging to see a leader, in the face of tragedy, offer more than thoughts, prayers and the condemnation of evil. Instead, she took action to do what she thought would provide protection in the future. She denied the evildoer of infamy and encouraged people to speak the names of the victims instead of the terrorist, effectively smothering the pernicious stench of the shooter and remembering the victims with love and honor.
When I hear people say that thoughts and prayers are not enough, I don’t hear an indictment of God or Christians. I hear a plea for true love. True love that is actively trying to protect people from evil, not just providing comfort when evil occurs. We cheapen what it means to commune with Christ when we use it as an excuse not to act. We must fully embrace active love, a love that leads and serves, a love that comforts and protects, a love that is collaborative, strategic, persistent, eternal.
Prime Minister Ardern’s actions following this tragedy excellently personify what I hope to see in the United States when the next disaster strikes — a love that offers a shoulder to cry on as well as a plan to craft an environment in which tears will be fewer and trust will abound.