How Church Leaders Can Explain the Tragedy in Sri Lanka to the Media

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Did God forget His people on the most sacred day of the Christian calendar? The news flooded the world that churches in Sri Lanka’s Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade districts were targeted during Easter services with bombings. To the non-Christian, this could beg the question: If God is so good, why would He allow such a high-profile tragedy to take place if He’s an all-powerful and loving God?

Often individual churches face a crisis that draws the attention of the mainstream media. It could be a sexual, financial, or violent action at a house of worship that forces unassuming churches into the media spotlight. An example is when Willow Creek Community Church had to deal with alleged misconduct by its founder. And then there was the tragedy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine members were murdered while they were in the church. Later, the media quoted the murderer saying “I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did.”

There’s only one honest answer: God only knows. Christians recognize that Scripture records that believers will face horrible deaths. Consider Hebrews 11:37, which reads, “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword…” However, how do we communicate tragedies to non-believers, especially when church leaders might have the opportunity to speak to the media?

Here are some options:

1.      Be real–this was a horrific tragedy in Sri Lanka: Trying to talk past the truth of the evil is not wise. However, to express sympathy and understanding is the place to start. A response could begin with, “There is no question this was an evil act perpetrated by evildoers who chose to attack Christians on their most sacred day.”

2.      Share how you’ve reacted to a personal tragedy that defied a logical explanation: Most Christians have gone through something that is personally horrible or know of a Christian who has experienced a tragic loss. Here’s the opportunity to simply say “While I cannot share an example of my experience that compares to what happened in Sri Lanka, I can tell you something tragic that I have personal knowledge of.” I know of a couple where the husband went blind, and after that, his wife had a stroke and is now wheelchair-bound. Everything they have shared with me points to a faith that is real in trusting God. The wife, while sitting in her wheelchair speaking to a large audience, exclaimed “God is up to something!” While she could not understand why these two major health challenges hit them, she chose to trust that God would use it for good.

3.      Put the burden on Jesus: As followers of Christ, we are called to depend on Him for everything and to trust Him to give us the right words at the right time. Before a Christian leader speaks to the media on any tragic matter, it would be prudent to pause and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words that will edify the audience. I remember working with a woman who took pride in how she did pubic relations to support the abortion industry. While she understood that I was firmly pro-life, we found a way to respect each other. One day, she asked me how I knew that Jesus was real. I paused for a moment and the Holy Spirit gave me the words for her: “Just ask God ‘If Jesus is for real, should I believe in Him to be saved?’ If it’s true it will change your entire life. If Jesus is not real, so what–you have wasted a minute of time praying.” I got her attention.

When Christians cover their explanations with truth and love to non-Christian media about how we respond to severe heartaches, we are honoring both Jesus and the reporters.

We know “in this world we will have trials and tribulations” and that “Jesus has overcome the world” on our behalf. When people see our trust in the Lord despite our circumstances, we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in their hearts in a way that is impossible for us to do. And when it’s done through the media, there’s an opportunity to magnify that message.