I was heartbroken Tuesday afternoon to hear reports of an active shooter on the nearby campus of Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia. Naturally, I was even more crestfallen when news of two slain peace officers emerged. These sorts of things are not supposed to happen in the heart of rural America and certainly not within the peaceful confines of the idyllic Shenandoah Valley. But, alas, they did happen, and today our community and our Commonwealth grieve.
Of course, exposés on the person of the shooter, Alexander Wyatt Campbell, have already begun blanketing the web. He is being captioned as a 27-year-old, former Bridgewater College athlete whose troubled past finally caught up with him. And I'm sure in days to come many commentators will lament his evil character, the rampant depravity that inhabits our world today, the dangers of guns, and the inadequacies of mental health care in America. Indeed, there will certainly be no shortage of negative perspectives on this truly loathsome event. This, of course, will lead many well-meaning Christians and others to conclude that love, brotherhood, and civility are gone or mortally wounded...that we're "knee deep" in an age of satanic/evil influence from which only further despair will arise. Some may even allow themselves to venture into the realms of nihilism or hopelessness. And this is so very unfortunate because, from my perspective, none of these reactions are grounded in Truth. Love may have been hidden--even hogtied--for a moment on Tuesday, February 1, 2022, but it was not absented, nor was it marginalized or destroyed. The outpourings of support, grace, and mercy that I've seen in the last 24 hours demonstrate clearly that love is alive and well. Moreover, Scripture is unambiguous: "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1, ESV). Those who call themselves Christ-followers cannot accept the mortality of love!
But can anything else be said in the case of Alexander Wyatt Campbell? Well, ironically enough, I think rock-n-roll singer-songwriter Jon Bon Jovi can help us. In 1986, he and his band released their iconic anthem "You Give Love a Bad Name." The stark lyrics and musical winds of this song take the listener through a turbulent experience of romantic woe and breakup, as the principal is "shot through the heart" and damaged seemingly beyond repair. However, I've always found a grain of hopefulness in this song. Notice that the stricken lover never gives up on love itself. The refrain "you give love a bad name" does not posit the dissolution or final incapacitation of love; it proclaims only that the name (i.e., perception) of love has suffered damage. That is to say, the facade has been sullied, but there remains hope that love's core is intact and in good working order. The offending lover's actions notwithstanding, the stricken lover gives a tip-of-the-hat to the enduring character of love.
Alexander Wyatt Campbell certainly gave love a bad name on Tuesday--his actions were the antithesis of grace, mercy, brotherhood, and civility. But love, as always, is strong and resilient. In the days ahead, as a cacophony of commentators regale us with lamentations and try to convince us that love is dead, other more positively minded influencers will reach out to friends and family of the slain officers with words of comfort and mercy, offer tangible support to the community of Bridgewater, and provide encouraging perspectives on the tragedy. May we concentrate on these latter voices. Indeed, may we be these latter voices! Folks, don't believe the lies. Love endures forever. We must simply choose to see and participate in it.