Tuesday was the 84th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know about you, but I miss his words, so I offer a few. King said “people often hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate, they cannot communicate because they are separated.” I would add to his words: ‘and in that separation they seek guns.’ As an evangelical Christian, I’m going to make this theological.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant.
What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?
I want to suggest — a lot. A whole lot.
Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).
Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.
From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence. Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence — and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be.
So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?
The reality is bleak: 33 Americans are killed and 260 wounded from gun violence daily. Yesterday, as the culmination of its No More Names bus tour, which reached 25 states in 100 days, Mayors Against Illegal Guns rallied at the Capitol to urge Congress to pass a bill enforcing mandatory background checks for potential gun owners.
Spearheaded in 2006 by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MAIG began with 15 mayors, and has since grown to more than 1,000. The group’s goal is to make American communities safer by reducing the number of illegally obtained guns and by holding dealers accountable for potential gun-purchasers.
At the Hill gathering, representatives from myriad groups came together to advocate for stricter background checks and to push Congress out of their inaction. Tuesday, the Senate postponed a hearing on the legality of “Stand Your Ground” laws — on the heels of Monday’s Navy Yard gun violence.
Congressional representatives, mayors, police officers, military veterans, NRA members, women’s organizations, advocacy groups such as Mothers Demanding Action, faith community leaders (rabbis, priests, and pastors), university groups, children, gun violence survivors, and family members of those who have lost someone to gun violence were all in attendance at the No More Names rally. A broad coalition: racially, socioeconomically, and generationally diverse, as indiscriminant as the bullets that affect us all.
In the fourth chapter of Genesis, after the proverbial “fall” of humanity, two brothers stand in a field. Cain is a farmer — Abel, a herdsman. Both bring offerings from their labor to God, but Abel brings his first fruits, so God looks on Abel’s offering with delight. In a jealous rage Cain rises up against Abel and kills him. This is the first recorded murder in the Bible.
I will never forget walking onto the National Mall early on the morning of April 11, 2013. As I approached a mass of people and television cameras between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building I was overcome by the sight of more than 3,300 crosses and other religious symbols rising from the heart of our capital city. They represented the graves of all the people who have died by gunfire since the December 14, 2012 shooting massacre at Newtown, Conn. It was profound. It was overwhelming.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns is buidling grassroots organizations across the country. After setbacks in Congress, the coalition is shifting its focus to local politicians and state legislatures. The coalition faces an uphill battle in many states against well-organized networks of gun enthusiasts, but New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to continue the fight. The New York Times reports:
“We don’t give up,” said John Feinblatt, who oversees Mayors Against Illegal Guns and serves as Mr. Bloomberg’s chief policy adviser. “We’re here for the long haul.”
Read more here.
Before last week’s Senate vote, we learned that 90% of Americans supported universal background checks as a way to reduce gun violence.
The Senate’s vote against background checks shows that public opinion is not the driving — or defining — force behind America’s gun culture. In fact, to find that force, you don’t have to look any farther than money.
When the really hard stuff happens, when we witness the true face of evil, Americans have a predictable habit. Even as cameras feed the latest bubble-shattering violence into our family rooms, we start looking for someone or something — anything — other than the actual perpetrators to stone. We panic for a scapegoat.
We hunt tirelessly for the person (a parent, an educator, a cop) who didn't catch the warning signs, who failed to read a memo — anyone on whose shoulders we can cast our collective fear — then rush as many measures into place as possible, no matter the cost in treasure or freedoms, to regain an illusion of safety and impenetrability.
One iteration of that really hard stuff happened at Sandy Hook. The backstory is eerily familiar. A young man, left to stew in our culture's juices, fleshes out the nightmare in his broken soul, and deals out tragedy in living color as if the holy innocents of Newtown were mere pixels on a screen, points in a twisted "shooter." Now, just four months later, it's a swept-away moment of terror and sadness that everyone just wants to forget because it's unthinkable to think on it any longer.
Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown each stopped the nation in its tracks but we eventually moved on, and before anyone might guess, well over 3,000 more have died by gun violence in America since December.
Guns are dangerous idols. While mass shootings are happening at an alarming rate and an epidemic of gun violence plagues our nation’s cities, our society’s fanatical devotion to weapons prevents us from enacting solutions to curb the violence. The cost of worshipping these false idols continues to rise, as firearms kill more than 80 people a day.
Since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newton, Conn., nearly 3,500 people have died because of a gun. Some of them were suicides. Some were gang-related gun deaths. Many use these facts to insinuate that the deaths somehow aren't equally tragic. But as Christians we know that all of them were children of God created in the Divine image.
While the idolatry rages on, prophets are beginning to speak out.
Last week, the Senate began a floor debate on gun control that brought to mind an earlier “floor debate” several months ago in Chaska, Minn.
Ever since our Community Dialogue on “Gun Violence in America,” I’ve searched for answers to what happened.
A crowd of 138 people came out on a Tuesday night to chime in following the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.
As the night wore on, it became clear that there would be no real dialogue, no moderated discussion. No give-and-take. A series of monologues, without interruption and with a time limit, was the best we could expect.
Fear, anger, hostility, and suspicion were in the room. The room was hot.
The months following have been a personal search for understanding of what happened that night, and how we in America move forward together on such a divisive issue.
Meaning happens when the purposes of the writer come together with what the reader thinks is important. Since all aspects of any one thing cannot be perceived all at once, we focus our attention on this or that aspect of a thing depending upon what we want to achieve. This is why we can read a particular text many times and find new insights each time.
This is also why we cannot agree on what the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution means. The amendment reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Many of us who support restriction on the kind of guns and the size of ammunition magazines that private citizens can own focus attention on the clause, “a well regulated Militia.” On the other hand, many who do not support restrictions on the kinds of guns private citizens may own focus attention on the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”