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What Would Jesus Say To the NRA?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as the NRA's Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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?  

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Texas Attack

Photo via Public Domain / RNS

ISIS' flag incorporates the shahada and the seal of Muhammad in its design. Photo via Public Domain / RNS

The Islamic State claimed responsibility May 5 for the attack outside a Texas art show showcasing cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

A statement read in a bulletin on the group’s Al Bayan radio station said “two soldiers of the caliphate” carried out Sunday’s attack, the jihadist monitoring service SITE Intel Group said.

The statement from the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, said: “We tell … America that what is coming will be more grievous and more bitter and you will see from the soldiers of the Caliphate what will harm you, God willing,” the Associated Press reported.

France Ponders Its Response to Shootings: Will Xenophobia or Multiculturalism Win?

Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Amina Tadjouri, right, with a friend in Paris during a demonstration on Jan. 11. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

As France emerges from its worst terrorist attack in decades, a biting novel that imagines the country governed by Islamic law is part of a swirling debate about its basic values. Will the country respond to the shootings with fear and xenophobia, as suggested by the book “Soumission,” or “Submission” — or embrace its multicultural, multifaith identity?

On Jan. 11, solidarity was on display as heads of state and religious leaders joined millions on the streets of Paris in a massive march for free expression and to honor last week’s victims from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Along with “I am Charlie,” some protesters also chanted “I am Jewish” in tribute to the four men gunned down by one of the assailants at a kosher market.

Muslims carried signs saying, “I am Charlie and Muslim.” And on Twitter, thousands of French rallied behind “#JeSuisAhmed” — referring to policeman Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, who also died in the attack on the magazine.

On the edge of the dense crowd, high school student Amina Tadjouri clasped a Jewish newspaper, as she stood next to a Muslim cleric railing against radical Islam.

“I’m Muslim, and I’m not OK with these killings,” she said. 

On Scripture: Pressing On Toward Higher Goals

Atop a mountain, Pavel Ilyukhin / Shutterstock.com

Atop a mountain, Pavel Ilyukhin / Shutterstock.com

I have often wondered about the trajectories my life has taken. I was raised a Latino Pentecostal in New York City but educated in a liberal arts tradition at Columbia University in Manhattan. I was exposed to evangelical and then liberal Protestant traditions in seminary and graduate school. My theological views have changed over the years. I have moved from Pentecostal to Baptist to Congregational (United Church of Christ) church traditions. 

Yet at each step of the way, I have been able to build on the solid foundations of the past in moving to new understandings for the new circumstances in my life. These life transitions never started from “scratch.” Some of these same tensions might have motivated Paul in considering, at least rhetorically, his past a “loss” in comparison to a new way of living and being in Philippians 3:4b-14.

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In these days, what are the sources of such life-altering “new knowledge?” There are many places for us to turn. Though I grew up without guns, I was surrounded by plenty of gun violence in my inner city neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In the aftermath of the tragic losses of our children and educators in Newtown, Conn., I wonder if we have gained any new knowledge. Apparently, we live in a country that values the freedom to own guns, even overly powerful ones like assault rifles. “Second Amendment rights” are invoked as if our founders could predict the kinds of weapons that would be available to regular Americans today, even with the “militia” (local police forces) that we also have available to us. 

Christians: Gun Violence is Our Issue

Gun image, val lawless / Shutterstock.com

Gun image, val lawless / Shutterstock.com

A well-known restorative justice film, "A Justice That Heals" recounts the role of faith and the church in caring for the families of both a murderer and his victim. The film climaxes in the mother’s act of forgiveness and counsel to the young man who killed her son. The power of that image of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration almost obscures another dimension of the grieving family's response to the death of their son. The victim's father resigns his job and becomes the director of an advocacy group for gun control.

The late Carl Dudley demonstrated in his research on mobilizing congregations that communities of faith rally to advocacy only after they have generated sufficient energy about and engagement with those affected by the policy. Congregations care about people not policy, stories over statistics, and narratives before numbers. Even the civil rights movement found its genesis in the story of Rosa Parks, and others like her, rather than in the "ethics" of segregation and discrimination. So, like the family in "A Justice That Heals," our work to mobilize around gun control requires creating a climate where people's experience with those who are victimized by bad policy.

Death in Broad Daylight: A Childhood Memory

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama signs executive orders on new gun law proposals with children. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When I was a little girl, my mother and I prayed together every night:

Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And then I would ask God to bless a list of people who were on my mind.

Every night I spoke about my own death, but death was not real. It never occurred to me that I would die or that my parents would die.

One day when I was in the fifth grade, we heard gun shots outside our school. Our teachers did not let us go outside for recess that day because a woman had been killed, caught in the crossfire of a domestic dispute between her son and his wife. By the time school was out, the body had been removed; there was no yellow crime scene tape. There was still blood on the ground to mark the spot of this tragic death. The next day it would be washed away.

What’s Going On: Mobilizing Against Gun Violence

Photo by majunznk / Flickr

Protestors gather outside the NRA's Washington, D.C. office on Dec. 17, 2012. Photo by majunznk / Flickr

When I was in high school, my family moved from a Black Chicago Southside neighborhood fraught with gang tensions to a nice, multiracial middle-class community further south. Yet, my mom and dad still drove my brothers everywhere, so they would not get shot walking to the basketball court or to a friend’s home because of their shoes, their coat, or the color of their shirt. It was the ’70s and Marvin Gaye’s anthem asked the question on the minds of a generation: What’s going on? 

Decades later, it is still my question. Six Sikhs killed in worship in Wisconsin. Thirty-three shot dead at Virginia Tech. Twelve killed and 58 injured in a movie theater in Aurora. One teacher and 12 students at Columbine. Six women, eight little boys, and 12 little girls in classrooms in Newtown. Those babies still had their baby teeth. What’s going on? 

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, cites these stats in her recent Huffington Post blog: 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence in our nation since 1979. It is as though 4,763 classrooms of young people have been killed by guns. Twenty-two times more children and teens have been killed since 1979 than military personnel in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. That cracks my heart wide open.

The shootings at Sandy Hook took our breath away. We felt in our hearts, this could happen to my child, to my neighbor’s child, and in my community. Unfortunately, in many communities, like my neighborhood in Chicago, we’ve known for a very long time that our children were in the line of fire.

Border Violence is Fast & Furious; Four Killed in Recent Weeks

Candles near site of shooting, Murphy Woodhouse

Candles near site of shooting, Murphy Woodhouse

Candles burn near the bloodstained concrete sidewalk where a youth was tragically killed when more than a dozen bullets shot across the wall into the Mexican bordertown. I've walked that sidewalk running parallel to the border wall and Calle Internacional in Nogales, Sonora possibly hundreds of times. It is with this intimate awareness of the context that I describe how recent deaths in the name of homeland security are an affront to all families of the borderlands. 

Four deaths in six weeks across the border region, one common offender

On the evening of Oct. 10 U.S. Border Patrol agents shot and killed 16-year old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The shots were fired through the paneled border wall in Nogales hitting José Antonio in the back seven-to-eight times. The agents allege the boy was involved in rock throwing. For more detailed description of the circumstances, see this article.

About a week earlier, Border Patrol agent Nicolas Ivie, 30, was killed in Naco, another Arizona border town just east of Nogales, when a fellow U.S. agent searching for smugglers mistakenly opened fire. Agent Ivie has a wife and two young daughters who live in southern Arizona, and the family is publicly fundraising to survive without him.

 

Even in the Midst of Violence and Tragedy, Love Wins

Love, we read over and over in the Bible, casts out fear.

The angels to Mary: Do not be afraid. To the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Do a search on that phrase and you’ll find it numerous times from 2 Kings through Revelation. When he appears to humans, our God of love is always prefacing his messages with, “Do not be afraid.”

As a mother, I want to raise brave kids who hear that message and know it to their toes. Everything is going to be all right. Love wins, as they say.

I want them to be people who know that there is a bigger picture, a spiritual promise of hope and redemptive, even when life circumstances feel frightening.

I don’t want them to lose sight of it or fail to see God’s gifts of love around them because they are afraid of what, ultimately, cannot harm them.

It’s not always easy, however, for me to be brave.

'Four Dead in Ohio': Forty-two Years Later

The 1971 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by John Paul Filo of the Kent State Shootings. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/IJoqIS.

May 4, 1970 -- 42 years ago today -- was the day protesting the war in Vietnam became serious.

On April 30, 1970 President Nixon had announced an invasion of Cambodia, seeking to destroy North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front operations in the border area. Protests spontaneously broke out at universities all over the country. 

On May 4, National Guardsmen fired on a group of protesting students at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four and wounding nine. Jeff Miller, Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, and Sandy Scheuer became casualties of the war. A presidential commission later concluded that the shooting was "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."

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