Archive for the 'Guns' Category

Is It Time Yet???

Yesterday I drove past the Mandalay Bay shooting site on the Las Vegas Strip. Almost a month later the memorial site appears lovingly cared for. A steady stream of visitors includes families and friends of the victims, local residents, and tourists touched by the tragedy. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo still appears regularly on local news shows with updates on the continuing investigation. He looks a little less tired than he did immediately after the event. The concert site remains an active crime scene closed to the public indefinitely. The yellow crime-scene tape reminds passersby of the havoc wreaked by one very sick man.

As soon as the news broke that night, we heard calls for action to address our nation’s continuing epidemic of gun violence. My initial reaction echoed Old Testament laments: “How long, O Lord?” (Psalms 13:1; 79:5; 89:46; 90:13; Isaiah 6:11). When is enough enough? But many people said, “This is not the time. First we need to grieve and show respect for the victims and their families.”  We did need time and space to process the flood of emotions we’d experienced. That’s happened very meaningfully in the Las Vegas community and across the nation.

Now it’s been almost a month. Is it time yet? If not now, when? How long, O Lord? The news cycle’s moved on to Republican infighting, the World Series (Go Dodgers!), and more. How long, O Lord? A month? Three months? A year? Today I learned that more than 800 people have died of gunshot wounds since October 1! “How long” was too long for them. Oh, I know. Anything we’d done in the last three weeks couldn’t have prevented any of those deaths. But the sooner we act, the sooner more people can live safely and without fear.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D) has re-introduced legislation calling for comprehensive background checks for gun buyers. Murphy’s been fighting this battle since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. While gun owners and the general public support the concept, Murphy acknowledges his bill has a slim chance of passage due primarily to NRA opposition. He’s also clear that his bill is one small piece of a vast complex puzzle. Other puzzle pieces include mental health resources, a more balanced and up-to-date approach to the Second Amendment, less glorification of guns and violence in entertainment and popular culture, and reduced availability of military-grade weapons and accessories.

I DON’T WANT TO TAKE AWAY YOUR HANDGUN, RIFLE, OR SHOTGUN YOU USE FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION, HUNTING, AND/OR TARGET SHOOTING. I do want you to consider the tension between your freedom to own and use guns and the rights of everyone else (including the 2500+ shooting victims, approximately 840 of whom died)  since October 1, 2017. One piece of this complex puzzle is many, many honest and respectful conversations between folks with drastically differing views. That will require us to set aside our preconceptions and prejudices, listen and share respectfully, try not to yell, and find common ground.

For followers of Jesus, I suggest that conversation includes the relationship between our daily walk with Jesus and our relationship with guns. Are we willing to accept reasonable regulation? Are we willing to speak out and vote against the NRA’s absolutist stance, and support politicians who do so? How do we reconcile our relationship with guns with Jesus’ call to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45) and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)? As we said earlier, this dialog about guns, gun use, and violence in our culture will be more of an ultramarathon than a sprint. But we’ll never finish if we don’t get to the starting line and begin the race together.

2015 saw 372 mass shootings in this country. (A mass shooting is commonly defined as one in which four or more people die.) In December 2015 a group of Christian leaders gathered to reflect on this record violence. Out of that gathering came the Advent Declaration on Gun Violence. It represents a considered Christian approach to the issue. Whether or not you agree with every detail, I suggest it as a useful starting point for dialog around the issue with folks in your church. Of course I invite you to sign it if you feel led to do so. I have. And I won’t declare you unchristian if you choose not to! But I hope you’ll take a serious look at it, read and reflect on the scripture references, and invite some other folks to consider it with you.

It’s been almost a month. Countless “thoughts and prayers” have been offered for the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting and other events. Is it time now for meaningful prayer and action to impact this nation’s epidemic gun violence? I know at least 800 folks–probably close to a thousand by the end of this month–who’d say a resounding “Yes!”–if only they could.

PS 1) Here are links to blogs I wrote in response to mass shootings in 2015: “Response to Roseburg” and “Real Live Hope”.

2) Where have I been all this time? This retired United Methodist has been serving as interim pastor for an ELCA Lutheran church. Great learning experience for all involved!

Real Live Hope

In early October I wrote a “Response to Roseburg” shortly after the shootings at Umpqua Community College. Politicians of “all sorts and conditions” sent “thoughts and prayers” to those touched by that horrific act—but did nothing new to change things. Both religious and non-religious folks proclaimed the hypocrisy of “thoughts and prayers” that didn’t lead to transformative action. I shared a colleague’s prayer: “Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing.” I also called for us who follow Jesus torediscover the peacemaking tradition in Christianity….” 

Two months later San Bernardino happened. My frustrated, grieving, angry response was “How Long, O Lord? An Advent Lament.”  I asked brothers and sisters in Christ, How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus?… how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second?” Popular religion works hard to erase that boundary. I believe authentic faith in Christ sharpens it instead of erasing it.

I’m hardly the only one thinking about how people of faith respond to gun violence.  One such group recently talked, prayed, and struggled their way to an “Advent Declaration on Gun Violence”. Its Preamble says in part, “A spirit of fear, enmity, racial prejudice, distrust, and violence is tragically normal in our [American] way of life. We believe this is contrary to the gospel, and so we say ‘Enough of this. No more.’…There is an urgent need for followers of the Prince of Peace to challenge the easy use of guns in our society.”  

This declaration sets the bar pretty high—but no higher than it’s always been for us who follow Jesus. Signers of  “An Advent Declaration” affirm that:

  • “We advocate for greater restraint and stricter controls on the private use of guns.”
  • “We accept the way of the cross.”
  • “We take up the armor of the Spirit.”
  • “We seek the justice that makes for peace.”
  • “We pursue love for enemies.”
  • “We are confident that the goodness of God defeats evil and injustice.”

The closing paragraph states: “Relying on God’s grace, we commit to lead our faith communities in acts that do good toward enemies, for this is the strongest witness to God’s love and defeat of evil, the most compelling contributor to the transformation of our enemies, the best way to de-escalate violence, and the path to build communities of peace where all can flourish as beloved children of God.

I’ve signed this Declaration. I urge you to read it, ponder it, pray about it, discuss it with others. Don’t sign it unless you intend to act on it! Sign it if your journey with Christ leads you in this direction. It’s not a litmus test for “real Christians”. I don’t pretend that electronically signing a document will change the world. Nor do I imagine that the current 157 signers are enough to accomplish that change—though Jesus started with just Twelve! Let this Declaration refocus your discipleship. Let it lead you into asking new questions, into asking old questions in a new way, and into entertaining new answers to old questions. Let it lead you into conversation with folks with whom you disagree strongly (judging by the intensity and volume of previous engagements!) Let this document lead you to listen deeply and prayerfully to your neighbor, even if he/she doesn’t immediately respond in kind. Eventually that will happen. Let this declaration lead you to serve others inside and outside the church. Let it lead us where we never imagined we might go to do what we never imagined God could do through us. Let the community that forms around this Declaration become a sign of Hope for all who still cry out, “In God’s Name–How Long?”

christmas change

HOPE is the itch I’m trying to scratch. During this Advent season I haven’t heard clearly the outrageous impossible Hope that comes to us in Christ. I haven’t heard how Advent not only looks backward to Jesus’ birth but also forward to Christ’s coming at the end of history to heal the world’s brokenness. I haven’t heard how this Child will turn our upside-down world right-side-up. I haven’t heard how God invites, empowers, and expects every follower of Jesus to help build this New Creation.

I haven’t heard God’s wild, wonderful promises through the prophets: “… swords into iron plows… spears into pruning tools…they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4 CEB ). “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa. 11:6 NRSV). I haven’t heard that majestic litany of Jesus’ other names: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)  I haven’t heard the en-couraging news that “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs.” (Isaiah 35:4 MSG). Nor have I heard the astounding eschatological promise that “Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped; lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song.” (Isaiah 35:5-6 MSG)

If I’m feeling a hope deficit, what about neighbors going through struggles we can scarcely imagine or comprehend–fire, flood, disease, environmental or economic disasters; refugees who can never go home again; the friends and loved ones of the 12,000+ people who have died in gun incidents in this country in 2015; so many more. How long, Lord?

How do we know “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right…”“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 MSG) Love wrapped in flesh like ours embodies Hope in the midst of despair and brokenness. “…followers of the Prince of Peace…challenge the easy use of guns in our society…We obey Jesus’ simple strategies of love: refusing to hate in return, unilaterally forgiving those who harm us, doing good to people who oppose us, and continually praying for God to bless all people, even those who treat us as enemies.” A community of people exhibiting such strange and wonderful behavior transforms outrageous impossibility into God’s truth happening through God’s people—you and me!– here and now! :“… swords into iron plows… spears into pruning tools…; they will no longer learn how to make war.”  “God is here… to put things right and redress all wrongs.”

Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

“How Long, O Lord??” An Advent Lament

US gun crime in 2015 (Figures up to 3 December)

353 Mass shootings        62shootings at schools

12,223people killed in gun incidents       24,722people injured in gun incidents

Source: Shooting tracker, Gun Violence Archive

  • How long will we tolerate nearly-daily mass shootings in our nation and fail to take meaningful action to stop them?
  • How long will we watch processions of victims being transported to the hospital or the morgue—and accept such tragic scenes as the “new normal”?
  • How long will we watch grieving families weep and mourn their loved ones—while praying that our community isn’t next—but do little or nothing to make a difference?

“ If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!”  Isaiah 64:1 CEB

  • How long will politicians let their fear of the NRA keep them from enacting sensible regulations regarding gun ownership?
  • How long will we fail to require licensing and insurance for gun ownership and users similar to that required for other lethal equipment such as motor vehicles?
  • How long will we entertain the ridiculous claim that assault rifles and similar weapons of war are normal household appliances, toys, or sporting equipment?
  • How long will we believe the lethal fiction that we’re safer with more guns in more people’s hands in more crowded public places?

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  • How long will we allow the condemnation of all Muslims for the actions of a few hyper-extremists?
  • How long will we allow misguided policies and divisive rhetoric to become recruiting tools for future terrorists?
  • How long will we tolerate the cycle of mass shootings followed by universal hand-ringing followed by failure to take meaningful action?
  • How long will we talk past one another instead of with one  another and demonize those with whom we disagree?
  • How long will the words of Scripture proclaim our continuing collective insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results): “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.”? Proverbs 26:11 NRSV
  • How long will we continue to slash mental-health funding that can provide life-changing treatment for disturbed people who might otherwise become “active shooters”?
  • How long will people of faith trust everything and everyone that promises safety and security more than we trust the One who is “…Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”? (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)
  • How long will our spiritual leaders remain fearfully silent or at best timidly indifferent regarding guns and the glorification of violence in our culture? (HINT—Christmas Day is too long!
  • How long will we offer “thoughts and prayers” for victims of violence divorced from any commitment to transformative action toward preventing future tragedies?
  • How long will we whine that “God Isn’t Fixing This” when the real issue is our choice (passive or active) not to collaborate with God in healing brokenness and building a new world?

God Isn't Fixing This

  • How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus? In other words, how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second? Fuller Theological Seminary professor Kutter Callaway writes about renouncing his Second Amendment rights. I hereby renounce mine. It’s time for followers of Jesus to rediscover  and reclaim our peace-making tradition found in the early church, the Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren,and more recently Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, the Sojourners movement, and others. More along this line soon.
  • How long will we talk and sing about Incarnation (God’s love embodied in Jesus) while failing to become God’s instruments through whom Redeeming Love becomes physically present to all neighbors within our reach?

“The Word became flesh and blood, “and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 MSG

Calling an Idol an Idol

Our nation’s relationship with guns is a hot topic right now. So much is being said in so many places that I hesitate to add to the noise. I don’t want to parrot others. I do want to amplify a theme that is critical for people of faith. The issue has been raised, but not nearly loudly or widely enough. For people of faith, the issue in this discussion isn’t merely “Constitutional rights”. It’s idolatry. I believe that idolatry is the most basic form of human sin. Very simply, idolatry is putting anything or anyone (including ourselves) in God’s place. We commit idolatry whenever we give to anyone, anything, or any idea the ultimate loyalty (worship) that belongs to God alone.

Idolatry began with Adam and Eve. Genesis 3 tells how God gave them unlimited access to the fruit of every tree in the Garden–except the one at the center. Naturally, that’s the one they wanted. So they did, encouraged by that wily serpent (hiss if you wish). We talk about that incident as “sin” and “temptation”. But I suggest it’s also the first example of idolatry in the Bible. Adam and Eve wanted to taste that fruit and “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). They valued their desire to have godlike powers more than their relationship with God. So they declared themselves gods (small-g)–with catastrophic results. It may have been the first time, but hardly the last.

Idolatry is a prominent but little-mentioned element in the current gun-control debate. Over the last few decades the National Rifle Association has moved beyond its original mission of promoting safe and responsible gun use. It has become the high priesthood of what it claims is the absolute right to own unlimited firepower. This recent article traces that evolution. On May 20, 2000, NRA President Charlton Heston (yes, the actor) told the national NRA Convention that “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blue steel…” (Click to view the entire speech.In  America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose`, James Atwood quotes former NRA executive Warren Cassidy: “You would get a far better understanding [of the NRA] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.”

“Sacred stuff”? “One of the great religions of the world”? The god this new religion worships bears no resemblance to the God we know in Jesus.  The way of Jesus is absolutely incompatible with every cultural idolatry from the first century to the twenty-first. This particular idolatry is merely the latest episode in a struggle that’ started even before Jesus’ death. The NRA religion may call itself politics, patriotism, freedom, whatever. People of faith correctly call it idolatry: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…” (Exodus 20:3-5 NRSV)

Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbor. “Neighbor” includes everyone within our reach and influence. By contrast, the “religion” of Heston, Cassidy, and LaPierre exalts an absolute right to shoot one’s heart out with all the firepower one desires to possess, regardless of how that “right” impacts our 30,000 neighbors killed by guns in this country each year. Jesus’ twelve closest followers included at least one violent revolutionary, but he consistently rejected violence as a means to achieve change. The NRA’s answer to gun violence is more guns. But Jesus told the disciple who drew his sword to protect Jesus from arrest, “’Put your sword away. Anyone who lives by fighting will die by fighting.’” (Matthew 26:52 CEV)

BEFORE YOU STEREOTYPE ME, PLEASE LISTEN: I don’t support taking everybody’s guns away. I don’t own a gun, never have, and never will. I don’t hunt. I don’t target-shoot. I don’t feel a need to have a gun for self-defense. But I support the right of those who choose to have guns for those purposes. I believe responsible gun use has a legitimate place in our society. Learning that skill has been an important part of growing-up for millions of boys and girls. They’ve learned from their parents, from other adults, and often through NRA-sponsored classes.

But guns are not “sacred stuff”. Guns are powerful tools designed to kill. They need to be treated with great respect—but not worshiped. Our society needs to find a balanced approach that keeps these powerful tools available to those who will use them responsibly, yet denies access to those likely to misuse them and harm themselves or others. We will honestly differ about the best way to strike this balance. Ideally it will happen through public-private partnerships. It will include changes in the mental health field, improved security at schools and other public places, gun regulations, and broader cultural changes. Gun owners who value and respect their lethal tools are an essential part of the conversation and the resulting change. Many have already spoken up to say that those who worship the “Sacred stuff…in that wooden stock and blue steel” do not speak for them. Responsible gun owners respect their tools and reject the idolatry that values one’s gun more than one’s neighbor. They are the first to affirm that the “…wooden stock and blue steel…” is a tool—a deadly tool—but nothing more. Let’s not stereotype them either.

The emerging gun debate is an opportunity for our democracy to work. People of faith who are also citizens of this country have both a right and a responsibility to be involved. Let us enter vigorously into this debate as people of faith. Let us do so respectfully civilly, boldly, and assertively. Let us love our neighbors by listening as well as sharing our own views. Above all let us never forget that we are first and foremost followers of the Prince of Peace.

 


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