March 24, 2021

Make Pain Human, Resist Faux-Gospel, Advocate for Change

Eight dead in Atlanta.

Ten dead in Boulder.

As vaccinations increase and the nation yearns to go back to some semblance of normalcy, it feels as if mass shootings are what comes with the "new normal." I say "feels as if" because this is yet to be seen. And, yet, I do find myself wondering what the the local church could do in response to gun violence. There seems to be two things we ought do in response: make room for lament and choose good news.

Make room lament, make pain human
The first thing we can do is lament. In a hyper-connected world we hear and read about mass shootings nearly immediately after they occur. At the same time we do not collectively have many tools for directing and managing grief. There is a Litany in the Wake of Mass Shootings generated by Bishops Against Gun Violence that continues to be amended each time there is another mass shooting. I was recently struck just by how long this list is. It's appropriately long. As one prays this litany, it forces one to stop, to remember and to hold the loss rather than move on to the next thing. We cannot change unless we sit with how deep the sorrow is in relation to these shootings. Churches can create space to grief, to remember and to make human what become no more than numbers in our public discourse. For something to positively change in our culture, it has to be made human.

Choose good news, not faux good news
In Isaiah 2 the prophet describes taking weapons and fashioning them into farming tools–tools that will care for the land and bring food to the people. What an image! It’s redemptive. It’s creative. It’s redemptive because it repurposes the brutal instrument rather than destroy or demonize it. A cycle is broken, even down to the devices used to perpetrate violence. Not only is the redemptive potential of these tools found, their creative purpose is as well. Their redemption finds them tilling land, creating food–sustenance to those that use the tools and their families. It takes a lot of imagination to come up with ways to shape destruction into creation, hate into love, enemies into friends. But this is what we find described in the biblical passage referenced above. It’s also what we see Jesus embody, announce and instigate in the Gospels. He loves the hated. He turns death into life. He wins by losing. He ends up being everything his mother imagined in her prenatal song. The debate around gun violence lacks imagination. It lacks gospel. For certain, there are those that have concocted a faux-gospel—a good news that fear of others and personal security will bring salvation but let—but let's be clear: that is not the gospel that Jesus came announcing. A counter gospel to that of Jesus always chooses methods of destruction over creation. Be watchful for this. 

There is one other thing we ought to do.

Advocate for change
When you read Luke 10, it is clear that Jesus imagines the evangelistic work he sends his followers out to conduct to be wrapped in an interdependency with those that live in whatever place they do ministry. It carries echoes of the message to God's people in Jeremiah 29 where God's people are instructed to live in a manner that builds towards the flourishing of all in that place—Babylonians and Israelites. The rhetoric around lenient gun laws on both state and national levels focus on personal security. Data does not demonstrate that more guns equates an increase in safety. More guns do not make you or your neighbor safer. According to the Gifford Law Center, states with more stringent gun laws have lower death rates. Not only is this rhetoric dishonest, it doesn't work for the Christian. The Christian should never make decisions based solely on their own well being. We ought to seek the flourishing of others—loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves. The authors of this country's Constitution could not have imagined the kind of killing machines now available in this country (they also had no imagination for the rights of people of color and women—which should tell us something, as well). The allusion that the discussion about access to weapons is somehow a renunciation of the second amendment is ludicrous. Rather, we need to work towards amending laws to match our current context. While mass shootings are horrific, firearm fatalities due to suicide and homicide outnumber mass shootings. Consider the collective grief after every mass shooting and consider the countless numbers left behind after the all too many shootings that do not make headlines. Too many people die in this country due to easy gun access. Safer laws could curb this. It is far-fetched that this country would ever have a complete ban on firearm ownership by citizens. Banning firearms altogether is highly, highly unlikely but we can advocate for changes in laws that will make for safer communities.  Those that decry that the government is going to take your guns away are merely using fear tactics on the feeble-minded. We cannot fall for such tactics and stumble to advocate for safer communities for everyone.

Nick Kristoff has penned a great article on the subject. 

NOTE: This post draws from an earlier post from a few years ago–tragic that we're still talking about this but my opinions have evolved on this subject.

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