Justice and Mercy

“Enough!” – On Gun Violence in America

Writing “Essential Christianity” in late December, 2020 was a great joy for me, a personal act of worship, a chance to comprehensively write what I believe, what I believe Christianity teaches, and what are the many implications of that teaching.  It also enabled me to locate theologically why we do what we do at Coracle and what we often talk about.  It’s laid out in 15 short paragraphs of biblical assertions and theology, with footnotes for each section for further clarification, amplification, and importantly, implications.

Paragraph 5 about “Dignity and Darkness” concludes with this sentence:  

“Evil seeks to diminish and destroy (40) all of God’s creations constantly, persistently, and powerfully by any means available.”  

Footnote 40 reads:

“This can be explicit (i.e. abortion, genocide, gun violence, etc.) or more subtle (i.e. systemic racism, imbalanced economic possibility, accessibility issues, unjust law, etc.). Implication: This introduces the basis for the legitimacy of Christian political action for the sake of resisting diminishment and destruction as well as political action for the sake of creating the context for flourishing, without putting our ultimate hope in human political systems.”

As part of a consistently pro-life ethic, I believe that prematurely ending a human life is wrong and always tragic.  That’s why I want to see measures enacted to reduce abortions, the leading cause of death for children inside the womb in America.  Also in America, the leading cause of death for children and teenagers outside the womb is a direct result of guns.

Recently and rightly, there has been much written and said about America’s gun violence problem since the mass shooting in Buffalo on May 14, and then Laguna Woods, California, and then Uvalde, Texas.  More attention is being paid to the almost 50 mass shootings in the last three weeks, bringing the number of mass shootings in this country to over 240 since the beginning of the year.  That’s not to speak of the number of individuals whose lives are dramatically altered or cut short by gun violence, 45,222 people in 2020.  This is a uniquely American problem, and in this way our country is indeed exceptional.  Other countries have responded differently to mass shootings, with dramatic results.

Still, in America the shooting and the shootings continue.  There’s a real danger that we become numb to it, as if it’s normal and to be expected.  It’s not normal, and it’s refreshing when somebody says so, especially when they have a large platform.  

On May 24th, Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors NBA basketball team, had to speak at the prerequisite pre-game press conference before a big playoff game, just hours after the Uvalde shooting.  He refused to talk about the game, the players, basketball, or anything else except the killing that had just happened. His powerful, unscripted 3-minute speech could be summed up in one word:   “Enough!”  If you haven’t watched it please do, or watch it again.  In some ways, Kerr’s was a lightning strike within the urgent conversation America is (again) having and needs to have in order to find some better future sooner rather than later for the sake of so many lives and for the common good.

I want to share with you thoughts, comments, and writings that have caught my attention, brought me before the Lord, and moved my heart.  You too may find them moving and helpful.

But first, an explanation of why I’m writing about this today, and not the many other things about which much could be said.  Like many Christians, I’ve been distressed by America’s gun violence problem for years, but I’ve said only a little about it publicly and wasn’t sure I’d say much even with the horrors of the last three weeks.  So why now?

Simply, because a leading Black pastor whom I respect is asking people like me to do something.  

Along with several other key Black Christian leaders, Charlie Dates, Senior Pastor at the Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, wrote an important article for Christianity Today titled “White Churches, It’s Time to Go Pro-Life on Guns”.  As a fellow believer, Dates is appealing directly to White Christians to care about and act on an issue that deeply impacts his community (which we must also see as our community too). Martin Luther King, Jr. did the same from a jail cell in Birmingham in 1963.  

“The issues are different, but the admonition is the same.  There must be some white Christians of goodwill who sense that something is terribly wrong with gun violence among the children in our nation.”

Dates then traces the way the Black evangelical church was enlisted for common cause in issues that were of particular concern for the White evangelical church, and now asks the same.  

“You have asked us to join in the fight for pro-life legislation, and now we ask you to do the same. Be pro-life by urging your congressional leaders to protect the lives of school kids who die at the force of weapons too easily placed in the wrong hands… So I write my own letter from Chicago. We need you, our white evangelical brothers and sisters, to move your politicians to save our schools from another shooting.”

The Asian American Christian Collaborative has offered a Statement on the Robb Elementary School Massacre in Uvalde, Texas which was signed by thousands of Christians (including myself) and presented to congressional leaders on June 7 by AACC President Raymond Chang.  It is an excellent document tied to Scripture and worthy of careful reading and consideration.  It contains reasonable proposals (ie, “common sense”) and actionable steps, and is thoroughly and beautifully Christian, full of biblical citations, clear in conviction, and humble in tone.

“Together, we must bring ourselves to the sobering realization that the children of Uvalde are the children of us all. The brothers and sisters lost in Buffalo and Laguna Woods are our family. We must seek a better path forward, avoiding the trap of helplessness and complacency. We must not only support change in words; Christians must be willing to advocate for and mobilize toward a more just society. We must not stand idly by. Only then will we possibly emerge from this relentless, national nightmare of mass shootings with a different future ahead.“

Just a couple of days ago, conservative commentator David French wroteAgainst Gun Idolatry,” a defense of gun ownership, written as an unapologetic gun owner himself.  (I can relate to that, we have 5 guns in our house, a couple of rifles and a couple of shotguns, for hunting and target shooting.)  Writing from real personal experience, he highlights what he sees as a positive side of American gun culture, “marked by kindness, empathy, and sobriety,” and what threatens it: 

“The threat to America’s gun culture comes from the gun rights movement itself.  The threat is gun idolatry, a form of gun fetish that’s fundamentally aggressive, grotesquely irresponsible, and potentially destabilizing to American democracy.”

For today there is one other resource to highlight.

In 2019 a book was published that was timely then and unfortunately remains all the more timely now:  Beating Guns: Hope for a People who are Weary of Violence by Shane Claiborne and Mike Martin.  It is an extremely accessible, biblical, well-researched, compelling case for Christians to care about and work for the reduction of gun violence in the US.  While I imagine that I don’t agree with my friend Shane on every issue, he is the closest thing to St. Francis I imagine I’ll ever meet, and Mike, a Mennonite, trained as a blacksmith specifically for the purpose of turning real guns into real gardening tools.   

They helped start Raw Tools, an organization that is gorgeous in its simplicity and its creativity and a truly powerful and visible witness to God and his ways. They actually incarnate the words of Micah 4:3-4:

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will train for war no more. Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree. No one shall make them afraid.”  

Check out Raw Tools, maybe buy a gardening tool made out of a gun, and do look at Beating Guns.   If there’s enough interest in it, maybe Coracle could offer a book club or discussion on it.  Let me know if you’d want to do that sometime.

This reflection only scratches the surface of what could be said about gun violence in America, why we are where we are, how Christians can think about that, and what might be done.  For today, maybe the deepest point of this post is, “We’ve got to do more on this.”   Yes, let’s pray much and often, for comfort for the families of those who’ve lost and lose loved ones by a bullet, and comfort all those affected, as there are many.  Let us pray that God would bring an end to the scourge of gun violence in America.  

And let us act.

For today, read the Charlie Dates article, and when you’re done, get quiet, ask God this question, “Lord, is there anything I can do about this?  Something?”  Sit in silence in order to listen, see what God might bring to mind, and then do it.

On the Journey,

PS:  With you, my heart grieves this week as well over the massacre of at least 50 Christians in Nigeria who were targeted during worship.  Too much violence in too many forms.  “Lord, have mercy.”  And, “Maranatha!  Lord, come quickly.”  We remember and find some comfort in the words of the Psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the Lord  is the death of his faithful servants.”  (Psalm 116:15)  Let us also pray for protection for Christians in other parts of the world who are under persecution.  You might consider using the resources and/or supporting the work of ministries like Open Doors or Barnabas Aid.

SOUNDINGS” posts consider topics that are important for our society, for the Church, and for our own spiritual journeys.  To ‘take a sounding’ is a nautical term about using depth to determine where you are and where you’re going.  These writings are designed to do just that.  Please share this post with friends you think might appreciate it.  If you would like to get SOUNDINGS posts from me sent directly to your inbox, click here.
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