Thoughts and prayers ought to be the beginning of our engagement with an issue, not the end.
We find ourselves swimming in the wake of yet another mass shooting, and the familiar litany of “thoughts and prayers” have rained down from many. It really does function like liturgy—it’s meant to frame an experience, bring some sacredness to it, and move us into a new space. Unfortunately, it’s become a tired liturgy, and a misguided one at that, for it attempts to move us into a space of acceptance.
It is, however, deeply unacceptable. It is unacceptable that such killings performed with guns, whether military-grade or not, are to be understood as the price of freedom. So many thoughts come to mind:
- The United States is unique in its problem of mass shootings, “tragically exceptional” as CNN put it in 2016. →The notion that nothing can be done is patently false.
- Rates of bloodshed from firearms is directly related to high gun ownership and accessibility, according to the National Institutes of Health. 1 →That this has to be stated is astounding.
- Australia, which had trouble with gun violence, was able to dramatically reduce such violence through sensible changes in policy. 2 →This should not surprise us.
- Though there are those who love to quote this portion of the Second Amendment: “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” they are conveniently forgetful of the opening clause, which specifies this should be, “A well regulated militia…”3 →I’m curious to know to what well regulated militia the shooter in Las Vegas or Sandy Hook—any of the shootings, mass or not, targeting white people (which get the most attention) or not—belonged.
In the end, the constitutional debate is not mine to have as role as pastor/teaching elder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His teaching and way appeals to a much higher authority. When Jesus said, “love your enemies,” (Matthew 5:44) it is pretty clear that as complex as love is, he didn’t mean to kill them. Likewise, for loving your neighbor (Mark 12:31).
Sure, there will be some who will say this is a matter of personal responsibility, and those responsible should be held accountable. However, where is the accountability for those who make it so easy to
acquire deadly force? Where is the accountability for those who profit from the creation of country that now literally has more guns than people?
As a theological matter, the church of the West has long committed the sin of relegating too much to the realm of the individual. Salvation is not merely about a single person’s eternal fate; it is about the wellbeing of the community here and now. The body of Christ has always been about a community of people. God’s shalom is a communal good, not an individual one.
Some will want to “keep politics out of the church.” Such a request, often made by those who perceive a benefit from an unjust status quo, is likewise grounded in fallacy. The early church’s claim that “Jesus is Lord,” is a political alternative, and form of resistance to, the mandate of the time to declare that “Caesar is Lord.” The Greek work for church itself, ekklesia, means “assembly” and refers to a political gathering. Christianity was born as a religious and political movement, and is understood often in political terms. Any church or Christian that denies its mandate to engage in the public sphere denies its very origin.
Jesus thought. Jesus prayed. Both seemed to lead him into action. Do we follow him or not?
2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/27017/10/03/how-australia-beat-the-gun-lobby-and-passed-gun-control/?utm_term=.575b548c6afb; http://www.factcheck.org/2017/10/gun-control-australia-updated/; https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/10/04/australian-foreign-minister-offers-share-tough-gun-law-experience-u-s/730659001/