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"Thoughts and Prayers"

Posted by Rob McClellan on

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?





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Vince De Quattro Oct 17, 2017 3:01pm

Until our representation can stand up to the disproportionate power of the NRA (Gun owners make up one-third of the electorate) we will never see a solution to the massacre of Americans by semi-automatic weapons.

Here's an interesting op-ed piece from the New York Times:

OCT. 4, 2017

"Most Americans support stronger gun laws — laws that would reduce deaths. But Republicans in Congress stand in the way. They fear alienating their primary voters and the National Rifle Association.

Below are the top 10 career recipients of N.R.A. funding – through donations or spending to benefit the candidate – among both current House and Senate members, along with their statements about the Las Vegas massacre. These representatives have a lot to say about it. All the while, they refuse to do anything to avoid the next massacre.

Top Ten (2016) U.S. Senate recipients of NRA donations:

1. John McCain (R), AZ, $7,740,521
“Cindy & I are praying for the victims of the terrible #LasVegasShooting & their families.”

2. Richard Burr (R), NC, $6,986,620
“My heart is with the people of Las Vegas and their first responders today. This morning’s tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America.”

3. Roy Blunt (R), MO, $4,551,146
“Saddened by the tragic loss of life in #LasVegas. My thoughts are with all of the families affected by this horrific attack.”

4. Thom Tillis (R), NC, $4,418,012
“Susan and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of the victims of this horrific and senseless tragedy in Las Vegas.”

5. Cory Gardner (R), CO, $3,879,064
“My family and I are praying for the families of those injured and killed in Las Vegas last night.”

6. Marco Rubio (R), FL, $3,303,355
“I’m praying for all the victims, their families, and our first responders in the #LasVegas #MandalayBay shooting.”

7. Joni Ernst (R), IA, $3,124,273
“My prayers are with all of the victims in Las Vegas, and their loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence.”

8. Rob Portman (R), OH, $3,061,941
“Jane & I mourn the loss of innocent lives in this horrific attack in Las Vegas last night. We are praying for those taken from us, their families & all those injured in this attack.”

9. Todd Young (R), IN, $2,896,732
“We must offer our full support to the victims and their families as our nation mourns.”

10. Bill Cassidy (R), LA, $2,861,047
“Following closely the horrendous act of violence in Las Vegas. Our prayers are with those who were injured, killed and their families.”

Top Ten (2016) U.S. House of Representative recipients of NRA donations:

1. French Hill (R), AR, $1,089,477
“Martha and I are praying for the families and victims of this senseless act of evil. […] We must continue to work together to stop this kind of terror.”

2. Ken Buck (R), CO, $800,544
“I'm praying for all of those impacted by the evil events in Las Vegas last night. Our country must stand together in support of the families of the victims and the community.”

3. David Young (R), IA, $707,662
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and friends of the horrific and evil tragedy in Las Vegas.”

4. Mike Simpson (R), ID, $385,731
“Though no words can heal our hurt, and no explanation will ever feel sufficient, I pray that all involved may find comfort as we process this devastating tragedy.”

5. Greg Gianforte (R), MT, $344,630
No statement released.

6. Don Young (R), AK, $245,720
“Anne and I are praying for all those involved or impacted by this heinous act of violence.”

7. Lloyd Smucker (R), PA, $221,736
“Horrific act of violence in Las Vegas. Cindy and I pray for the victims, their families, and the first responders.”

8. Bruce Poliquin (R), ME, $201,398
“My thoughts are with all those effected in the horrifying attacks in Las Vegas. The nation is with you.”

9. Pete Sessions (R), TX, $158,111
“My deepest sympathies are with all who were harmed by this horrific tragedy.”

10. Barbara Comstock (R), VA, $137,232
“I am heartbroken by the mass murder that took place last night in Las Vegas and I am praying for the victims, families, and first responders.”

All of these representatives are Republican. The highest ranked Democrat in the House is Sanford Bishop, who ranks 41st in career donations from the N.R.A. Among the top 100 House recipients, 95 are Republican. In the Senate, the top two Democrats are Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who rank 52nd and 53rd — behind every Republican but Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Finally, why are our numbers different from those in Bret Stephens's column on the Second Amendment? Because ours include money the N.R.A. spends on behalf of candidates, in addition to money it gives directly to candidates."