I haven’t written anything for a long while. There are reasons too numerous to mention for this, but recently, focus on going back to school and studying for a Masters in Theological Studies has lit the fire once again. In addition, I am tired of sitting on my couch at home expressing helpless horror at the disturbing events that occur on a daily basis. I realize that my lone voice is unlikely to make a huge difference, but the more voices willing to speak up can at least maintain focus on issues that matter. I am particularly keen to focus on my response as a follower of Jesus. These thoughts are simply my opinions based on my, still growing, understanding, and in the light of so much division, I wish to provoke only thoughtful dialogue, not hostility.
How can we simply ignore the appalling loss of life that is the result of almost entirely unregulated gun ownership? I have heard the much repeated justifications, but can we all be honest? The second amendment mostly leans on an antiquated constitutional edict added to the constitution in the 18th century. Its talk of ‘militias’ surely leaves much possible interpretation, especially when we consider the militias existed to resist those awful British oppressors. I have listened and examined the claim that arming the responsible gun owners would be a deterrent to those who perpetuate these horrific mass shootings. I have heard and thought through the argument that is not the guns that are the problem. I do not find them convincing, especially the last argument. If guns are not the problem, do we really believe that mental health is so significantly worse in the US compared to those countries that have virtually no mass shootings? And if they are not the problem, then how do we explain the disparity in numbers dying from guns here in the US compared with any comparable first world nation you care to name. I will name one: Japan. With a population in excess of 125 million, and some of the strictest gun laws in the world, in 2016 they had 6 deaths from guns. In the same year, according to CDC data, the US suffered 38,658 deaths involving firearms, 14,415 were homicides.
I wrote about this issue on this blog before and presented more evidence for my opinion that much more needs to be done to restrict access to guns in this country. Please understand, I would never own a gun, but I am in favor of sensible regulation, not taking away all guns. However, recently, I have been meditating on two very different questions, that I believe take us closer to the heart of the matter and might perhaps give an opportunity for further personal reflection and questions as to what can be done to make a difference.
My first question for those of us who follow Jesus is simply this. If we say we are pro-life, and hold strong opinions on eliminating abortion, then why are we not only silent, but actually encourage gun ownership and a completely different ethical stance when it comes to legislation to reduce the incidence of death by firearms. I see Christians literally beside themselves with glee when the Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe v Wade, and yet all they offer to the victims of senseless gun violence is “thoughts and prayers.” Given the overwhelming message from all polls that have been conducted that show a clear majority in favor of more regulation around gun ownership in the US, I believe it is a huge responsibility of those who profess to follow the ‘peace loving’ and clearly ‘non-violent’ Jesus to change their stance on this issue.
Why do I think this would make a difference? Because the gun industry, in partnership with the NRA is the engine behind the proliferation of firearms in this country. Their almost obscene profiteering at the expense of so many lives is supported by politicians who believe their constituency wants no quarter given on the right to bear arms. That constituency is largely right wing and a very large number profess to be Christians. If the Christian right were to stand up and seek justice for every lost life and begin the quest of preventing so many lives yet to be lost at the end of a gun barrel, those politicians would most certainly engage in rethinking their stance. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble of confidence in the integrity of most politicians, but they seem largely to be motivated by whatever will succeed in paving their way to power. It would not take much, but it would need to come from those with influence and a voice in the church.
But what can Jesus followers, churches and Christian organizations do on the ground. They could stop encouraging the proliferation of guns in their congregations, re-think the rather thoughtless predominance of gun based activities. But perhaps more importantly, they could start asking my second question on this subject, which I ask you to ponder now, if you do nothing else in response to my blog. Think about your family, wife, husband, child, grandchild shopping at the mall and ask yourself what your honest response would be if you were the one receiving a knock on the door, and on opening the door, you were confronted with two police officers holding their hats in their hands and telling you that they are sorry to inform you that your wife, husband, child, grandchild has been mown down by a random gunman with an AR15? Please, give this question serious consideration. You see, I believe, like you, I have never really confronted the reality of any of these mass shootings. They are just numbers. They are just numbers until it is your family that lies dead in a pool of blood.
I make no apologies for applying a little graphical emphasis to my description. For every one of these dead human beings, there are families and friends who have lost people they love. How many of those families and friends do you realistically believe have no interest in seeing greater regulation applied to gun ownership in the US? It is clear from the interviews with parents of children at Sandy Hook and Uvalde, to name just two school shootings, that there is no doubt about how they feel. And that is one of our most pressing problems. Christianity in this country seems to have become more about preserving our ‘blessed’ way of life, our right to own what we like to own, preserving our freedom to do what we want to do, whatever the cost to someone else, instead of how we can lay down our lives (comforts, preferences, desires) for the sake of all who God loves. We are happy to campaign for ‘justice’ if it doesn’t inconvenience our own comfort. Jesus was quoted in the sacred text,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed, (Luke 4:18)
I accept, without question, that most gun owners are responsible citizens. But I finish with a question. Are we willing to give up our guns, if it meant even someone’s loved one kept their life? Are we willing to give up eating meat if it becomes clear that it will help prevent devastating consequences for people living in poverty in a far off land? Are we willing to give up our gas guzzling vehicle if it would prevent the world from becoming inhabitable and prevent thousands from suffering starvation or even closer to home, suffering from respiratory diseases due to pollution? I don’t own a gun, and never would. I acknowledge that this is no great hardship for me. I am mindful of other issues where I am feeling challenged. As a privileged white, relatively wealthy individual, there are other issues that present me with ethical dilemmas. I am committed to changing my lifestyle if I can make a difference, but am also aware that I could definitely be doing more. My question for all of us is, how do we measure up in fulfilling Jesus’ quest to establish a kingdom of justice and freedom for ‘the other’. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It may be small but the tree has to grow from something somewhere.