Monday, October 5, 2015

A plea for peace.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." -Matthew 5:9

The first time I remembered a mass shooting, I was in 8th grade. I don't remember how I heard, but I remember a pall being cast over the entire school as we sat there in classrooms much like the ones at Columbine High School, and wondered if one of our classmates could pull out a gun and kill us as easily. This was a national tragedy, senseless and horrible. We talked about violent video games and Marilyn Manson and how those things had influenced the young men responsible, and yet there was an odd silence about the most obvious culprit: the access that two high school boys had to guns. Schools began installing metal detectors and checking bags for guns, and despite the depth of tragedy, nothing changed. Four months later, twelve more people were killed by a disturbed man with a gun. Next was a shooting that killed seven at a concert, but it didn't stop. In fact, year after year more and more lives were lost to this epidemic, and we watched in horror, and silence. When a madman murdered 26 people, 20 of whom were elementary school children at Sandy Hook, we railed against the tragedy of mental illness, further stigmatizing a community of mostly silent sufferers. And nothing changed. When Christians praying in church were murdered, we were outraged... at racism. Yet the rights of citizens to purchase firearms almost totally unrestricted remained unchallenged. And last week, a disturbed man with easy access to weapons walked onto campus and killed nine people and injured nine more before taking his own life. It was the 264th mass shooting this year.

Today, you and I are now more likely to die by gun violence than in a car accident. If you are a woman like me, you're twice as likely. Some are calling it a mental illness crisis, or a race issue. Those things may be factors, but in the end what it is is a hostage situation, with the very vocal minority of gun lobbyists and conspiracy theorists holding the entirety of the United States hostage to the very real possibility of death by firearms. To me, this is yet another example of human greed and selfishness and the forces of evil railing against the kingdom of God. Because while I am unlikely to be killed by gun violence given my situation, there is no peace for me, or you, while our brothers and sisters suffer death and the their loved ones are destroyed by grief.

It's easy to say that this is a political issue and not a church or faith issue. After all, it's not good churchgoing people perpetuating these mass shootings, or faith communities suffering. Except when it is. But it goes far beyond whether or not we as people of faith are affected by these tragedies directly: it goes to the heart of who we are called to be as people of faith. As a Christian, it is my belief that the suffering of others is my responsibility. Jesus took on our suffering in order to redeem us by his death and resurrection, and left his disciples and those of us who call ourselves Little Christs to continue this mission of bringing God's reign of peace to earth. Brothers and sisters, we are failing. We are failing phenomenally to relieve this pain and suffering. We are failing to speak out against the voices that say that their "freedom" (whatever that means) is worth the innocent deaths of even one man, woman, or child. No personal freedom is worth another's life, my friends. We are called as Christians to lay down our lives, not to horde weapons and ensure easy access to devices intended only for death for our own greedy ends or paranoid delusions.

The minority of gun owners against stricter background checks and other safeguards against these horrific shootings would say that restricting access to these weapons would make it too easy for a tyrannical government to come to power, and they argue that any comprehensive registration program would be the first step toward the government taking their guns. This is insane rhetoric, defying all attempts at logic and reason, ignoring the stability of our government and historical and global precedent, and deploying slippery slope arguments that essentially amounts to welcoming John Wayne Gacy into your house to protect you from the Boogeyman. And this small group paired with a gigantic, wealthy lobby is leaving our citizens bereft of loved ones taken too soon and living in terror that they could be next. Nowhere is safe: not a mall, beach, theater, or church. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” This means that ultimately any stance that places unrestricted access to guns above human life is not just anti-life but anti-Christ, because Christ called us not to kill but to die. Are we to continue uselessly grieving tragedy after tragedy, or will we lay down our apathy and desire to look anywhere but at the pain and do something to foster life, hope, and true freedom, the kind that comes when my brother or sister is safe, and fed, and clothed, and well?

I was giving some thought to what could be done about this, and it occurred to me that the government does not easily change when money is involved. So money needs to become involved. The worker's rights movement worked not because people hopped on facebook and voiced their concern while clutching their pearls: it worked because money talks. We need to unionize against guns. We need to divest from organizations that support gun manufacture or is in any way related to the NRA like these 34 companies. We need to threaten organizations with boycott if they do not denounce the NRA and write to our senators, governors, and congresspeople to pass firmer background check laws and more stringently enforced waiting periods, to close loopholes on internet or gun show sales, and to demand that selling a gun without the proper checks and waiting period become a felony with high fines and jail time. If we want to make a difference, we need to think like a lobbyist, and use the strength of our wallets and our votes to press for this change.

It is a false assumption to think that posting sad pictures of grieving family members and shaking our heads about gun violence is enough. To quote President Obama: "Thoughts and prayers are not enough." Only getting these guns out of the hands of those who would use them to hurt will be enough to show how broken we are by this tragedy and those that came before. We are a people given a mission and vocation to comfort the grieving, not look the other way. We are a people whose vocation is the usher wholeness, wellness, and peace onto this earth, and yet we stand by and complacently, comfortably even, remain hostage to weapons and pathetic background checks with three day limitations and stores who would rather earn a few dollars than save a few lives. If you, like me, are fed up with the voice of unreasonableness and the worship of the almighty dollar over love of our fellow humans, please share this post. Especially if you are a responsible gun owner who understands the value of proper licensing and rigorous background checks. Talk to your pastors, your political representatives, and take action. We cannot be held hostage any longer.