Monday, February 19, 2018

Guns + Violence = Gun Violence

Guns + Violence=Gun Violence

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shootings social media and news networks have generally been focused on gun control. Over the weekend surviving students from Marjory Stone Douglas High School have become quite outspoken about what they perceive to be the failure of our political leadership. They of course have every right to speak out-some would argue they have an obligation to speak out-against gun violence in our schools. While the “I call BS” quote seems to be gaining lots of traction, my favorite is the response to second the amendment rights question, stated emphatically: “I have the right to live!”. We should be listening; we should also be thinking about why they are taking the lead here, and not us ‘responsible adults’. We are finally being held accountable by those who are most affected and I wholeheartedly support their efforts, and their message.
As my title suggests, gun violence has two components; guns and violence. Today I will set the gun half aside-our children seem to be doing fine addressing this and hopefully the passion and determination of youth will get the appropriate attention. What has not been getting much attention is the violence side. Maybe I should re-phrase that. Violence has been getting attention insofar as gun rights advocates point to all manner of violence, apart from guns, to make their case that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. As if to say violence is acceptable because it always has been and always will be part and parcel of our culture. Since it always has and always will exist, the only reasonable deterrent is to meet violence head on with more violence. Following this logic to its inevitable conclusion leads us to armed guards in every school-hopefully carrying automatic weapons only because hand-held nukes are not yet practical. In response, to paraphrase Paul, let me propose a better way.
            First, a few disclaimers. I am not coming after anyone’s guns, even if I fail to understand Conservative Evangelicalism’s fascination with all things guns and military. Violence always has and probably always will be with us, at least until out Lord returns. There are and will continue to be situations where armed resistance is necessary; such times are best left to highly trained and skilled professionals. Nor is this about the Second Amendment, although I will touch on that. Now, with that out of the way let me say violence is a lie and a sin against God. Responding to violence with more violence is two lies and two sins against God and for a Christian-especially a Christian leader-to respond to violence with the threat of more violence is three lies and three sins against God.
Violence is a lie because it assumes the only acceptable response to any given situation is the imposition one’s beliefs by force of will upon another. It is a lie and a sin because in committing a violent act I am saying I am more important than you; you must bow to my wishes. Violence is a sin before God not only for that reason but because God, secure in the knowledge that He alone is capable of determining right and wrong, must now watch His creatures usurp His authority and decide right and wrong for ourselves (“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden…for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5; italics mine).  The questions now become ‘whose good is greater; who gets to decide, how will the decision be enforced’ (see also James 4:1-10, esp. vs.5). Because God forbid we let Him decide or tell us what to do-who knows where that will end up.
Responding to violence with violence is two lies, first because of the violence itself; second because of the assumption that a violent response is necessary. That somehow violence can only be contained or controlled by greater violence. Of course, this greater violence is acceptable because it is being perpetrated by the “good guys”. The Biblical principle is a little different: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Jesus unpacks this in Mt. 5:21-26; 38-41, His point being ending the cycle of violence wherever possible is always preferable to perpetuating it, even in the name of justice and especially where justice is decided by whoever has the most firepower. Most arguments I have heard favoring a violent response to violence are thinly disguised justifications for second amendment rights. I will say it again because it bears repeating: I do not understand the Conservative Evangelical infatuation with all things guns and military. (That isn’t completely true. I do think I might understand it as it fits nicely with the false worldview of Nationalism. I just can’t quite believe it’s happening). One more point-I do not believe armed guards in schools to be the deterrent their proponents believe them to be; they simply run the risk of encouraging ever greater violence (ex. Oh good, I can get the guards first. Need more guns. Need more ammo.)  I’m old enough to remember the college student who placed a flower in the barrel of a National Guard rifle at Kent State. That would have worked out better for all involved had there been a little more Gospel present.
Which leads me to Christian leaders advocating violent response (or, for that matter, encouraging armed students in their colleges and armed parishioners in their churches). Three lies-the lie of violence itself, the lie of a necessary violent response, and the lie that the Gospel is somehow insufficient or impractical; as though the Gospel message is fine for the Sunday pulpit or daily meditation in the privacy of our homes but out there in the real world we need serious protection. Because everybody knows God just can’t protect our kids, right? And anyway, we kicked Him out of our schools. Another lie-an omnipresent God cannot be kicked out of anything anywhere. What’s missing is the awareness of His presence, which we should be cultivating in our own lives and teaching our kids. And since He isn’t allowed in our schools we’re pretty much on our own, aren’t we? Listen to the voices of the Parkland survivors. They are crying out for our God. Every Christian-but especially every Christian leader-who posts some pithy pro-second amendment saying or some cute meme featuring a smoking gun or an AR-15 in defense their personal rights has just seen any credible influence or ability to preach the Gospel instantly evaporate. These kids-the whole of society, for that matter-do not need a culturally compromised Gospel. They do not need a faith focused on a behavior-reward system designed, as someone else I can’t remember put it, to procure a good exit strategy and they-we-certainly do not need more guns. They need-and they know they need-a faith which impacts day to day, minute by minute life. They need someone whom they can trust with their lives and follow with all their hearts. So do you. So do I. To paraphrase Paul “woe to us if we do not preach the Gospel”.
I know that faith, even if I fail to practice it a lot more frequently than I should. I know that God, even if I fail to follow Him a lot more closely than I should. So here is my final point; final answer. I publicly condemn in the strongest possible terms violence of any and every type. Adult shooters firing into a concert? Nope. Young adult drivers driving into a crowd of protesters? Uh-uh. Kids bring semi-automatic weapons into schools bent upon maximum destruction? No way. Firefights in the halls? Oh hell no. We have reached the point-we are way past the point-where we must ask ourselves what is more important-the right to keep and bear semi-automatic weapons or the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We might even ask ourselves about the deeper meaning of Jesus’ statement “He who loves his life will lose it”. I know a couple teachers might be willing to help us out with that one. We have the answer. Will we render it null and void by proclaiming it is somehow not enough, or will we trust in The Lord with all our hearts, not on our own understanding? Will we acknowledge Him in all our ways and allow Him to direct our paths? Or will we reserve a few things for ourselves? After all, we are only being practical……

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