Update: It’s been a heavy and reflective week here in Seattle in light of the recent shootings at Seattle Pacific University (June 5, 2014). We have been mourning and hoping with SPU and grieving the passing of Paul Lee – the 19-year-old freshman student who I had a chance to meet once during his couple visits to the church I pastor. Two days ago (June 10, 2014), there was another school shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon.
Yes, another shooting.
How many shootings?
If you’re keeping count, that makes 74 shootings (wait for it…) at schools…since Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, CT).
Let that sink in.
74 school shootings in the past 16 months in America.
And yes, I understand the distinctions that not all 74 shootings were mass shootings like Newtown. According to CNN, 15 of those 74 shootings were similar to Newtown and the rest were shootings in schools that invovled “personal arguments, accidents and alleged gang activities and drug deals.” It’s painful to speak to some teachers that I know (who mostly attend my church). For them, it’s not a matter of if…but when. Has this now become our new reality? Our new normal?
I am not suggesting we abolish guns altogether. Not at all. Please refrain from sending angry emails, or questioning my salvation, or telling me to “Go back home” or to “Move to Canada then.” I am asking that as we continue “the gun debate”, we – particularly the Christian community – ask the question:
Do we elevate the Constitution above all things, including the Scriptures, and our faith and love in Jesus. If so, isn’t that idolatry?
And yes, yes, yes…we can’t hide the conversation of mental illness in the big picture and in connection with guns but as we discuss gun violence, we can’t avoid discussing guns. Which begs the question I ask in the original post below: What would Jesus do with guns?
What would Jesus do with guns?
Would he own guns? Sell guns? Perform miracles and multiply guns for 5000 people? Would he use guns? Would he ask his followers and disciples to own guns? I’m no expert on the topic of Jesus and guns but I do know Jesus and for this Jesus who encouraged people to “turn the other cheek” and gave encouragement to be “peacemakers”, my guess is that he wouldn’t be a member of the NRA.
I know that Jesus has many names but he is also the “Prince of Peace.” Right?
The sad truth is that guns and violence are no laughing matter.
Today only marks a week since the horrific mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Connecticut. Even as of today, families are burying children and loved ones. A week later,we still can’t make sense of something so senseless.
When the shootings at Columbine took place in 1999 that left 70 shot and ultimately killing 13 people, I heard some pundits explain that we need not fear and that Columbine was going to be an isolated once-in-a-lifetime incident. Since Columbine, there have been 181 shooting at schools across the United States. 61 mass murders since 1982 and 6 alone here this year including one about 3 miles from our home that left 6 people killed on May 30, 2012.
I don’t care what you say, we have a problem. An epidemic problem.
Sick and tired of mourning & weeping
I don’t know about you. I’m sick and tired of mourning, grieving, and weeping.
And while people can go and on in the debates about guns, I’m convinced we can’t just do nothing. What I’m suggesting is not being reactive but rather, to push for common sense gun regulations.
Yesterday, I gathered with numerous Seattle religious leaders for a press conference to convey our collective voice against gun violence and assault weapons. Many major group were represented: Evangelicals, Catholics, Mainliners, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, & Jews. Mostly everyone except Mayan end-timers.
And for those who would criticize why I, as a Christian leader, would work together with other religious leaders, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org but I digress.
Sadly, I think I was the only Evangelical pastor. For some reason, I think many tend to group us evangelical pastors to those pastors like this one who urged his congregation to “Bring Your Guns to Church Sunday.”
7 Steps We Can Take…
Several of us spoke and urged a commitment to the following:
- A ban on all assault and assault-style weapons, including a buyback of such weapons.
- A ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
- Universal background checks, including at gun shows
- Requirements for trigger locks and safe gun storage.
- Microstamping technology on all firearms sold, bought or delivered in the state to improve bullet tracing by law enforcement.
- Investment in the state’s mental-health system to promote well-being among those at risk for committing acts of violence.
- An end to the glorification of violence in the media and in games played by young people.
Even if all of these might not be possible – immediately – there are some that can and must take place – particularly the ban on all assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. I was particularly intrigued by an op-ed in the LA Times entitled, “A conservative case for an assault weapons ban” – written by Larry Alan Burns, a federal district judge in San Diego.
But if we can’t find a way to draw sensible lines with guns that balance individual rights and the public interest, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.
There is just no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gun enthusiasts can still have their venison chili, shoot for sport and competition, and make a home invader flee for his life without pretending they are a part of the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden.
It speaks horribly of the public discourse in this country that talking about gun reform in the wake of a mass shooting is regarded as inappropriate or as politicizing the tragedy. But such a conversation is political only to those who are ideologically predisposed to see regulation of any kind as the creep of tyranny. And it is inappropriate only to those delusional enough to believe it would disrespect the victims of gun violence to do anything other than sit around and mourn their passing. Mourning is important, but so is decisive action.
Congress must reinstate and toughen the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Seek the shalom of the city…
Already, I’m getting a slow trickle of emails, criticisms, and questions – since the press conference made all the local TV news, the local NPR, and the Seattle Times. In the newspaper article, another local pastor disagreed with our collective actions:
Joe Fuiten, conservative pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, did not attend the event but said his colleagues are “looking at the wrong thing.” It’s not a matter of gun but a matter of evil.”
Leaders of faith in particular, he continued, “should be more interested in what’s in a person’s heart than the mechanism of expressing the evil that’s in their hearts.
“With or without guns, violence can occur and does occur,” he said.
I agree – in part – but it’s a false dichotomy. With or without guns, violence can, does, and will occur. No one is disputing that. But if we can do something to stop the mass murder of children in elementary schools happening again, won’t we even try?
I’m not naive. Terrible things will continue to take place in our broken world but I don’t just want to be interested in a person’s heart, I want to be interested in the whole of a person and for that matter, in the whole of our society. As Jeremiah encourages us in 29:17 –
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city…Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
I agree. Absolutely agree. One of my callings as a pastor is to point people towards the Gospel. I will teach, preach, and proclaim the Scriptures and share about Jesus like there’s no tomorrow. I will serve the Sacraments and testify to the body and blood of Jesus. I will talk about sin and depravity and call people to repentance. I will pray for the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to informa and transform lives. I will testify to a hope that is Emmanuel. I will be about the good news of Jesus…
But I can do that and pursue peace and shalom in my city, nation, and world. (I can multi-task.)
I believe in a Gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the One that ushered forth all that is good & beautiful. I believe in a Gospel so great that it not only saves sinners like you and me but it can transform communities – on earth as it is in heaven.
What would I say to a parent?
Recently, someone asked me what I would have conveyed to the parents and loved ones of those who had lost their children in these tragic shootings.
Well, there are things you just should not say. Rather not trying to over explain, over analyse, over theologize, over whatever, I think there’s a certain power in just being present in their pain. To mourn with those who mourn isn’t to help them quickly escape their mourning with convenient theology but rather to join them in their mourning.
But at some point, I’d also like to convey:
“I can’t bring back your child but I want to pray, work, and do whatever I can – by God’s grace – to ensure that something like this will never happen again.”
If not now, then when? If not for our children, then for who?
[photos by Patrick Scriven]