Yesterday, as I was driving home from a quick visit to Missouri, my phone began buzzing as news reports came in about another school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The story was far too familiar — a young man entered the school with a semi-automatic rifle and took the life of (as of today) 18 children and 2 teachers. There are still others fighting for their lives, including armed first responders who were shot by the gunman. This latest attack comes on the heels of a racist attack in Buffalo, New York, and an attack in a church in California.
As I was listening to the radio on the way home, I heard the normal responses to these senseless acts. Some offered thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims. Others called for legislation to control guns. Still, others said this justified opening up the gun laws even more, believing that arming more people would provide greater protection against such events.
All I could say as I listened is that something has to change, for we are sacrificing our children to violence at a greater and greater rate.
And I believe that the church has to do more than send thoughts and prayers to protect those who Jesus welcomed into his arms as blessed.
Thoughts and prayers are important. I believe they serve a purpose in appealing to God for healing and wholeness in the midst of brokenness. But, as theologian Miroslav Volf stated, “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.” Offering thoughts and prayers is easy. Honestly, it doesn’t require very much of us and it makes us feel like we’ve done something about a problem that seems to be larger than we can address. Yet, the incarnational nature of the gospel, that is, that God became flesh in the person of Jesus, calls us out of our heads to embody practices of love in action. When Jesus said that his followers needed to pick up their crosses and follow him, it was a serious call to do everything we can to bring forth God’s love in the world. In this case, it is to proclaim clearly that a world in which children live in fear with targets on their backs is not acceptable.
Am I being “over the top” in depicting the state of our world in that way? Just this last week I learned about a family that was making the decision to move to another country because their daughter lived in fear because of the weekly “active shooter drills” held in her school. It caused enough anxiety that this family was choosing to uproot themselves to move to a country that takes school safety seriously and where their daughter could be educated in an environment where violence is not always a worry.
Friends, something is broken and it has to be fixed.
There will be some who point to the prevalence of mental illness (usually saying that guns are not the problem, but the perpetrators are). As someone who sees the ravages of mental illness daily among the homeless we walk with, I agree that we are failing as a country to address mental illness in a serious way. The deinstitutionalization of mental health treatment in the 1980s came with the promise of creating new structures to deal with mental health. However, those promises were (for the most part) deemed too expensive for the taxpayer and we find ourselves in a country where people walk the streets because they can’t get the care they need.
Already I’ve heard others suggest as they have before that this even justifies opening up the gun laws so that more people have easy access to guns. We’ve heard this argument again and again and seen our legislatures respond by allowing more and more people to carry guns openly. Yet, in spite of the promises, we continue to see mass shootings on the increase in our country. Pundits will argue that having more people carrying will serve to deter and defend against out-of-control gunmen. But, as we saw in Buffalo, an armed security guard was no match for a determined shooter (usually covered in body armor). Honestly, the best defense in these situations is determined, unarmed individuals willing to risk their lives to charge and physically overwhelm the shooter.
From my perspective the calculus is simple. We’ve opened up the gun laws only to see the problem not get better, but rather worse. That suggests to me that’s a failed approach and we need to do something different.
The facts are pretty clear. Countries and cities that have enacted strict gun control laws have seen a decrease in violent crime and have almost no active shooter incidents as we see in the United States. Why do we seem unable to understand that?
Now I know that there are some that think I’m talking out of turn. “Preacher,” they say, “why are you talking about politics? Politics and religion don’t mix. Shut up and preach the gospel.”
Jesus said that if anyone causes the little ones (the children on his lap as he spoke) to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths. I think that Jesus was serious when he preached that, and to ignore the countless ways we are failing our kids is to condemn ourselves to drown in the depths of the world we see around us today.
I hear “church people” talk about protecting children from beliefs that they don’t like (you know, like things found in books). Why don’t they spend the same energy and passion protecting our children from the continued violence in our world that makes them targets? I hear “church people” try to protect their kids from beliefs that “make them uncomfortable,” (things like the reality of racism in our world). Why don’t they spend as much energy trying to address the failures of the mental health system and the systems of poverty that keep kids down and suck the hope and passion right out of them?
Friends, what we are doing isn’t working. It’s time for us in the church to think seriously about how we are embracing the children in our communities like Jesus did, for it’s in the children he said that we truly experience the Kingdom of God.