From the NT lesson for Friday in the week of Proper 6B (Pentecost 3, 2015)
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Yesterday morning I was cut to the heart, as were many people, by news of the killing of nine persons at a church in Charleston, SC, by a 21-year-old gunman. “What should we do? What can we do?” many people asked. Even our president asked and then admitted helplessness because of the apparent impossibility of change in our national legislature. Throughout the day politicians, pundits, and everyday people pondered that question. Even comedians got serious.
Late in the evening, I wrote the following, which I have titled Severe & Radical Gun Ownership Restriction: A Manifesto.
I was ordained into the Sacred Order of Priests 24 years ago on the evening of June 21, 1991. That is the eve of the Feast of St. Alban, First Martyr of Britain. The gospel lesson for Alban’s commemoration begins:
“Jesus said, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'” (Mat 10:34-39)
Today the United States is once again in mourning because of a mass killing. Nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, including the church’s pastor, were gunned down during a prayer meeting last night. The victims were black; the shooter was white.
Pundits on the Right (to be more explicit Fox News anchors) have tried to portray this as part of a “war on Christianity.” It’s not. This killing was motivated not by religion but by racism and hatred.
Pundits on the Right (a Fox News commentator and a member of the National Rifle Associations board) have tried to suggest that this killing would not have happened if the pastor had been armed. In fact, the NRA board member posted a comment on a Texas gun-rights bulletin board essentially blaming the pastor for these deaths because he voted, as a state senator, against an open-carry law. The failure of logic, the sheer madness of these comments boggles the mind.
In an earlier Facebook conversation, a colleague said that we in the US have a dysfunctional government. I replied that we have a dysfunctional society. As political comedians have been saying for years, we have the government we deserve.
Our government is merely a reflection of the country that elected it. We kid ourselves when we complain about Citizens Unite and corporate money in politics; those corporations wouldn’t have that money and be that powerful if we hadn’t allowed them to grow that way.
We complain about the NRA and the power it wields, but it only has that power because those who believed otherwise about firearms stood by and let the NRA take control.
We complain about systemic racism but we have done nothing to change the system.
Edmund Burke said it best, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Good people for generations have done nothing as our society has sickened and the government we have is the result.
Politician Rand Paul’s ridiculous response to the Charleston killing was to say that there is a sickness in our country ~ that part he got right ~ about which government can do nothing ~ he’s wrong on that. Government, good functional government, can solve the problem. But that means changing the government and, for that to happen, good people have to do something.
Which brings me back to the gospel lesson for St. Alban’s Day. We have violated the spirit of Jesus’ words in this story that Matthew tells. Jesus expected his good news to create friction between people who would otherwise be expected to not merely get along, but to love and support one another, to create enmity between intimate family members. That doesn’t happen because we are too concerned with being nice to one another. Like the good people Edmund Burke blamed for evil, we don’t say anything which might upset someone. And we think we’re being “Christian” when we do so; we think we’re being nice like Jesus.
But … as someone (I can’t remember who) commented in a discussion about the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Jesus wasn’t nice. He was demanding as hell! He demands that we stand for something and take risks for it, risking friendships and family relationships for what we know to be right, no longer allowing evil to flourish simply because we are too nice to say anything.
The nine people shot at Emanuel Church are dead because of a cancer fed by three major toxins in our society: racism, mental illness, and guns. We have to deal with all three, but the one that is most dangerous because it is acute is the issue of guns. If guns were not part of the mixture, these deaths would not be occurring. We could (and should) work on one of the other chronic toxins, but let’s face it … if we work immediately on racism, mental illness and guns is a combination that will still result in death; if we work on mental illness, racism and guns is a combination that will still result in death. Racism and mental illness is a combination that’s bad, but nobody’s going to get shot!
So, as I see it, guns need to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
I used to be in favor of regulation, of licensure, of required training, of mandatory insurance, of background checks. I used to believe that the words of the Second Amendment, “a well-regulated militia,” could be used to rein in the problem of unfettered gun ownership. As a former competitive shooter (a long, long time ago), that seemed reasonable to me.
No longer. Guns are part of the toxic cancer killing this country.
I now believe it’s all or nothing. Either we cut out the tumor or we die. The Second Amendment should be repealed and private ownership of handguns and automatic or semiautomatic weapons outlawed. I can see no other way to end this crisis of death and destruction, no other way to treat the cancer than with radical surgery.
I know there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening, but cancer is cancer. It’s time to cut it out — it’s killing this country.
And it’s time to stand up and be counted as favoring radical elimination of the threat unfettered gun ownership presents to our society. If that means our closest confidants, our friends, members of our families, whomever become our enemies, so be it. It’s what Jesus told us to expect. And if racist, mentally ill, gun owners shoot us down for threatening their beloved weapons, well … Jesus told us to expect that to. It may require us to give our lives for the sake of the gospel of peace.
I’m fine with that. I’m not fine with standing by any longer and allowing evil to triumph. From now on, I am a vocal advocate for severe and radical restriction and regulation of gun ownership.