Day 1: Guns and Kingdom
Oregon, the home of my heart, is in a state of mourning this evening, because earlier today a gunman slaughtered thirteen students (and injured another twenty) at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.
Before I say anything else about it I must offer my sincere condolences to Roseburg, to the UCC community, to the whole state of Oregon, and most wholeheartedly to the victims and their families. I cannot imagine the pain, the fear and confusion, the paradigm-shattering, life-ruining tragedy. It defies explanation. For what it is worth, I will pray very hard tonight.
And I believe God will bring solace and hope into the midst of this insanity, because my God Himself, while innocent, was slaughtered at the hands of the bloodthirsty. He knows our pain, even such deep pain as this. He sympathizes with and remains present in our mourning, as I learned earlier this year when I lost someone very dear to me. I wonder, though, if God is as fed up as we are with a status quo in which public shootings, school shootings are commonplace to the point of banality. As President Obama pointed out in his address this evening, we are becoming numb to this.
Sure, I sympathize with those who chafe against attempts to politicize events so heartbreaking as this. Indeed, it would be improper to capitalize on the emotional climate of such visible tragedies by needlessly drudging up tenuously relevant political issues. The thing is, though, that when shootings such as these have become so utterly commonplace, a conversation around gun policy in our country is just what the doctor ordered. Nothing could be more relevant. Something is deeply, horribly wrong with our collective culture when shootings like this are given and any attempt to, on a policy level, combat these trends is treated with derision, condescension, or fearmongering. Listen, I don't know what the solution is. I don't know how to fix the gun problem. If I had my way we'd do away with the lot of them, because I am invested in a vision of the Kingdom of God, where guns are a vestige of human depravity and violence done away with by the Lord of Creation, the Prince of Peace who reigns in love and power. But I also know guns, in the broadest sense, mean different things to different people. Families who have hunted for generations and own a few rifles for those purposes do not pose a major threat to society. Some enjoy shooting as a recreational activity, while others collect old fashioned firearms for historical/preservation purposes. And that's all well and good. But when that relatively benign reality transforms into a mindset like, "I have the right to any kind of weapon at any time without any government interference," we have an issue. And not a small one. Violent, criminal, mentally deranged people are getting their hands on guns, many legally. And those most loudly advocating for the system to remain unchanged in spite of these tragedies are Christians. Christ-followers. Jesus people.
Many Evangelical Christians are doing their level best to protect a status quo in which gun ownership is a right so inalienable that it is worth the occasional death of innocent people to protect. But who is more to blame? Those outspoken pro-gun Evangelicals or a Congress that cannot pass basic gun control laws that 90% of Americans support? Or the NRA which so viciously lobbies against any form of gun regulation, no matter the cost? In Barna surveys most Millennials associate Christianity more with its reputation for being pro-gun than for its social work, or really any other factor (only "anti-gay" scores higher than "pro-gun"). And I'm not alone in believing there will be a reckoning for this. God will ask us how we advanced His Kingdom, how we protected the vulnerable and innocent among us, and we will say "we preserved the right to bear arms."
Lord have mercy.