I have a widely varied group of friends and loved ones. I have people in my life who think Fox News is too liberal and those who think MSNBC is way too far to the right. I have loved ones who would not even own a toy gun; and I have friends who are packing from the time they wake in the morning until they tuck back in at night, their weapon by their side. Some friends of mine are active members of the ACLU; and a few of my favorite people are card-carrying members of the NRA.
I know a lot of people. But I do not know one single person who believes that mass shootings are a good thing.
In fact, left, right, or neither, we all see these macabre acts as unconscionable; yet despite this widespread consensus, solutions remain elusive. Sure, we post memes and mic-drop statements, share prayers and poetry, and spew our opinions as if we really believe folks want to hear what we think. But we know—surely we do—that none of that makes one bit of difference. It doesn’t matter how well researched our opinions, how poignant our words, or how on-point our posts are. In the US, movie theaters, grocery stores, backyard barbecues and (God help us) elementary schools, are still dangerous places for humanity to gather. No one wants it this way.
So, what is the Kingdom response? That is, how should today’s followers of Christ respond to acts of violence? I have a few observations and a few questions to toss into the discussion.
- Gun violence and the paralyzing fear it unleashes is not God’s will. It just isn’t.
- While gun control is polarizing, opinions on the topic are far more nuanced. Statements such as “Liberals want to take all the guns away,” or “Conservatives love their guns more than they do children,” oversimplify the problem. You know it is not that black and white on your side; it’s not on the other side either.
- Venting is not always helpful. It rarely affects change and often causes more angst. If you do choose to vent about the problem, know your audience. An all-out brawl could lead to unintended consequences.
- Thoughts and prayers are not nothing. Do think about the loved ones of victims as they live out this wide-awake nightmare. Imagine what they experienced waiting to hear about their sweet babies. Think about those who witnessed the shooting; will they relive it every time they enter a supermarket, nightclub, or synagogue? We should all absolutely think about it. And we should pray. Pray for each family, each friend, each witness. Pray for guidance and for wisdom. Pray that God will reveal action steps that will lead to solutions. Think and pray. Just don’t stop there. (See action steps below for further suggestions.)
- We attempt to limit accidental death from automobile wrecks, hospital error, equipment malfunction, and more. We do not always get it right. But we do tweak processes, try new procedures, or increase training so we can reduce personal injury. We require seat belts, supervisor oversight, and safety checks. We pass laws to protect people from things that can kill them. Then, if we find our strategies are not as helpful as we thought they would be, we try something else. It seems reasonable then that we try something, anything, to eliminate mass shootings in the US.
- In July 1969, long before we carried computers around in our back pockets, the US sent astronauts to the moon. Back then, personal computers had not even been invented and the internet was brand new. If we could land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon that long ago, we can certainly come up with a solution to rampant mass shootings.
- No one wants children and staff to be murdered in schools. No one thinks it is okay to walk into a public space and start shooting people in cold blood. No one. So, let’s start talking about solutions with people whose ideas are different than ours and see if we can arrive at a workable compromise that will save the lives of US citizens.
3 Questions (with follow-ups)
- Scripture tells us that Jesus sided with the vulnerable, the outcasts, the oppressed. That means, like it or not, that Jesus would reach out to the shooters who commit these crimes. Church, we are surrounded by people who cry out for community. It’s costly, emotionally and otherwise, to enter into relationships with people who loiter at the fringes of society. What can the church do to shine light into these dark places? What are we not doing? What are we missing?
- We cannot move forward unless our representatives are willing to have conversations. If we expect congress members to converse, we should be willing to hear each other out as well. Who can we engage this week on the opposite side of the issue of mass shootings in the US? How can we do that with compassion and grace rather than judgment and wrath?
- What better place than church to have difficult conversations? How can we facilitate conversations that might lead to solutions?
Finally, there are things you can do right now. Here are some ideas.
If you do want to contact your local, state, and federal representatives, there are easy ways to do that. You can find the names here: Find out who represents you in government | Who Are My Representatives. Visit their websites and state your opinion on gun violence. These contacts do matter. If nothing else, at least you can say you did it and that will make you feel good about yourself.
If you want to support the families who are going through the unimaginable, consider donating to reputable organizations that have been vetted.
One More Thing
Now a personal appeal: be careful blaming violence on the mentally ill. There are plenty of people who suffer from mental health difficulties who are no more violent than their tear-soaked teddy bears. Yes, we need to provide more assistance for people whose health problems are of the emotional and mental variety. No argument there. But please watch your language. It’s hard enough dealing with chronic mental illness without being prejudged as terrorists.