Never Again; or, Misplaced Priorities

After the shooting at a club in Florida a couple of years ago, I posted begging you not to politicize the deaths of your fellow human beings. I called for mourning, for grief, for respect, not an instant tirade from either side of the aisle about gun control, homosexuality, or other charged topics. Following the horrific shooting at a high school yesterday (again in Florida), my conversations and social media pages have been saturated with exactly what I tried to stave off previously. While I continue to pray for the victims, their families, and for the shooter and his family, I am afraid I must break my own silence, go against my own advice, and respond to some of the claims I’ve been seeing.

No matter your view on gun control, etc., we all agree, as a nation, something must be done to protect the lives of our children. It is obscene, it is perverse, it is unholy for even a single student to suffer and die in an environment which should be keeping them as safe as humanly possible. The thought “I could die in class today” should be the one thought furthest from the minds of those who should still be singing the songs of innocence. And yet these things happen once a week on average in the United States in recent years, with eighteen so far this year. We all agree: this is unacceptable, and it must stop.

The problem is there aren’t quick-fix solutions for broken systems, and there is an abundance of broken systems at play in this particular national horror. The American health care system is a joke. It provides very little “care” indeed. Yes, sick people are made well using some of the best and most advanced medical techniques utilized by the best-educated medical professionals on the planet — but they are made well only mechanically, mechanically. Where is the care for the minds and souls to along with the care for bodies? Trauma affects all three, but we rarely treat all of them in a clinical setting. While I believe the church, the local congregation, is best-equipped for care of souls, how are we doing so as a complement to medical care? Or are we? Mental health care, the major medical issue at stake in discussions of shooters, remains heavily stigmatized in the U.S. Why? Why are we ashamed to admit we have a sick brain that needs made well the same as a sick liver? Partly because of the church’s ground-level, lived belief Jesus means you don’t need pills or therapists. Church, how dare we keep sick people ill through guilt and shame. How dare we be so hateful and so bigoted and so ignorant as that. Perhaps if we helped people accept they need help and support their treatment we would see fewer tragedies and less violence.

(Of course, we all could use more Jesus. Always. A changed heart and a saved soul go a long way towards preventing these things.)

A second broken system is American education. Instead of providing care and seeing students as people in need of it, our education system cranks out information parrots who meet the right benchmarks on our test scores. Schools can’t provide the top-level care students need — it’s not their function, and school counselors are limited for many reasons — but they can do more than they do. For a start, and I’m delighted at our ongoing progress on this front, we can reject the idea bullying is acceptable. Will we ever eradicate bullying completely? Doubtful. But we can certainly do more to stop it, to care for victims, and to punish perpetrators. We can help students understand it’s OK to seek help when they need it. We can provide more professionals in more schools to provide that care. But we don’t, and the education system remains broken.

If the health care system and the education system are broken, so is the family system. Call me a curmudgeon, but we don’t do family like we used to. The divorce rate remains high while the marriage rate declines. Fewer people are getting married, and when they do, it’s generally as the last, very omissible, step in what used to be the “love-marriage-sex-children” progression. Many people now have multiple children with multiple partners, none of whom they marry either before or after childbirth. And we accept this horror. It’s the new normal, despite being an affront and a sin in the eyes of a holy God. Such lack of commitment, shifting members of households, etc. greatly undermine if not destroy family ties and family stability, and we’re only beginning, I fear, to to feel the effects.

And now the unavoidable: guns. Let’s just admit now, up front, no one can be shot with a bullet unless a gun is involved. Let’s also admit no one can be shot by a gun without a human being to pull the trigger. Next: let’s admit we are the only post-industrial, Western nation to see this pattern of gun violence. Finally, let’s admit these things have indeed happened before in other countries, only they took steps to prevent them from happening again, they basically stopped, and we just don’t want to do what they did because our right to own as many firearms of any kind as we want is more important to us than a first grader’s right to live. Will we ever remove guns from the hands of criminals entirely? No. But we can certainly greatly limit the number available (again, see every other major world power).

So many are currently suggesting that instead of regulating firearms more, we simply put more guns in schools, arming teachers and other staff. The solution to gun violence isn’t more guns. And, frankly, that solution stems from a morally unacceptable, morally repugnant premise. For the “armed schools” idea to work, an active shooter needs to get shot by a good guy with a gun. That’s the logic. No one is offering it as a deterrent to bringing guns to schools à la mutually assured destruction. No, they’re saying we simply need to shoot back after the shooting starts. But that still allows for — still necessitates — an active shooter. We are accepting school shootings and student death as a normal part of life in this response. Why? Why are these acceptable terms? Why are we still willing to let children die to enable our preferred solution? Why are we being reactive — responding to an existing active shooter — rather than being proactive — taking steps to ensure that potential shooter never pulls the trigger (or has a trigger to pull) in the first place? Surely it makes more sense to disarm one shooter than to give everyone else a bulletproof vest. We still may not be able to prevent all school shootings, but as the rest of the world has taught us, we can prevent most. We never have to have eighteen shootings in seven weeks again. Never again.

Except nothing will happen. No action will be taken. Not because we can’t do something, but because we won’t. We, as a nation, simply don’t value human life enough to act. We care more for our weapons, more for our instruments of death, than we do for life. We care more for sexual libertinism, test scores, and the Almighty Dollar, more for the status quo, than we do for the lives of our children.

May God have mercy on our souls.

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God, Politics, and Tragedy in Orlando

My leadership style is more “Jean-Luc Picard” than “James T. Kirk.” I’m a collaborative kind of guy who appreciates postponing serious decisions until I’ve had time to talk to the people who will be affected — and people who know more than me. Yes, if necessary, I can be positively authoritarian, but it’s not how I prefer to operate. For that reason, I generally hold back on my harsher opinions and let things go unless they truly need to be addressed immediately. I’m just not that brash.

Today, however, I’m going to grant myself a point of personal privilege and step up on my soap box. My message can be summed up in only two simple words:

Stop it.

All of you, just stop it. Fifty people are dead in the worst shooting on American soil since the Indian massacres. It doesn’t matter it happened at a gay club. It doesn’t matter if the victims were gay, straight, or something else. What matters is fifty families have been irreparably torn asunder. They will never again see the smile on their loved one’s face, never again hear their laughter, dry their tears, feel the warmth of their hugs or the fire of their fury. What matters is they have experienced an incomparable loss from which they will never fully recover. Parents lost children, siblings lost siblings, friends lost the one person closest to them in the entire world. Fifty people are dead. Those souls now face eternity in whichever destination they were bound for based on their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ. As Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” This is a time to weep and mourn. Just like at any other senseless murder, this is a time for sackcloth and ashes and prayer and longing for the day our last enemy is finally defeated once and for all.

How dare you try to use these fifty deaths to further your own political agenda.

Social media, news articles, any and every medium available to us has been flooded with rants on both sides of the gun control issue in the days since the shooting. People cry out that if those fifty people had been armed (or even if only some of them had), they wouldn’t have died — after all, even radical Muslims can be stopped by bullets — and so we need to provide nigh unfettered access to guns and ammunition. Those on the other side loudly proclaim the opposite, saying our society made it too easy for the shooter to acquire his weapon; we need harsher laws governing the sale of arms and such ordnance. Pastors in my area have come out on both sides of the issue.

Stop it.

Personally, I know next to nothing about gun laws. I once held a concealed carry permit, yes, but I could never tell you what constitutes an assault weapon or how many rounds you can legally put in your squirrel gun. I freely admit my knowledge of weapons barely makes it to the late Middle Iron Age. I can tell you about the Roman gladius and techniques for fighting with a trident/net combination in the Colosseum, and that’s about as new as I get. Any opinion I could offer on the subject of gun control would be ill-informed and far more theological and common sense than legal. But that doesn’t matter right now anyway.

So if you’re using these deaths as leverage right now, let me call you the ghoul you are and say stop it.

Many posts have also arisen criticizing the Christian response to the massacre. Let me say I haven’t actually encountered most of what they’re railing against (Christians saying they had it coming for being gay), but I have seen many trying to tell Christians we can’t offer prayers for Orlando and still condemn homosexuality as sinful and against the will of God.

Stop it.

Those who make such frankly ludicrous claims don’t understand prayer, Christianity, or love (real love, not what passes for it in popular parlance these days). There is absolutely nothing preventing us from loving our neighbors as ourselves and still adhering to biblical morality. We can mourn and weep even while wishing gay clubs didn’t exist, all without holding to some hateful contradiction. Those who say otherwise are, like those in the gun control debate, using these fifty people as leverage for a theo-political agenda. You are using death and injury as tools to coerce Christians into coming over to your way of thinking on the issue.

Stop it.

And if any Christians are in fact trying to take advantage of this tragedy to proclaim a message of damnation against homosexual people, I tell you the same thing.

Stop it.

There is a time and a place for both of these discussions. We truly need to engage in dialogue about gun control and homosexuality. We need — desperately, truly need — Republicans and Democrats to sit down together, not as members of a political party with indefensible arrogance and the idolatry of a party platform, but as human beings who recognize the humanity of the other as well as their own obligations as people in power to do good and justice and mercy. We need those conversations to happen. Orlando proves that.

But those fifty human beings who once had dreams and loves and families lie dead. Over fifty more will carry bullet-shaped scars — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual — forever. Out of respect for the dead, out of respect for the living, out of respect for a God who loves them as He loves you, please don’t turn them into a talking point on a list in support of your agenda. Please take time instead to mourn and weep and pray.

And if you dare open your mouth for any other reason on this matter,

Stop it.