I sometimes wonder how often we ministers will have to keep writing pastoral responses like this one. As the psalmist asked, “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1)
The unspeakable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is just the latest in what seems an unending saga of senseless acts of violence and tragic losses of life. It is especially disturbing that our very lexicon now includes references that do not require explanation. Simply say “Columbine” or “Aurora” or “Virginia Tech” or “Sandy Hook” or “the Vegas concert” or “the Orlando nightclub” or now “Parkland High School,” and everyone understands what you’re talking about. Gun violence has become part of our norm. That is a sobering, saddening, and staggering reality. There is no “norm” anywhere that should include that.
What do we do? First, as people of Faith, we pray. We pray for the victims. We pray for the grievers. We pray for our children and all children everywhere. And we pray that somehow God will intervene and turn our society from this madness, all the while recognizing that the answer to that prayer will require motivation more than miracle. We have to feel so strongly and urgently about this that we raise our voices, talk to our legislators, help institute new school and public safety procedures, etc. First, we pray and be prepared to become part of the answer to our prayers.
Then we mobilize. We talk to our legislators and demand that they take some reasonable actions. Proper vetting of prospective gun buyers (which includes longer periods of time before purchases are allowed and includes mental health and arrest background checks) in no way compromises the 2nd Amendment. It only compromises profits from gun shows. Whatever the NRA may say to the contrary, monetary profits are not as important as human lives. Also, we tell our legislators loudly and clearly that we agree with national law enforcement agencies who continue to say that no one aside from law enforcement or military personnel needs an automatic machine-gun style weapon. Those things are not designed to hunt deer or doves. They are designed to kill large numbers of people rapidly. Again, making such purchases illegal does nothing to weaken our 2nd Amendment rights.
Finally, we reveal. The late United Methodist Bishop, Ernest Fitzgerald, said: “A primary purpose of The Church is to show the world there is a better way.” That’s why Church remains so important, even irreplaceable. Sure, we can be spiritual without being involved in institutional religion. But when we go that route, we relinquish the public voice (aka, influence) that a strong institution can possess. As Church, we are the community that talks about a “Prince of Peace.” We are the community that talks about the mandate for Agape-type loving. We are the institution that talks about forgiveness and loving even our enemies and beating swords into plowshares. In short, we are the institution, more than any other institution, that talks about core values which are right and true and moral and may represent our one last hope of not destroying ourselves. Churches that are authentic are called to reveal to the world that there is a better way.
Today we pray. Tomorrow we mobilize. Forever we stand tall as churches, revealing to the world a better way.