Gilroy, California: three dead, 15 wounded; El Paso, Texas: 22 dead, two dozen wounded; Dayton, OH: nine dead, two dozen wounded.
All in one week.
We live amid a crisis of gun massacres that is ongoing and is being conducted not by those usually (and wrongly) blamed, but by young white males. Domestic terrorism is menacing America.
A second crisis stems from politicians’ failure to pass laws curbing this gun violence. Two bi-partisan gun reform bills, passed by the House, are on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, but he refuses to bring them up for a vote. Reasons vary: from insensibility (scenes of what powerful weapons do to bodies fail to move him and his cohorts), to fear of the NRA, to presidential retribution. Others, like Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, reject banning assault weapons such as the AK-47 used at El Paso because “they are extremely popular.” Such a childish toy mentality when polls indicate that 60 to 75 percent of Americans support a ban.
Citizens who favor hunting with guns, but support a ban and other restrictive measures on weapons designed for military use, must turn elsewhere for allies. A logical place is religious congregations. With more than 230 faith groups in the United States, their diverse congregations number in the tens of thousands. Their leaders offer sermons about evil, justice, and moral rebirth, in addition to frequent reflections on the nature and destiny of man. It should be emphasized that their governing bodies, whether Protestant or Catholic, reflect wisdom through official creeds and confessions, speaking truth to power on matters spiritual and practical.
However, as often as not, on current issues it’s the actual congregations back home that repeatedly act as great evaders. By every estimate within reason, most, as congregations, have refused to debate gun control. Raising the matter at a church coffee hour may elicit a shrug of the shoulders. Wordless demeanors signal, “Can something really be done?” A Scriptural passage – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God “– may be offered. As church members, they believe that. But congregations fail to activate that passage in ways that move us beyond prayers and sympathy.
Just hours after the El Paso massacre, Mike Huckabee, self-described evangelical and twice a Republican presidential candidate, wrote that unless children believe they reflect God’s image, anti-gun laws will amount to no more than “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’’ One would hope gun control would qualify as a “pro-life” issue. But the pro-life ordained Christian minister-turned-politician and television host offers no help in moving beyond our brainsick enslavement to violence and military-grade weapons. No help in ramping up pressure on politicians to do something about mass murder.
In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings, congregations might recognize there is much they can do. Imagine if we conducted a national Teach-in similar to those that once drove the Civil Rights movement and other large moral crusades. On a designated Sunday, participating churches could join in hearing speeches, lectures, and engage in group discussions about gun-centered violence in our country. A thousand conversations, participatory, focused on what is practical, and geared toward action. That’s the gold standard of possible responses. But unlikely to happen.
Less ambitious responses could include individual congregations that hold their own Teach-ins on a Sunday when members, after agreeing to deviate from the regular format, would devote the morning to the crisis of gun massacres in our society. Sunday school classes, or other small organized groups (such as exist in many churches have) could address the issue.
Topics could include: What do the official statements and resolutions of your churches’ national governing body say about violence, especially large-scale massacres? Why does the United States have multiple times the gun murders of other developed countries? Do you agree with former Governor Huckabee that little can be done about gun violence? Do you support universal background checks for gun purchasers? Do you support banning the purchase of military-style weapons that today are openly available to citizens? How can our congregation respond to this crisis?
Answers might not come easily. However, the very process of church wide, public discussion could create a sense of togethern
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.