Last night a drunk pedestrian was hit by a car and died instantly in front of my house. Since moving to South Africa more than ten years ago, I’ve witnessed death hundreds of times. Pedestrians being hit, car accidents, suicide, community vigilantism, xenophobia, disease, all of them playing a role in my witnessing the passing of human life. You would think that with so much exposure to death, I would become more and more accepting of it. However, in truth, death seems all the more unnatural and shocking to me. I personally have felt the impact of the recent mass-shooting in Oregon. I’m an Oregonian familiar with that part of the country. I grew up in Medford and spent many days at church camps near the Umpqua River. This morning I saw pictures of the nine victims on Facebook and it broke me to think of their lives cut short and the grief each of their family members are now facing. I’ve been reading many posts on Facebook that express the full range of emotions from rage, fear and frustration, to bewilderment and confusion over what the response should be. I too have been pondering what can end these random acts of violence. With all the thoughts I’ve had, several keep festering in my brain and need to come out in written form so I can get some sleep.
First, I believe there is a profound misunderstanding of what it means to call oneself, Christian. Their is a massive malfunction in American culture that has blended the use of the word American, with the word, Christian. In the case of our response to mass-shootings, some feel it is their constitutional right and therefore a God given right, to own a gun. I’ve even seen pictures on Facebook of people holding a Bible in one hand and a machine gun in the other. That photo alone sums up what I mean by blending the words American and Christian together. While it is true that it is a constitutional right as an American to own a gun, is it also your right as a Christian?
The word Christian means Christ Like. It was first used in describing the early followers of Jesus when they saw such similarities in the actions of Jesus with his followers and they exclaimed, “Those people act like Jesus.” Christ like people or Jesus followers, were cognitive of the radical message of Jesus and it’s implications in how they do life. His message was non-conformist, non-religious, and extreme in it’s stance against the status-quo of his day. While I could site several examples from the life of Jesus, I will bring this one example for the sake of brevity.
Jesus was about to be illegally arrested, face a mock trial and be crucified. Jesus knew what was coming, because the corrupt Jewish elite had colluded with Rome many times before to put down messianic type figures. Crucifixion was the Roman way of curtailing free thinkers. The Biblical account is clear that Jesus willingly handed himself over and wanted no part in a violent defense of himself. During the push and shove of Jesus’ initial arrest, I can imagine Peter grabbing a sword and randomly swinging in a fit of rage. A soldiers ear is loped off and Jesus, in the midst of a volatile situation, involving his personal demise, stopes everything to heal the wounds of his enemy.
We’ve all heard many descriptions of the human response to confrontation called, “fight or flight.” By all scientific accounts this is hardwired into our chemistry in the face of danger, to run or fight. Some have thought of Jesus as some kind of passive sissy who floated around in a white robe, never getting his hands dirty. His response when faced with the armies of Rome, and what was undoubtedly going to be his eventual death, is revealing. Jesus, the second Adam, the new man, the first born of a new creation, was about to demonstrate that he didn’t need to succumb to chemistry. He resisted the human urge to fight his enemies, (while Peter didn’t) nor did he run away. He faced his enemy with composure and assurance and didn’t wavier. His example in that moment has been followed by all great people in history who have resisted evil with courage and conviction in a non-violent manner.
As an American you have a right to own a gun and defend yourself, but don’t confuse that right with being a Christian. When people say in solidarity with the families of the victims, “I’am a Christian,” and then in the same breath propose that we arm ushers in churches, or put armed guards in church parking lots, that doesn’t sound like Jesus. We are not in need of self-defense, we are in need of courage. The kind of courage Jesus taught when he said, “love your enemies,” and the kind of courage he demonstrated when he restored the ear of his enemy.
A second point that has been festering in my mind; Fame has become so desirable in American culture that I fear it has been one of the leading motivators in mass-shootings. The media, reality TV, 24 hour news channels, Youtube and a general dumbing down of our education, has led to this insatiable desire for our 15 minutes of fame. Addressing this problem has implications that need to be explored more deeply by all of us. As has been touched on by many others, this involves mental health issues that our culture keeps sweeping under the carpet. If we turned off or turned down the noise of celebrity-mania in our own hearts, I believe that would be the beginning of a domino effect that could actually lead to thinking for ourselves, rather than being shaped by pop-culture.
A third and more practical point; Slogans don’t tell the whole story. Gun rights activists often hide behind the slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. I would like to use an analogy here with cars; “Cars don’t kill people, bad drivers kill people”. Obviously we don’t ban cars, but we do regulate the licensing, insuring and manufacturing of cars, along with police enforcement. I would think a similar licensing process to driving and car ownership would go hand-in-glove with gun ownership and use. This process should involve insurance just as driving a car requires. The problem as I understand it, is not that proper laws are not on the books but that they don’t get enforced. I understand it’s not the gun that acts alone, it needs a shooter, and it’s the shooter who stands responsible, but likewise the shooter needs a gun. Guns and their use need to be strictly regulated. Slogans don’t help when we are dealing with complicated issues.
We all know that regulations do not keep high powered weapons out of the hands of criminals and terrorists. However, it’s becoming more evident that having a countries citizenry more heavily armed is also not the answer. Ultimately, we all agree that this is a heart problem. A problem that can only find change if we all look introspectively and assess what is at the root of our own heart problem. A famous South African athlete’s career came to an end along with the life of his girlfriend when he shot her through a bathroom door four times, allegedly out of fear that someone had broken into his house. As was the case for Oscar Pistorious, fear is what motivates the ownership of multiple high-powered weapons or to carry a concealed weapon. I say courage in the face of conflict, do not run and hide, but likewise, trust your life and the lives of your family members to your creator. You may suffer, but you will not be abandoned. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” and if you continue to read… “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalms 23.