Justice

The Time to Change Gun Laws is Now

The Time to Change Gun Laws is Now

Guest post by Phil Snider

Gun laws in the United States of America should be changed immediately:

Fact 1: Every year far more innocent people in the U.S. are unintentionally killed by an accident with a gun than are criminals killed by a “good guy with a gun.” [So the self-defense argument doesn’t work unless for some strange reason one wishes to also argue that more deaths by gun violence is preferable to fewer deaths by gun violence.]

Fact 2: Where there are higher rates of gun ownership in the U.S., there are higher rates of gun violence in the U.S. There is a direct and disproportionate correlation between gun ownership and gun fatalities.

Fact 3: Nations with tighter gun restrictions have drastically fewer gun fatalities in comparison to the U.S.

Fact 4: If you say that changing the law is unnecessary because criminals will always find ways to break the law, then you are de facto arguing against the purpose of having any laws.

Fact 5: A person hellbent on acting maliciously can murder far more people with certain types of guns than with, say, a knife. [This seems so obvious to point out, but, for example, there’s a reason it’s wrong to build bombs –> they are designed to kill large quantities of people at once. As are many types of guns.]

Two more facts, from a friend:

A history of violence against women is among the strongest predictors of future violence like murder and mass shootings.

People living with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violent acts than the perpetrators.

Truth: We may think (or feel) that having guns makes us more safe, but that is an illusion. Owning guns makes us far less safe. Nonetheless, our fears have led us to build a golden calf out of guns. But like all idols, they cannot save.

Truth: Our nation is enamored with the myth of redemptive violence, from which we need to be saved.

Truth: If one thinks the founding documents of our country are not subject to revision or contextual and constructive critique, then (1) one has to continue to support some pretty outlandish things, such as the 3/5ths compromise and (2) one doesn’t think it’s possible to progress further or to be open to new insights and perspectives, which is at once both tragic and myopic.

Truth: We have the responsibility to politicize tragedies so they don’t keep happening over and over and over again. Not to do so is to give them our tacit approval, which should be unconscionable.

What are we waiting for?


Phil Snider is an award-winning author, community organizer, pastor, and teacher. In addition to providing religious commentary in various local and national media outlets, including NPR affiliates and nationally-syndicated radio and television programming, his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Slate, Fox News and USA Today. Phil’s books include Justice Calls: Sermons of Welcome and AffirmationPreaching After GodThe Hyphenateds, and Toward a Hopeful Future (winner of the 2011 Mayflower Award for best book in church and society).

Image: REUTERS/SERGIO FLORES

Why I Am Unarmed

Why I Am Unarmed

This post originally appeared in The Banner, January 20, 2014

My neighbors were recently mugged at gunpoint not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. A nice evening out for dinner with another couple quickly went awry as two young men pulled a gun on them and demanded their wallets and phones. The four of them hit the ground and did as they were asked. After being accosted in this way, my friends felt rattled. Unsafe. Sad.

Some might say: “If only they’d been carrying a weapon of their own, they might have been able to turn the tables, or at least hold onto their wallets.” A good thought. After all, they say the best defense is a good offense, so why not be ready to take charge in such a situation? An argument could be made that a gun might have helped. The instigators could have been forced to flee out of fear. The potential firepower might have caused panic, and my friends might have been able to take control of the situation.

But it’s also true that bringing a second gun into the picture might have escalated the situation. It is likely that the perpetrators did not plan to use the gun. There’s a good chance that these two young men found themselves in a desperate situation requiring desperate action.

I’m pretty sure this situation would not have been improved by issuing a threat of violence in response to the initial threat of violence. A response in kind, even in self-defense, is exactly what it sounds like: a response in kind.

With these types of incidents happening close to where I live—in an urban setting—some might recommend that I own a weapon. That I protect my family. That I prepare for the worst.

Yet I remain unarmed.

For me, carrying a weapon is in direct conflict with my desire to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. How can I justify responding to violence with more violence when I follow the Prince of Peace? How can I think of carrying a weapon designed solely to kill efficiently if I’m seeking to follow a God who instructs us, “Do not kill”? How can I think of owning a gun when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who hurt us? How can I stock up on ammunition when Romans 12 clearly instructs us to “not repay evil for evil” and to “live at peace with everyone” (vv. 17-18)?

These days there is a lot of conversation about guns and gun rights, particularly in the wake of last year’s Newtown school shooting and the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Many note that it is their constitutional or even God-given right to carry a gun. Some are sure that the answer to the outbreak of violence in our schools, homes, and streets is not fewer guns, but more.

More guns in our schools. More guns in our homes. Moreguns in our neighborhoods.

The argument that we need more guns, and more people trained to use them, boils down to “we can kill before we get killed.” At some level, this argument may be right. This strategy may well be effective—even the most effective. But what kind of society do we want to have? What kind of people do we want to be?

One response to violence is to admit that we live in a sick society and increase weapon proliferation to deal with the issue. “It’s effective.” “I’ll feel safer.” But do we really want a society in which there are more weapons that can be unleashed on a schoolroom full of unsuspecting children? A society where our children are afraid to walk the streets because there may be a neighborhood watch person following them with a gun?

The more poignant question is this: Do I really want to become someone who has to be trained to kill someone else as the answer to reducing violence? To me, this stems from a lack of imagination and a lack of hope.

I’d rather we work on connecting better with our neighbors, getting involved in our neighborhood schools, and learning the opportunities and challenges we face together.

I’d rather we dealt with mental health issues and make counseling accessible to those who need it.

I’d rather be a person who is trained to love than one who is trained to kill—even in self-defense.

That’s why I am simply not interested in carrying a firearm. In the U.S., the Constitution may grant me such a right. But I follow someone who eschewed his rights to self-defense (and many other things).

Some will point to Jesus endorsing the carrying of swords in Luke 22 and note that even he knew when it was time to arm oneself. Yet when the disciples say, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” Jesus replies, “That’s enough.” Or as another translation puts it: “Enough of that!” The point is notthat he endorses the private right to carry weapons. Rather, the display of two weapons in the face of a contingent of armed Roman soldiers from Pilate makes the point that Jesus and his disciples are not there to act in violence. Jesus notes that he has the power to call down legions of angels to his defense. But he refuses to resort to such violence, even when self-defense might call for it. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my servants would fight.”

When the kingdom of heaven breaks in, there is a refusal to respond to violence with more violence. There is a love that is greater than calling upon our “rights.” There is a forgiveness that can be extended even to those who would put us to death, as Jesus and many of his earliest followers exemplified.

In our society, people have the right to carry or own a gun. But I’m not going to be one of them because my hope for peace outweighs my desire for personal safety. Because my desire to follow Jesus exceeds my desire to defend myself. And because responding to a threat upon my life with an act of love, even if it costs me my life, might be one small piece of God’s kingdom being realized here and now.

There are no easy answers or solutions to the reality of gun violence in our nation and our world.

But should that stop us from dreaming? What if we tried to enact the prophetic dream now, and gave up our obsession with violence? What if we didn’t wait for someone else to beat the pistols into plowshares but set the example ourselves? What’s the worst that could happen?

Ask Jesus.

The Voices of the Past Are Calling Out to Us

The Voices of the Past Are Calling Out to Us

OR: An Ode to White Christians
by Thom Stark

Every Sunday you go to church and you participate in a celebration of an unjust execution that took place 2,000 years ago, and you confess your sins and you consider your guilt. And you celebrate an exodus from 400 years of slavery that took place 4,000 years ago. And you listen to stories about sins committed by the Patriarchs and Israel and the Prophets and the Kings and the Apostles and the Early Church, and their sins are identified with your sins, and you live in their sins and you receive not acquittal but forgiveness and reconciliation. And you are taught that you are a sinner saved by grace. That you are guilty, and share in and identify with the guilt of your forebears, while walking in forgiveness. Every week you are confronted with your guilt and you participate in the pattern of transformation and reconciliation.

And then you leave church and you scream at black people for remembering their past and tell them to live in the present, and you deny that you are guilty, and refuse to be ashamed, and refuse to confess the sins of your forebears as sins in which you share, and you condemn those who see the past in the present, and those who remind you of your condition. You deny your guilt and refuse to look within yourself and around yourself. In doing so, you cut yourself off from grace, from reconciliation. You blaspheme the Spirit through whom you claim to participate in a suffering most ancient. You refuse to suffer now with those who suffer. You claim victimhood for yourself and never hold yourself accountable for anything but the most personal and banal of sins. Your religion is purely one of self-interest—you see sin and forgiveness as conditions of the individual. Heaven is a place prepared for you. Jesus belongs to you and you to him. Yours is a religion of cheap romance, devoid of justice.

You don’t know Jesus. If you did you would stop defending yourself and your own kind. You would stop pledging allegiance to a national flag and putting your hand on your heart for a national battle hymn. You would worship God alone and demonstrate your allegiance to God’s reign by eating with and listening to those you hate and fear. You would know that the past has always lived in the present and always will, and that we must remember the sins of our forebears in continual acts of confession, contrition, and reconciliation. You would understand that we are not autonomous creatures; we are the products of yesterday and the fashioners of tomorrow. When we participate in Eucharist, we join with all our ancestors and we identify with all their sins, and together we reenact the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth, who was publicly executed in the manner of thieves, rebels, and runaway slaves. If the past was not in our present, Christ and a cloud of witnesses would not be with us.

And if the past is not in our present, our ancestors’ sins remain unresolved. We have silenced again with lashes the voice of the slave who spoke his mind. We have murdered again the mother who tried to escape to find her son. If they are not alive among us now, we silence them all over again. The voices of the past are calling out to us, with Christ among them. We have access to them only through a living tradition. The living memory of the black and native communities connects us to this past. In order to confess our sins at Eucharist, in order to receive grace, we must hear the voices of the past speaking in the present. Habitually. Ritually. The people with whom you now have enmity are your only way to the table of thanksgiving. If you’re not sharing that table with them, you’re not at the table of the Lord.

I think you will always be blind and your heart will always be hardened to the truth.

You’ve had too many chances already.

Holy Ground

Holy Ground

Reflections by Pastor Lee Ann Bryce of First Congregational UCC, Fort Worth, TX. Delivered during a Service of Lament, Healing, and Courage at Amistad Chapel UCC in Cleveland Tuesday. Shared with permission.

 

This is a beautiful church
and we’re grateful to be here,
but I want to talk for a moment about gay bars.
I came out as a lesbian many years ago
and I’ve noticed that at times,
particularly early in our movement for equality
gay bars have been referred to as a sort of necessary evil;
at one time, they were one of the few public places
where LGBTQ people could meet and be in community.
The truth is
long before we were widely welcomed in churches,
we were welcomed in gay bars.

And so to me, gay bars and nightclubs,

many of them at least,
are like churches.
Or at least like churches should be –
places where you are welcomed just as you are.
Continue Reading..

The Parable of the Ten Servants

The Parable of the Ten Servants

A new take on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Bryan Berghoef

And he told them this parable:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten servants who went out to meet their master. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took no weapons nor did they take any means of defense with them. The wise ones, however, took care to bring swords along with their concealed knives. The master was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: “An intruder! Defend yourselves!” Continue Reading..

Say My Name

Say My Name

Pope Francis is being widely hailed for his historic appearance before a joint session of Congress yesterday. But some are taking him to task for one glaring omission: he didn’t say the name of Jesus.

A professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary noted the “pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday.” Perhaps an oversight? Like, hey, I’m the vicar of you-know-who on earth. Did I forget to mention him?

Perhaps such an oversight is forgivable, right? I mean, what with all the focus on caring for the poor, embracing the stranger, denouncing violence, caring for creation, and reverencing all human life—in other words, some of the very teachings of Jesus—can we not overlook such a small omission?

Apparently not.

This professor goes on to write: “Now the whole country is talking about the pope and the pope’s politics, but no one is talking about Jesus or the gospel. What a sad day. What a wasted opportunity.” Continue Reading..

Ecstatic about SCOTUS, but it took awhile

Ecstatic about SCOTUS, but it took awhile

Guest post by Mike Clawson

20 years ago I would have been among those who believe today’s SCOTUS ruling signals the moral and spiritual decay of American society – a sign of the end times.

15 years ago I still thought homosexuality was a sin, but no worse than any others, and didn’t think Christians should be making such a big deal about it. Also, my political views had shifted and I no longer believed it was right for religious people to impose our morality on society by opposing equal rights for gay people. Continue Reading..

COP 21 and the Politics of Resurrection

COP 21 and the Politics of Resurrection

Guest post by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

CHANCES ARE PRETTY GOOD that you’ve never heard of COP 21, but don’t despair—you’re not alone. Ask the average American what COP 21 is, and you’ll likely get some combination of blank stares and guesses about new reality shows on FOX (mental note: Google contact information for CEO of FOX).

It’s mostly only nerds like me who have heard of COP 21 and think it matters, but here’s why I think that should change—especially for Jesus-followers.

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