Even though the year 2013 has already began, the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut is still fresh. Now many people, including myself, have opined to one degree or another on how to curb the violence. While I am not for the wholesale ban on gun ownership in America, I have already spoken out in a blog for better regulations on gun ownership and restrictions on assault weapons. I also want to go on record and say based on my understanding of Romans 13:1-5 that I believe the government has God-ordained authority to employ armed security/police forces in public places, including schools, as a means of protection and crime prevention.
Having said all of that, I believe we are still missing the bigger issue. I maintain that the problem of violence is “neither a lack of gun-control nor a lack of well-armed citizens” (see this blog). Rather, the problem of violence is a spiritual issue that lies deep within our hearts and it’s a problem that we as a whole society own.
However, I want to push harder on this to and say that the problem of violence is exasperated because we live in a culture of violence. That is, I sadly surmise, violence has become part of the American cultural ethos and for the most part, the cultural ethos of American Christianity too! It’s not just the violent crimes that take place (and thankfully are on the decline), violence is part of the daily rhetoric and entertainment. Even in the political process, militaristic violence is so easily championed as an expedient that we can hardly envision a way of life without violence. And when we appeal to common sense or conventional wisdom as the rationale for such violence, it only seems to suggest that we have subconsciously convinced ourselves that violence is natural to creation rather than a departure from God’s creative-redemptive intent.
America needs the church to be what the church alone can be!
So when it comes to a response to the problem of violence, the loudest voice is that which calls for more arms. In fact, from where I sit this voice has great support from many Christians, something I regard as gospel failure. The American society already has enough voices advocating for more arms, so the last thing society needs is the voice of the church lending support to this cause. Though likely not so welcomed, what America needs from the church is for the church to be what the church alone is called to be and that is to be the voice of the gospel that exemplifies forgiveness, love, peace-making, and reconciliation. This is for the church to do what it is admonished to do in scripture and put off the old, putting on the new self instead, including a new mindset, and speak truthfully as one body (cf. Eph 4:22-25).
Back on October 2, 2006, Americans, myself included, were horrified to learn that a gunman entered an Amish school near the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, killing five children before killing himself. However, in this case, the Amish Christians responded by speaking as all Christians should in the wake of such mayhem. That is, rather than advocating for a violent resolution, they advocated with the voice of gospel-wisdom. Ironically, this garnered a sentimental response from many Americans (and a book about the story titled Amish Grace). But what if the Amish response was the normative response of all Christians?
What if the overwhelming response of Christians to tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Columbine, etc… was to be a voice promoting forgiveness, love, peace, and reconciliation, leaving the rest of Americans to be the advocates of violence if they so choose? Too many Christians seem too eager to dismiss such a forgiving, loving, peace-making, reconciling response as impractical but has such a response ever really given such a chance? More importantly, does the church have the faith to patiently wait for God too work in such a response? The church does still believe that God works through the message of the cross, despite how foolish or offensive it may be to the society at large?
Like I’ve said earlier, I am not opposed to the state exercising its right to place armed security in schools and other public places. But what if society heard from Christians — in conversations, Facebook chats, etc… — the same response the Amish offered to a mass shooting? How might that begin to change society’s ethos of violence? How many potential future mass shooters might that disarm? After all, there is more than one way to stop bad people with guns and it’s called the way of Jesus, the gospel way, the way of forgiving, loving, peace-making, and reconciling! How many mad gunmen will it stop is something we will never know unless and until such a response is given a chance. But then again, to give that a chance requires the church, from the recesses of deep faith, to echo the voice of truth rather than the voice of American culture.