Last weekend, two hate-motivated attacks shocked our consciences once again. The first was on Saturday, when a White Supremacist murdered ten mostly elderly African Americans in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. That terrorist used an assault rifle style weapon in the brutal attack and in a lengthy manifesto published online wrote about the conspiracy theory that racial minorities are “replacing” White people in America. Then, a day later, another attack took place in a Taiwanese church in Orange County, California. A forty year old physician was killed who was there that morning accompanying his elderly mother. The hatred in that case stems from political tensions between mainland China and Taiwan.
Then, yesterday, a third attack has broken our hearts once more. Nineteen elementary school students and two teachers were murdered in a small Texas town by an eighteen year old with an assault rifle style weapon. Many of us immediately thought back to a similar attack that was perpetrated against small children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
As followers of Jesus, we mourn with those who mourn and holy outrage is ignited within us. But, we must commit to more than the customary ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Our discipleship demands that we seek the shalom of the society in which we find ourselves and the apostle James reminds us that “faith without works is dead.” I’m also reminded of the words of theologian Miraslav Volf, who lived through the Yugoslav Wars as a child and has written famously on forgiveness and reconciliation, who said:
There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.”
This country has a massive gun violence problem. Deflecting blame to mental illness, video games, or some other cause doesn’t account for the astronomical disparity between incidents of gun-related violence—particularly mass shootings—in the U.S. compared to other similarly-developed nations. “Age-adjusted firearm homicide rates in the US are 13 times greater than they are in France, and 22 times greater than in the European Union as a whole. The US has 23 times the rate of firearm homicide seen in Australia.” There is a direct connection between the gun culture and lobbying power of the gun industry in the U.S. and our epidemic of gun deaths.
Let us once again lament, but let us not stop there. Let us also commit to raising our voices, participating in the democratic process that is at our disposal, and to electing leaders who are dedicated to ending this plague.
Professor Susan Thistlethwaite, PhD wrote this paraphrase of Isaiah 58 after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that claimed 58 lives.
“What do you imagine God thinks of all the calls for prayers for the victims accompanied by the constant protests that ‘it’s too soon to call for gun legislation’? It has become clear to me that one of the idols Americans really worship is the Great God Gun. And I imagined God’s response to this idolatry via the profound words of Isaiah 58:”
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Why does the United States worship guns
Instead of God?
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
They ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
Why do you go to all these churches, but you do not see?
Why do you humble yourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your worship day,
And then just do the bidding of the National Rifle Association.
Look, you pray and then go out to buy and sell guns
And make it easier for many to commit mass murder.
Such prayers as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the worship that I choose, a day to make it easier to sell guns?
Is it to bow down the head in prayer,
And then call for prayers for gun victims?
Will you call these prayers, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the prayers that I choose:
to free the nation from the yoke of the NRA,
to undo the fraudulent interpretation of the second amendment,
to let those who fear guns in their neighborhoods be freed,
and to overturn the gun lobbies?
Is it not to share your opposition to out of control guns with your neighbors,
and to bring better policy to our nation;
when you see those in terror of gun violence,
protect them and keep them safe?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.