Posts Tagged guns

If character is ‘irrelevant’ in politics, eventually the Church will be, too

Russ DeanI do not even know where to begin.

Life has always been confusing, and there have never been easy answers, but we live in a very bewildering time. Is it my imagination, or has it gotten worse? The confusion seems just recently to have magnified pretty dramatically.

No one trusts facts anymore. And what is truth?

The conservative Christian influences of my younger years used to disdain the danger of “liberal relativism.” But what “truth” could be more relativistic than what we are now hearing from some evangelical pulpits?

As reported by Baptist News Global, Robert Jeffress from the First Baptist Church of Dallas, recently pronounced that having an affair with a porn star is “completely irrelevant” to evangelicals. Jeffress believes forgiveness is between the sinner and God, “for anyone who asks.” The sinner in question, of course, has publicly and proudly admitted to never in his life having asked God’s forgiveness, for anything. But maybe that’s irrelevant, too.

I trust the reporter, I know the source, and I’ve never appreciated the accusations of “fake news,” but when I read this I thought, “This has got to be fake news. It just cannot be.”

For my entire adult life evangelicals have unwaveringly inveighed against the personal immorality of political candidates (not wrongly, though maybe a bit too piously at times). Character has always mattered, significantly. Today, suddenly, it is “completely irrelevant.”

According to Jeffress, apparently personal morality and integrity are no longer the measure of Christian character. Personal morality is now irrelevant as long as you toe the party line regarding national policy on abortion rights and as long as you threaten to rain down all-consuming “fire and fury” on our enemies.

You know, just like Jesus said.

In this age of bitter polarization and angry divisiveness, maybe critical words, words that challenge someone else’s point of view only fuel the unhealthy animosity so many of us are experiencing. I worry about being the one to offer those words. I sincerely do not want to be part of the problem.

But can the Church really afford to allow such breathless hypocrisy to define Christian ethics and spirituality? Can we tolerate such an example to be the model of “Christianity” for the wider culture? Or could it be that people are running from the Church today in droves because we have allowed exactly this?

To be sure, navigating our political system will always present a challenge, especially for voters of faith. There’s the law, and there’s the “higher law” — and then there’s that thorny concept of the separation of church and state. Making voting decisions difficult for all is the fact that there is no perfect candidate (and no perfect voter either!). No candidate will perfectly mirror a voter’s views, issue by issue, point by point, and given the complexity of our democracy, based largely on the “either/or” of a two-party system, voters — maybe especially religious voters — will sometimes have to settle. Choosing a candidate might come down to choosing an issue or issues, being willing to compromise on other concerns …

… but never compromising our own, core values in the process.

The primary job of a leader is to lead — and no one leads without first setting the example. In leading by example, character and integrity are essential. Jesus said you will know a tree by the fruit it produces. Conservatives used to say this was Truth.

I believe it still is.

In a recent sermon about gun violence I told my congregation that I am not “anti-gun.” I said this because … I am not anti-gun! I am, however, anti-foolish — and I believe what we are doing, and all that we are not doing proves our utter foolishness with every tragic, often preventable, killing. Likewise, I am neither anti-conservative nor anti-evangelical. I am, however, anti-… well, anti-whatever-this-is. I just have no idea what to call it.

I have never seen anything like it. I do not even know where to begin. Character doesn’t matter. How do we even talk about truth?

It is a confusing time, but one thing is crystal clear to me: if committing an adulterous affair with a porn star, if that kind of morality and that kind of character is “completely irrelevant” to a Church that has always said exactly the opposite, there is another thing that will be “completely irrelevant” to today’s culture — and that is, sadly, the Church.

*Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. A native of Clinton, S.C., and a graduate of Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a D.Min. degree from Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been in church ministry for 30 years, and they have served as co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. He is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue, and when he isn’t writing sermons or posts for Baptist News Global you’ll find Russ in his shed doing wood working, playing jazz music, slalom or barefoot water skiing, hiking and camping, or watching his two teenage boys on the baseball field.

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‘Anticipatory mourning’: America’s youth on death, guns and dissent

Bill Leonard

“We have our CHILDREN taken from us; the Desire of our Eyes taken away with a stroke.” So Puritan preacher Cotton Mather (1663-1728) wrote from 17th-century Boston, watching helplessly as multitudes of New England’s children and youth perished from diseases that could strike at any moment from infancy to adolescence. Twice married, Mather was the father of 15 children, only six of whom reached adulthood. Two outlived him.

In Children in the New England Mind in Life and Death, Peter Slater observed that the death of children was so frequent that colonists often lived in a state of “anticipatory mourning.” He concluded that “the conviction that ‘the King of Terrors’ [death] often came quickly made the Puritans anxious not to be caught unready.” Indeed, death vigils were so common in every Puritan family that “whatever their eventual outcome, parents prepared themselves emotionally to cope with the anticipated loss.”

Three hundred years later, the “anticipated loss” of children in the United States continues, in part because mass shootings have turned school kids into “the hunted,” as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., now describe themselves. After 17 people died there in a St. Valentine’s Day massacre, it is clear that “anticipatory mourning” haunts families across a country whose 300 million firearms literally outgun the rest of the non-military world. Post-Parkland, how many American parents now vow to tell their children they love them every day before sending them to school? Indeed, the voices of survivors from multiple mass firearm-related murders force us to acknowledge that public venues and AR-15s, exacerbated by incessant one-on-one-parking-lot-shootings, make violent deaths an ever-present possibility in every American community.

Such anticipatory mourning seems as palpable in 2018 as when Jeremiah described it almost 3,000 years earlier: Hear, O women, the word of the Lord, and let your ears receive the word of his mouth; teach to your daughters a dirge, and each to her neighbor a lament. “Death has come up into our windows, it has entered our palaces, to cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the squares” (Jer. 9:21).

As religious communities in a country where students now call themselves “the hunted,” let us at last take seriously the anticipatory mourning of young people schooled in strategies for escaping rogue shooters. For the church, if ever a gospel of Christian hope was needed in American society it is now. Implicitly and explicitly, American youth demand support for themselves and their families in confronting the relentless specter of death in a land where a merciless 18-year-old can “legally” secure battlefield weapons.

We’ve ritualized death away from the young in this culture, in funeral homes and hospice facilities, but it has overtaken them with a vengeance in what were once safe spaces for learning. Thus the church, in its teaching, preaching and praying, is now called to respond to a nation of anticipatory mourners, reasserting the presence of God in our living and our dying, particularly in the violent ends to which we all are now vulnerable.

Lent is that season of the Christian year when we own death as a sign of our mortality and the unpredictable nature of life itself. (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”) On Good Friday we recount the agonizingly brutal execution of the world’s Great Innocent.  On the way to Easter we say one more time that life is stronger than death and that God is with us in it all. Helping human beings acknowledge the reality of death, grieve deeply, and live bravely is a central witness of the Christian gospel. Let us reaffirm that hope for our children and ourselves, here and now.

And while we are at it, let’s devise concrete recognition of and strategies for confronting America’s gun culture, unique across the entire globe, weaponizing violent people far too easily. Henceforth, “the hunted” will not allow us to wait for the next AR-15 atrocity. Days after the deaths of their 17 friends, Parkland students moved from victimization to dissent. In a “Morning Joe” interview, Douglas High survivor David Hogg commented: “This will be a generation-long-thing. This is just getting started. Millennials are some of the most politically active and some of the most critical individuals … and as such I think that’s what is going to sustain this process, realizing what is wrong with America and trying to fix it, because the previous generation won’t. … You can’t wash away those memories.”

Right-wing media quickly entered the fray, accusing Hogg and other outspoken survivors of being “crisis actors,” not genuine Douglas students. Others tagged them as dupes of the anti-Second Amendment, anti-gun, anti-Trump media. In America’s culture wars, neither death nor conspiracy theories takes a holiday.

Undaunted by such attacks, these hunted Millennials declare that their dissenting voices will not be silenced. David Hogg says he won’t return to school until Florida passes at least one new firearm regulation, concluding, “We have a major gun violence problem in this country, one that won’t go away.”

And until voters, politicians, families and churches confront that problem, anticipatory mourning won’t go away either. So let’s try to tell our children we love them every time they walk out the door. They need to know that, every day of their lives.

*Dr. Leonard spoke at the John A. Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

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Finally a Clear Voice – Rev. Amy Butler

Amy Butler, senior minister, The Riverside Church, New York City

See my rant below. I’m tired, tired of waiting for the world to change. Pastors and faith leaders, no more waiting. Who will attend and who will help me host the next God and Guns training at The Riverside Church in the City of New York?

Since 2016 I have reached out to several people and places in areas where talking about gun violence is less culturally accepted offering to bring in preachers, to transport part or all of the conference, or to come myself to teach a class. Nothing has come of these efforts. This morning I am sick and tired of it all.

If we faith leaders and people of faith won’t commit ourselves to speaking up, why are we even wasting our time in the church? Are we too scared to say that killing each other is in violation of God’s hopes for the world? What is wrong with us?

I’m not going to sit around waiting anymore. I’d like to host a God and Guns training again at The Riverside Church in the City of New York.

In reference to a Donald Trump tweeted prayer: I am done with this meaningless bullshit. To call any of this prayer is an offense to God. Prayers have relevance when they result in meaningful action. Please, spare us the fake concern, especially on this solemn and holy day.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

 

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Paying for the Second Amendment – Rev. Dr. Bill Leonard* – Baptist News Global

Bill Leonard“The United States has 270 million guns and had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012. No other country has more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters.” So the New York Times reported on Nov. 8.

Let’s be honest, as a people we are paying for the Second Amendment. The dead are stacking up like cordwood, not simply from mass shootings, as heinous, collective and “normative” as they are, but in the day-to-day local firearm slayings that haunt American communities urban and rural.

In ways we recognize yet try our best to deny, the Second Amendment defines us as a people, a nation where individuals plagued by hatred, mental illness, religious bigotry, gambling losses, family dysfunction or other discernably unoriginal sins utilize Second Amendment-protected arsenals to destroy the lives of innocent, unsuspecting human beings at Bible studies, worship services, country music concerts, night clubs, shopping malls, college campuses and elementary schools. Right now, the list of safe spaces in this country narrows monthly due to gun-related massacres.

The Second Amendment does not create these malicious shooters; rather, it enables them through the proliferation and accessibility of millions of firearms — regulated, yes, but clearly not enough to affect the slaughter. Violent, deranged human beings occupy every nation state in this world. In the United States, however, current interpretations of the Second Amendment give them the means, legally or illegally, to turn this country into a killing field, any place, any time.

We are paying for the Second Amendment, and most of us will probably not outlive this defining element of our national ethos. Firearm obsession, supported or tolerated by the American people, exemplifies our national identity, and we should all own that reality. Indeed, firearm violence has become so routine that barring an immediate political or spiritual Great Awakening, these events demand some form of national triage, collective methods for responding to the consequences of weaponized carnage as an American constant.

The recent bloodbath at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, incarnates the firearm crisis and the need for a shared national response. It is that state’s largest single shooting with 26 congregants killed and 20 wounded by a known criminal who extended a family vendetta into a church at worship. The violation of sacred space is so egregious that the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among the dead, has announced that the building will be torn down, a new church facility constructed in another location, and a memorial established on the current site.

The sanctuary of that Baptist church in a tiny Texas hamlet off US 87 was violated in the bloodiest of assaults with a semi-automatic weapon that poured forth some 450 rounds. Eight of the dead were children, the youngest being an 18-month-old and a baby still in utero, dying in the belly of its mother who was also gunned down. The church’s own video system, streaming the service to homebound members, now too graphic to be shown, reveals that the butchery, carried out with a Ruger AR-556, took only about seven minutes.

Those facts alone should compel gun owner and non-gun owner alike to cry out in collective pain and determination to respond to the unending national slaughter of the innocents. A growing number of faith communities are now compelled to develop security procedures that include hiring professional agencies, training members as armed “gatekeepers,” or depending on congregational concealed-weapon-carriers prepared to match bullet for bullet, another inevitable recompense for Second Amendment “freedom.”

As mass shootings multiply, I keep thinking that I’ve written enough about this topic. But they continue, world without end. As I finished this particular column, four people, including an elementary school student, were killed and 10 wounded in a California shooting. More children would have died had not the school activated an immediate lock-down. How can any of us be silent?

Bret Stephens won’t be silent. The New York Times commentator finds the situation so dire that it is time “to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the world rightly considers nuts.” Rather, Stephens calls for repeal of the Second Amendment, noting that while “gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn’t in Britain or Australia … it doesn’t need a blanket constitutional protection, either.” He admits revocation is a long shot, but concludes that “most great causes begin as improbable ones.”

Given that wistful proposition, let’s consider another improbable but perhaps viable response to America’s firearm scourge. What about a Second Amendment Reparations Tax, levied on all American households and corporations? If the Second Amendment is essential to American identity, and if additional firearm-related legislation is a long time coming (if ever), then why not create a communal fund to assist those families and institutions devastated by inevitable gun violence? Such a FEMA-administered reparations tax would commit all of us to the task of “binding up the wounds” created by firearm violence. If we can’t affect the laws, the least we can do is help pay for the funerals.

Powerless in the face of Second Amendment-facilitated atrocities, but hoping for additional solutions, we begin by owning the problem and offering a collective source of financial triage to assist those literally caught in the crossfire of a vicious cycle of death that has become the public face of the American nation. Special fund-raisers for specific firearm brutalities remain indispensable, but since it is our Second Amendment, and we’re all vulnerable, we’d all best pay up.

“Bill Leonard was a favorite at the John Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

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