In all respects, I reject the notion that it’s too political for the church to weigh in on social issues. Faced with the glaring injustice of the Temple economy, Jesus tore the place up. At every turn in the Gospel record, Jesus spoke up and demonstrated against oppression and violence. Even when faced with his own demise, Jesus chose to give his life; saying to his battle-ready followers, “Put away your swords.”
Yesterday, July 28, 2015, the Houston affiliate of ABC News, KTRK reported of a pastor who armed himself and proceeded to shoot an intruder at the Church of the New Beginnings. This is just one more story, added to countless others, where a “Christian” endorses gun violence.
I’ve stopped asking myself, “What is wrong with the world?” and I’ve started asking, “What is wrong with the Church?” What is wrong with the Church that we’ve remained collectively silent while an epidemic of gun violence rages around us?
Last year, the LA Times reported that from 2000 to 2013, excluding shootings tied to gangs or drugs, there were 160 mass shooting incidents. Last year the Violence Policy Center reported that in 2011 gun deaths exceeded motor vehicle deaths in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Even those who are charged to serve and protect are caught in this web of gun violence: at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police from January 1 to May 30, 2015; among the unarmed victims, two-thirds were black or Hispanic. (More about GA-1518 BLACK LIVES MATTER)
What is wrong with the Church? How long will we remain silent?
On the first day of business, when GA-1521 was presented for twelve minutes of debate, a gentleman stood at the procedural microphone asking for this resolution to be referred to the Committee On Reference and Counsel in effort to strengthen and specify the language. A collective gasp and muted cheers arose from the Assembly floor when he testified, “I’ve grown tired of those who confuse the Second Amendment with the First Commandment.”
In my lifetime, views on gun control and ownership have grown increasingly polarized. In some churches, gun control is only eclipsed by abortion as taboo subjects, and people would sooner recall their membership than to hear this subject spoken from the pulpit. Further, I have observed that preferred news sources enjoy more authority on “acceptable violence” than biblical scholars, theologians, and spiritual teachers combined.
Though I continue to ask, “What is wrong with the Church?” I am proud that on the final day of our General Assembly the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) adopted the revised language of GA-1521; including this strong, specific call to action:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this General Assembly calls on members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to demand of their elected officials that gun safety laws be enacted as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, including: an assault weapon ban, the elimination of the gun show and private-party loophole by requiring mandatory background checks and waiting periods before all firearm purchases, a ban on high capacity magazines, and requiring federally enforced safe firearm storage.
No one denies the epidemic proportions of gun violence in our nation; yet even common-sense measures of gun control continue to be blocked by the powerful lobbying efforts of groups like the NRA. I’m not a political scientist; however, it might be that the only institution capable of counteracting the phenomenal efforts of the pro-gun lobby is the Church.
Our faith-tradition proclaims that salvation results from God-made-flesh choosing death over self-defense, and our organized religion, the Church universal was born out of martyrdom. It is not too political to speak against gun violence and call for strict and immediate gun control legislation. What is too political is for the Church to remain silent for fear of individual retribution. The Church must speak; we must proclaim the Gospel, which inevitably includes laying down the weapons of this world even if our lives are threatened.
GA-1521 is not the final word. Instead, it is a powerful message meant to inspire and activate the local expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to dialogue, cooperate, advocate, and participate in direct and indirect action that moves our nation toward a reduction in gun violence.
May it be so, lest the Church suffer further spiritual atrophy.