Melancholy Sculpture by Albert György in Lake Geneva, Switzerland
On a January morning in 1989, I was with my students in the school library at Franklin High School in Stockton, CA. The librarian came to me looking distressed, her face pale. What school do you daughters attend? she asked in a hushed voice. I told her. She looked relieved. I asked her why? Because there had been a shooting at one of the other elementary schools in town. Eventually we learned that a shooter had killed five schoolchildren and wounded 31 other children and one teacher. The students were mostly of Southeast Asian descent. The killer killed himself as well. My initial relief that it was not my daughters’ school did not alter my outrage and grief in response to this senseless and horrific act. It seemed almost unprecedented at the time. Unimaginable. Sadly, scandalously, it no longer does. I was reminded of that awful day again yesterday with the news of yet another school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas. Again. After being reminded of it again, and again, and again in the years since. And again.
I am heartbroken and outraged at yet another mass murder in this country, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. So far, we know 19 children and two adults were killed. And this just two weeks after the mass killing of people at a grocery store in Buffalo. And it is not just mass shootings. Gun violence in our major cities and elsewhere is epidemic. All of this is tragic. It points to a disease infecting our society. And our own hearts.
We pray for those who were killed and those who mourn. We know that Jesus, who entered into the heart of our violent world on the cross, is present in the heart of this horror. We also know that Jesus calls us to something different.
At the very beginning of the Gospel story, in Luke 1:79 and 2:14, we hear that Jesus, and the way of Jesus, are about peace. At his death on the cross, he prayed forgiveness for his killers (Luke 23:34). Between these bookends, Jesus, in his words and actions, demonstrates a consistent pattern of peace (while being anything but passive). He declared that his peace is different from this world’s (John 14:27). From the beginning to the end and in-between Jesus demonstrated a consistent pattern of peace and rejection of violence.
For Jesus and his followers, it is not just about the weapons; it is about the heart and the imagination. It is about reorienting our hearts and imaginations away from a fascination with violence and from violent solutions to violence. The way of Jesus is a pattern at odds with the pattern of this world with its violence and vengeance and self/group-preservation along with selfishness, fear, deceit, and greed which are not unrelated. This is the pattern of the world the Apostle Paul warns us not to conform to in Romans 12. He goes on to outline the same pattern as Jesus. Those who would be his disciples must embrace a peace different from this world’s – in their hearts and imaginations, in their words and actions.
The Church has decided that this does not mean absolute pacifism. But it does mean cultivating a bias for nonviolence. It means being more suspicious of the use of violence than is the worldly mindset. It means a determination to be peacemakers. It means it is not consistent with the pattern of Jesus to endorse the easy proliferation of firearms, especially those designed specifically for war. Society has a stake in assuring that weapons, especially weapons of war, are “well regulated”.
As someone who has hunted with a gun, even since becoming a bishop, I am not interested in banning all guns But, I am a member of Bishops Against Gun Violence. With my fellow bishops, I endorse common sense gun safety measures which polls consistently show enjoy the support of gun owners and non-gun owners alike, such as
· Handgun purchaser licensing
· Background checks on all gun purchasers
· Restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers
· Classification of gun trafficking as a federal crime
· Encouragement for the development of “smart gun” technology
· Federal funding for research into gun violence prevention strategies
· Safe storage of firearms
We need to find a different way. Christians are in fact called to a different way, the way of Jesus with its pattern of peace and peacemaking. Let’s be about that way. Let’s advocate for those things that address our disease and make for a healthier, less violent society. We can reduce the number of mass shootings and gun violence generally. If we really want to, we will, with God’s help.