Advertisement
Click here for General Assembly coverage

Enough already

Otis Moss III wonders when we will love enough to recognize everyone’s right to live.

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless,’ and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” — Luke 22: 35-37 NRSV

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. — 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


When will we say, ‘it is enough?’

With the powerful interests of money and fear driving sales of these weapons, will we ever convince our neighbors to give them up?

As I began to ponder the idea of guns in our society and my responsibility to my congregation and others who value my counsel, I was surprised by a subtle turn, a slight twist, a shift in my moral prism.

The trauma of violence that besets the community around my church vexes my heart and soul. As a large congregation in a major urban American center, there is a painful flow of shootings and deaths that appear on our doorsteps with alarming regularity. I’ve officiated more than my share of funerals, for both the young and not-so-young victims of senseless violence. As a result, I’ve thought deeply and prayed fervently about courses of action that could rid, or at least reduce, these incidents.

Some precautions have been put in place to add security for our congregants and staff. It can be as simple as signs alerting people coming into the building that weapons are not allowed, or as practical as adding a security service for a visible presence in our parking lots. As a church, we have also implemented neighborhood walks for peace, walking with neighbors through the streets — singing, praying, chanting, marching, and providing a demonstrable connection between the church and the community where we reside. Although these are usually fairly humble events, they show there are people who care and are paying attention.

Unfortunately, there have also been occasions that struck at us directly. One shooting comes to mind, that of a young man named Joseph Graves. Joe was a child of Trinity United Church of Christ, whose family has been active in the life of the church in many ways and for many years. Joseph’s life was wrenched away from us by a gunshot that was fired into his parked car only a few blocks from the church. We raised more than $15,000 for a reward that could lead to an arrest in his case. Hundreds of our members marched as a church through the neighborhood to raise awareness of the shooting. I wish I could say arrests were made, but I cannot.

I’ve officiated more than my share of funerals, for both the young and not-so-young victims of senseless violence.

As I struggle with solutions to this plague on our communities, as we come to the cusp of mass shootings becoming simply a numbing reality, I want to just be rid of guns once and for all. A recent article in The Washington Post, “The Irreducible Problem for Gun-Control Activists: The Number of Guns,” provided some mind-blowing observations. The article estimates there are 120 guns for every 100 residents in America — an estimated 20 million of which are the killing machine AR-15-style weapon. The Switzerland-based 2018 Small Arms Survey estimates that “Americans own 393 million of the 857 million civilian guns available — around 46% of the world’s civilian gun cache.” The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 48,645 deaths in the U.S. were gun related. Sadly, more of these were from suicide (26,328) than homicide (20,958).

Why do Americans desire so many guns?

For many, the answer is straightforward. “It is my constitutional right, and no one’s business why.” Yes, the Second Amendment provides for our right to own guns, but unfortunately, the idea of gun ownership under the auspices of a “Well-regulated militia …” is ignored. For others, there are myriad answers: guns offer sport shooting, hunting, and personal protection, etc.

Earlier, I mentioned a subtle turn, a slight twist, a shift in my moral prism, when it came to guns. I recognize what the Second Amendment says about the citizen’s right to own weapons. I might lean on the idea that without an organized, or “well-regulated” militia, there are no inherent rights to own guns. Then, however, I sit with Luke 22:35-37.

As I read this Scripture, in my sanctified imagination I pictured Jesus, coming to the end of his earthly work and pushing forward to his arrest, trial, and ultimate crucifixion, letting his disciples know that “stuff was about to get real.” With an arrest warrant out for Jesus, the disciples may have been put into situations where they would have to defend themselves, and Jesus wanted them to be prepared. Jesus told them in Luke 22:36, “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” It is hard to ignore this call from Jesus for the disciples to arm themselves, as he understood danger was coming. It could be understood that Jesus recognized there are times that justified the disciples arming themselves; yet it is difficult for me not to see that we might also be justified in arming ourselves for self-defense.

This is not the end of the story.

Yes, Jesus did seem to instruct the disciples to buy swords, to arm themselves. But critical to this scripture is the end, when the disciples tell Him, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” and Jesus replies, “It is enough.”

Enough for what? Not enough to do battle, to protect all of the disciples and Jesus. Not enough to be the aggressors. Not enough to strike fear in the minds of detractors. But maybe enough to make someone pause and consider, to allow further negotiation. Perhaps enough to dissuade an intruder.

If we consider that Jesus was actually talking about physical weapons and not a metaphor for something else, and that an arsenal of a mere two swords was enough, how might that translate into our modern dilemma of hyper-weaponization?

In other words, when will we say, “it is enough?”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry’s trade association, estimates there are 19.8 million AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles in circulation in America today. These rifles, also referred to as Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), have been used in the worst mass shootings because of their large magazines, high-velocity ammunition and rapid firing. They are killing machines. With the powerful interests of money and fear driving sales of these weapons, will we ever convince our neighbors to give them up?

Jesus did seem to instruct the disciples to buy swords, to arm themselves. But critical to this scripture is the end, when the disciples tell Him, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” and Jesus replies, “It is enough.”

When will we hurt enough?

Based on the underwhelming response to the school tragedies that occur in America with unconscionable frequency, there doesn’t appear there will ever be enough pain, hurt, grief, for America to do anything about guns. The developed world has clearly shown that a reduction in guns is an important component in fewer gun deaths. In Japan, Business Insider reports, it is difficult to purchase a gun, with a full-day class, written test, and target shooting at a 95% rate required to qualify. Yes, our gun culture is quite different, but so are America’s gun deaths. Business Insider notes Japan has 10 or fewer shooting deaths a year for a population about a third of America’s. Among high-income countries, the U.S. leads them all with more than four gun-inflicted homicides per 100,000 people, while Canada, which is third on the list, has only 0.5 per 100,000. For our children, comparisons are even more striking.

“Of the 22 highest income countries, America accounts for over 90% of the gun deaths of children under 15,” writes Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., in his book Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation And Our Faith.

I’ve seen it written that “Americans love guns more than their children.” I’m confident that this is not true. But based on the evidence of inaction by our legislators, it appears Americans do love guns more than other people’s children. Thus, the pain of the families who lose loved ones to gun violence fails to move our legislators to enact common-sense gun laws and implement other tools that would reduce this scourge on
our communities.

When will we love enough?

The theme “love your neighbor, as yourself,” is common throughout most faith communities. From Judaism, to Hinduism, Islam to Buddhism, the idea that we should love others and treat others with the care we would seek for ourselves is a common thread. Unfortunately, we too often hear this idea, even agree with it, but then do nothing to bring this phrase to life in our world.

Over the years, I have been engaged with several organizations with evidence-based solutions as well as new creative concepts that address the challenge of gun violence. One thing many of them have in common is to begin with the concept of a moral budget, a budget that reflects the moral priorities of the people. Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary and a noted author and theologian, wrote an article in the Christian Century, “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity,” that holds as its thesis that “God created a world of great abundance. If we share, there is enough for all.” Creating moral budgets requires us to understand there is enough, and to build budgets that support the needs of the marginalized among us, “… the least of these, God’s children.”

I may not desire a gun in my home, but this is not universal. Jesus may have recognized a need for folks to protect themselves, but if so, he also recognized that we should not be excessive. In constitutional terms, the Second Amendment may provide the right to bear arms, but there can and should be limits — enough is enough!

The theme “love your neighbor, as yourself,” is common throughout most faith communities.

Here’s where we can start.

As Christians, who are called by Jesus to “love our neighbors, as ourselves,” we cannot continue to sit by and watch murders and mass murders on the news as if nothing can be done.

We must do something, and we can start by considering some of these ideas:

  • Seek training for church and lay leaders in restorative justice practices as a tool for community connection efforts.
  • Engage more deeply in your community by providing a safe space for meetings and functions.
  • Demand that our political representatives enact legislation and budgets that meet the needs of our communities. Pursue legislation that:
    • Enacts a national ban on AR-15-type assault weapons. This ban should be in conjunction with buy-back incentives for grandfathered weapons (those that are in current possession).
    • Closes loopholes in the federal background check process so all guns sold have a trail of accountability.
    • Requires manufacturers to add serial numbers to ammunition to support police department’s identification of suspects.
    • Funds community centers that support a variety of sport teams and clubs, and that have extended hours for late night basketball and other sports — our children need accessible recreation.
    • Prioritizes moral budgets for cities, states and the federal government needs to include support for both proven community-led projects and programming, and for new programming ideas from affected people and communities.
    • Fully supports mental health services within marginalized communities and their schools.
    • Fully embraces, and funds, restorative practices in our schools and criminal systems as conflict resolution tools.
    • Includes violence-affected individuals and communities in the creation and implementation of solutions designed to create safe communities.
    • Incentivizes gun manufacturers to provide biometric triggers on weapons and penalize manufacturers who do not make them available.

Of course, this list is not all inclusive, but it is a start. Sometimes it feels as if things are spiraling out of control, and we can feel helpless. But our God is never helpless.

We cannot continue to sit by and watch murders and mass murders on the news as if nothing can be done.

Enough is enough.

It is past time for Christian engagement in pushing back on the idea that good guys with guns make us safer. Even if we recognize a right to bear arms, that right cannot be without any limitations and the recognition of everyone’s right to live.

LATEST STORIES

Advertisement