Grace and peace to you, from God who breathes peace in us.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Anybody who’s paying attention is troubled by gun violence in this country. It’s a complicated problem. Some 11,000 people are killed with guns every year in the US, a rate 25 times higher than any other industrialized nation. (Assault weapons account for a small fraction of that.) Part of the problem is clearly the guns themselves. People want to blame mental health, poor enforcement of laws, and all assort of things other than guns. The fact is every country in the world has mental health problems, inconsistent law enforcement and so on. The one thing unique to the US is our guns—more guns than people. Solutions to that problem are political ones—and there will be more than one. Political solutions have not been forthcoming. (Congress has refused to even fund research into gun violence for 20 years.) But maybe that tide is turning. Whatever solution we favor, Christians should speak out about it. We have too long succumbed to the general fear of “causing waves” to speak out about moral issues. With all moral issues, like racism, economics and the environment, people are dying from our silence. We are obligated to bear witness.
But there are also other issues at work in gun violence. One is toxic masculinity. Pretty much all our shooters are young males. They’re being taught that it’s manly to be angry, to be powerful, even to be violent. They’re being taught a certain kind of masculinity, a certain way of dealing with failure, anger and despair. A lot of it has to do with the projection of power. What better tool is there for projecting power, in Freudian imitation of our biological means of “being male”—with bullets instead of sperm— than a gun? (This connection, but the way, is why rape is a common weapon: it’s not about sex, it’s about power.) Our movies, cartoons and popular culture in general promote a deadly model of masculinity. I give thanks that the parents, especially fathers, in this church teach their sons a different way to be in the world. But not every son in this country is so lucky. Christians need to be public witnesses to an alternative kind of masculinity modeled by Jesus: one founded on kindness, self-control, wisdom, forgiveness, courage, healing and non-violence.
And here we get to the real issue. Gun violence is violence. It’s not a political issue; it’s a spiritual issue. If Christians oppose gun violence we oppose violence in all its forms. How do we bear witness to this? Certainly we can support legislative measures. But the real work is personal: we have to advocate and practice non-violence. Passing laws isn’t enough’ we have to change the culture. If we wish angry young men in this country would find an alternative to shooting, we need to show them the alternative. We need to practice non-violence ourselves. Not just by refraining from shooting people, but to refrain from hurting them in any way. We are a bold witness against shootings by practicing gentleness and kindness ourselves. We practice listening instead of arguing. We practice forgiving instead of avenging. We practice letting go of getting our own way. We practice seeing the other, even when they are our enemies, as beloved children of God. We practice courageously standing for our own ideals without forcing others to conform or even approve. Even when we feel attacked we practice seeking the other person’s well-being. Non-violence doesn’t mean acquiescence. We may need to take a stand. But we do so in love and humility, not with a will to harm.
Yes, that sounds weak and foolish. So the cross appears to those who don’t see the truth. But if Jesus showed us anything, it’s that suffering, self-giving love overcomes violence, prevails over it, and transforms it. During Lent we enter into the difficulty of taking up that cross. It’s hard, but we have the gift of being able to practice with each other. The more we practice it daily, the more it will change us, and change the world, and maybe save some people’s lives down the road. Take courage. Bear witness. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Easter will come.