The healing is barely beginning as many were laid to rest this week in the small town. Families who lost children now have a hole in their souls. Christmas won't be the same. It may never be the same. Those children unharmed by the gunman's bullets find themselves mentally and emotionally harmed as they try to come to grips with what they witnessed and what took place. One family remarked that every time the door bell rings, their son becomes immensely terrified and thinks the shooter or another shooter has come to his house to finish the job. The trauma experienced and inflicted has begun to take its toll. In many ways, things will never be the same for anyone in Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.
This tragedy has brought out the political and religious pundits. Shamefully, America has proved to be so partisan, so divided, and may I suggest, so calloused, that we found ourselves meandering over to our soapboxes with fingers fixed for pointing and words ready for defending and defaming. On the very day of the shooting, many were in arms about guns and wanted them all picked up. Liberals, Democrats, and some Conservative parents and grandparents immediately began to call for stricter gun laws. The Religious Right, Republicans, and Blue Dog Democrats started talking about the right to bear arms and uttering such phrases as, "guns don't kill people; people kill people." As President Obama stood to give a speech recognizing what took place, the father in him undoubtedly took over and he became choked up. I was horrified as people took to Facebook, Twitter, and talk shows to debate whether or not the President was actually crying. One bad excuse for oxygen claimed that, "inside Obama is probably glad this happened so he can now take all of our guns away." What began on the day of the shooting only escalated in the days ahead and the battle for guns and against guns has taken the number one place in most newscasts, even ahead of the Fiscal Cliff negotiations. Lost in the shuffle and consideration are the lives lost and those left to grieve.
The President has stated something must be done to try and prevent a tragedy of this nature from happening again. The NRA has stated a few things need to change as well. There is little doubt however that the change either are proposing will look much alike. I think the most important thing to remember is that this may be less about rights and more about life. We have to determine the price of a life. While abortion is a major division in defining life, one which I will always stand by as life beginning at conception, what we can all agree on is that once born, everyone has life and endowed with the certain inalienable rights from his/her Creator. Every person walking, crawling, or sitting deserves life and deserves to have their lives valued. And in the wake of this horrible shooting, we're all left grappling with the questions of how to protect life from those who no longer value either their own or anyone else's.
I think we have to be rational and less reactive when discussing the issues. In America, we've learned recently to plant our feet on our opinion block and refuse to be moved regardless of what it means for others. I think we could do well to be reminded that America isn't Israel, the Constitution isn't the Bible, and God could care less about what our laws. They can't stop Him. As Christians, the thing that should govern our behavior more so than anything else is the Word of God. I'm a citizen of Heaven first. I'm a Child of God first. I'm to walk in the footsteps of Christ, not the GOP or the Democrats. My stance has got to be one imitating Christ, not toting the political party line. To look at our country and not recognize it getting worse is to put our head in the sand. And to look at the same country and think that it's the fault of one group of people is even more absurd. With that, I'd like to address some rhetoric and maybe even throw some ideas out. It's important to note, if you haven't already, that these opinions are my own. They don't represent the endorsement of my church or those in it. I'm quite sure not everyone will agree with them and I'm ok with that. Hopefully we can find common ground in between the soap boxes.
1. "This happened because God was kicked out of school . . . "
This DID NOT happen because God was "kicked" out of school. Can we stop the Facebook picture sharing where a "concerned student" asks God why He allows these things in the schools and God "answers" back that it happens because He's not welcome? We have a warped view of scripture. God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He lives in me and you if we belong to Christ. That means everywhere I go, God goes with me. Humans don't have the ability, power, or influence to be able to look at the Creator of the Universe and tell Him where He can and cannot go. God was very, very present at Sandy Hook Elementary on that fateful day. He was in the closet with children hiding for their lives giving them comfort and calm to remain quiet. He gave teachers like Vicki Soto courage to fight back to save her children even though it cost her her life. He gave a principal and a counselor in her last year before retirement courage and strength to lunge at the gunman only to lose their own lives in the process. He was there alright. Christians brought Him to school with them. He didn't leave those children alone for one second. He was there.
The unfortunate thing is we've been repeating this line of rhetoric in response to the questions coming from thousands and thousands of those who don't know Christ. That question of course is, "Where was God in this?" How arrogant, snarky, and downright disingenuous for Christ followers to then turn and say, "You kicked Him out!" The blame for what took place in Newtown and the blame for the evil in this world falls mainly on only one's shoulders and that's Satan himself. Evil is evil and we live in a fallen world. Sometimes we'd rather find a group to blame for things, but sometimes the blame game has to stop. Paul said we don't fight against flesh and blood. Only when we'll quit trying to pin massacres and events on individuals will we realize that the problem is bigger than a demographic or interest group. The problem is culture. The problem is spiritual. The problem is us.
Let's be honest. We have indeed limited God's influence in our culture in that we've made employee led prayers at school illegal and we're currently having to fight to keep manger scenes and the like set up in public squares. There's no doubt that there is a push to eliminate God's influence in America, but let's remember our Bibles and what we preach and claim. He can't be defeated or run out. We paint a picture of a God wounded, with head down, dragging His feet as another mayor or city council tells Him to leave. This isn't a Disney movie. The rules may be changing, but no one can kick God out of anything. He resides in me and you. When I show the love of Christ, I've taken God with me and put Him on display. When our churches reach the lost, feed the hungry, heal the sick, bind up the broken, cry with the hurting, and work to bring the sight to the blind, God is on display. Our students take God to school with them everyday. When they run their Bible Clubs, Prayer Clubs, and See Ya At The Pole's, God is at school. When a student prays before a meal, God is there. When a student witnesses for Christ, He's there. God isn't a damsel in distress. He's alive and powerful. We are His tabernacle. He lives in us.
Should prayer be reinstated? It sounds great to me, but I'm convinced most wouldn't be for it and I'm talking about Christians. We can't act as if Christianity is so united right now that those "darn Liberals" are holding us back. The truth is Christianity is divided. It's why one church won't let their kids go to another church's VBS or youth camp because they're afraid they may learn something different than what they're being indoctrinated into. It's the reason some churches won't support a Bible elective in schools where it's legal because they're afraid some other theory or doctrine besides their own may be taught. It's the reason some won't participate in a collective group of other pastors and ministers because we hold our own individual doctrines higher than the call to dwell together in love and unity. No, we're not nearly as unified as we think.
An argument could easily be made that the "they" some Christians are pointing to in regards to "removing" God from America are actually less at fault than the Christians themselves. The church must understand that we've sought to separate ourselves from the world for so long that the salt lost its saltiness and the light has become dim. There's enough blame to go around if we want to talk about why the influence of God is becoming extinct in our American culture. And if we want to stop that, the answer lies in evangelizing and reaching the lost generations of 35-40 and under. With only around 4% based on many surveys actually involved in church, those "liberals" we keep pointing to are our own sons and daughters who we've lost in the church. We need to reconsider our stand and our rhetoric here. It may seem cool and may make you feel proud because you clicked "share" on a picture, but theologically you couldn't be more wrong. Evil was happening long before a judge's ruling in 1963. The answer is for the church to change culture instead of culture changing the church.
2. "Guns don't kill people. People kill people."
Yes they do. People do kill people. And a good portion of the time they use guns. We have to be aware of what's happening. This year alone, there have been four mass shootings that made news. These don't include the everyday shootings that take place absent national news coverage. America is changing and it's not all for the good. The quote above is simply rhetorical and a little embarrassing. I don't think anyone would ever claim that a gun on its own would ever take aim and shoot someone. We're all aware that a gun has to be fired by a person to kill someone thereby making the person the perpetrator, not the gun. And that of course is true. But knowing that fact doesn't necessitate innocence or a need to ignore the method of choice. Some say that cars kill people, but we don't outlaw cars. And we don't. But we do have a ton of restrictions and regulations on them. Drugs don't kill people, but if a person takes them they will. No inanimate object can kill on its own. It always needs the assistance of people and people are unfortunately all to willing to lend a hand.
We have to be clear. A gun is an inanimate object. It can do nothing on its own. Guns are used every day for very good things. Law Enforcement protect our cities with them. Our military protects our nation with them. Law abiding citizens hunt with them and enjoy recreational shooting at ranges and so forth. Good law abiding citizens keep them in their homes for protection against criminals. The gun itself isn't the problem. As long as they are being made, there absolutely must be a way for law abiding citizens to possess them if they so desire. Taking them from law abiding citizens will only make them sitting ducks for those in our country who don't respect the law or life. I personally think there's room for discussion in regards to what kinds of firearms should be made available, but that's another discussion.
Having said all that, we can't ignore the trends and the increase in gun violence. We can't ignore the fact that four young men under the age of 30 all decided to obtain guns, some illegally, to commit heinous acts of violence and mass destruction just this year. We can't ignore the fact that there exists loop holes in gun buying where across the country people can buy guns at gun shows without having to submit to a background check. We can't ignore the fact that if a person is old enough and at the time of purchase has yet to commit a crime, he or she can buy a gun from Wal-Mart with a one time check. We can't ignore the fact that the bad guys are carrying the same, if not more powerful, weaponry as the good guys.
We have a culture that glorifies violence from video games to Hollywood. With technology advancing as it has, situations of war, revolutions, and gang and street violence are commonplace and are at the fingertips of Americans every day. We have to make the connection that when culture glorifies something and then makes the means of literally recreating it to be attainable, we will see violence and terrible things recreated before our eyes. Our streets and schools will become "Level 9" and individuals, precious lives, will become avatars in the way of achievement. To restrict guns without looking at the violence we're pushing as a nation is irresponsible. Yet, if we can find a way to put stricter laws in place that might save lives all the while maintaining the ability for law abiding citizens to bear arms, shouldn't we pursue it?
The Second Amendment does give us rights to bear arms and many stand behind it in claiming little to no restrictions be added in the wake of the Newtown shooting. The problem with that though is understanding the Second Amendment. There are some things that are very clear from the start. Washington, Adams, and Jefferson didn't envision nuclear weapons, semi-automatic weapons, and invisible camo. No doubt, as the forefathers planned the laws for the nation's initial existence, they couldn't help but remember the French and Indian War along with the Revolutionary War. Everyone should be allowed to have a musket to protect themselves and to overthrow the government if it ever got to where the government no longer allowed freedom and representation. Fast forward 200 plus years and the thought that we need to be collecting weapons for the possibility of having to overthrow DC is preposterous if not paranoid. No home arsenal or militia could hope to overthrow the most powerful military in the world. I think we have to be willing to reinterpret some things in our American past. Christians recognize the need to read some things in the Bible through a cultural spectrum (i.e. women should remain silent in church). If we can read God's Word culturally, we should give ourselves the same permission to do so with man made documents. The truth is the Second Amendment more so than anything gives a guarantee that an individual can try to protect himself and his family from intruders. I think we have to find a way to protect that basic right while exploring options to make it a little more strenuous for the bad guys to get the same weapons. Those possibilities are for another discussion, but I would just hope that law abiding citizens who love life and freedom would be open to consider any and all possibilities to protect the lives of innocents while maintaining the ability to own firearms if so desired.
3. "More guns in the right hands will solve the problem."
I've never known more of a problem to create a solution to a problem. In a perfect world, there's a John Wayne or a Teddy Roosevelt waiting around the corner of every bad situation just ready to come in guns blazing to save the day. The bad guy will be killed or at least captured and everyone else goes home unscathed. That's unfortunately more the exception than the norm. Some have proposed that teachers and officials should be armed and that would fix the issue. I can't help but think we may be arming ourselves in preparation for what will be a war before we know it. Have we considered the possibility that someone who wants to kill will kill anyway? Have we considered the possibility that a person who wants to kill will understand that in order to do so, he will have to go into the school with guns blazing thus causing a fire fight? The issue with arming teachers and staff also is one that speaks to an individual's rights. There are plenty of individuals who choose not to own firearms or want much to do with them. Creating a requirement to own and operate a firearm for those wanting to teach or administrate our children is a stretch of governmental authority and power.
In the wake of the shooting, many have pointed to another alternative. What if police were hired to work in the schools? This is probably a solution most everyone could find common ground with. The issue becomes pay. Teachers are already underpaid due to budget constraints. Adding payroll when payroll isn't available isn't practical. It's here that we see another glimpse of the reality that the issue is a little bigger than just giving guns to law abiding citizens and/or security and calling it a day.
Culturally, we're setting ourselves up for more violence. Economically, we're setting ourselves up for an inability to compensate and protect ourselves with trained individuals. Emotionally, the walls of innocence and safety are collapsing around us everyday. To even consider that my home elementary school would have had to have armed guards carrying assault weapons walking around the halls is an image I can't even fathom. The innate security that children should feel is evaporating. Children are being made to grow up so much faster than they should ever have to. They are being made to leave the world of imagination that as adults we wish sometimes to retreat to. Instead, children are having to take care of their siblings, feed themselves, parent themselves, and never experience the wonder of childhood. We have to make sure we're not making decisions to benefit our adult ways while unintentionally destroying the world of a child. Spiritually, we're bankrupt. We're out for ourselves. We're unaware of what our wants cost others. We're unaware of what our conveniences, pleasures, and even "rights" cost others. Spiritually, we bounce from one church to another, one belief system to another, individualism to spiritualism without thinking, all in search of a belief and a stance that allows us to be, do, and live the way we desire.
We have to make practical changes for sure, but if Newtown was anything, it was also a sign of a spiritual war taking place. It's a war that the church must engage in. It's a war for our communities. It's a war for our children and our families. It's a war against evil. Government can't legislate morality. There will be no law that can be passed that will even remotely make the possibility of this monstrosity from happening again. Evil will be evil and those who desire to kill, will find a way to kill. The laws however do serve as boundaries and/or deterrents. They serve as safeguards for law abiding citizens, and they should serve as aggravations, deterrents, and restrictions for those who will seek to break the law. Simply doing nothing due to the fact that people will always disobey laws is an admittance of anarchy and proverbial throwing in the towel. But we can't wait on government. In fact, we can't even hope in government. Whatever it will do may or may not help. But what will help is a spiritual change and that is something the government can't produce. This is the job of the church.
Together, we can make a difference. We can make our children feel safe. We can turn our attention to our families. The church can focus more on community and family ministry rather than babysitting the enabled of Christian society. Instead of enabling church members to do nothing, we must begin equipping the saints for ministry. It's not going to be an easy task, but our real problem is more spiritual than anything. It won't change overnight. It might not change in weeks, months, or years, but Christ was clear that the church was to be a bright light on a hill. Right now, right or wrong, many Americans are hurting and seeking answers. We can choose to be pomp and prideful and spew our rhetoric about Constitutional opinions and historical ideas or we can choose to meet people where they are, cognizant of how we got here, but realizing the mission and the opportunity.
May our prayers continue to be sincere, heartfelt, and repeated for those in Newtown. May our prayers and efforts be concerted in the saving of our children and our families. May we embrace the opportunity to minister and be the hands and feet of Christ. May we remember we're Christians first.