A terrible tragedy occurred in Arizona on January 8th. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down, struck in the head by a single bullet during the shooting rampage, which killed six people and injured 13, including the congresswoman. Her assailant was a 22 year old college dropout named Jared Lee Loughner. It appears the shootings were politically motivated.

Eleven others were wounded in the shooting and six are dead, among them U.S. District Judge John Rolls, a friend of Giffords’ who had stopped by the event to say hello after attending Mass.  A 9-year-old girl also was killed.

This tragedy unleashed a torrent of vitriol from both sides of the political spectrum. Instead of people grieving over another example of the senseless violence that pervades our society and increasingly passes for political expression, pundits and prophets simply launched attacks on who to blame. No mourning for the victims, just another round of the incivilty that now marks much of American life.

A friend of mine, Ken Meyer, wrote in his blog Leader Focus:

“We’ll never escape the outbursts of random rage that leave beautiful, innocent people in pools of blood. When a politician or law enforcement official or community leader takes to the microphone and proclaims, “We must take the necessary actions that will assure our community that this will never happen again,” I wonder out loud if this expert knows any history. Deranged people do deranged things. They’ve been with us since Cain and Abel.

But make no mistake. This weekend in Tucson, the senseless murder and mayhem inflicted on a gathering of people meeting with the energetic, articulate Congresswoman and her guests trigger outrage in even the most calloused among us. Apparently, the crazed perpetrator of the crime was on a premeditated mission.”

Although Ken was writing about “Vitriol and Violence,” he (by his own admission, unleashed a little vitriol himself against the political right.) A few days later, he wrote:

“Righteous indignation can sometimes be confused with empty rant.

So today, a week later, I would prefer to take that high road. There was something noble, something truly American about the response of the people of Tucson to this tragedy. The innocent smile of the nine-year old Christina Taylor Green, the recitation of the First Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Giffords, an elderly husband shielding his wife, taking the bullets and saving her life at the expense of his own, a surgical team skillfully tending to terrible wounds; all of this and more unleashed a national civility that for the moment, melted partisan barriers, prompted a healthy national pause, toned down the heated rhetoric and reminded us of something that too often gets lost in the never-ending national debate. This young man’s assault on the Congresswoman and her friends was an assault the things we value most as a nation. And as a people, we rose to the occasion.” read more …

I commend Ken and others, who have chosen to take the high road in this tragedy.  My Christian faith teaches me that I should pray for victims and for the deranged.  All are in need of the grace and the help of Almighty God.

My faith also teaches me that violence begets violence.  Our society, in all of its dimensions, is severely damaged by our propensity towards violence – whether it be the violence of a gun or the violence of words. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus speaks very directly to this issue:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Too often were simply unleash our anger, our resentment, our self-righteousness in situations like these.  We are too prone to throw gasoline on a fire.  Is it any wonder that these actions and attitudes flare up to burn us all.

We are too quick to declare someone an enemy. Jesus tells us that we must love our enemies. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they think or approve all of their actions. But it does mean that I cannot permit my disagreement with them become an excuse to simply lash out at them, or worse, to dehumanize them by demonizing them.  President Obama’s appeal for civility in the aftermath of these tragedies is more than reasonable. Civility might even lead to something more powerful — like forgiveness and reconciliation.

Some other words from Jesus are appropriate here:  “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12.25)

Note from Steve: This should have been posted January 24, 2011. Hopefully better late than never.


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