BY STEPHEN DUNN
Like many people, my attention has focused this past week on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown CN and the need to address the escalating violence in the American society. In LIFE MATTERS and through my Facebook ® page I have shared several posts from others and made my own comments. I also entered into a thread of debate stemming from comments by another pastor friend that took a strong stand against the NRA and those whose love of their Second Amendment rights appear to be thwarting any significant attempts to deal with this gun violence. The results were to be drawn deeper and deeper into the vortex of individual rights to own guns, debates over whether our gun laws are really the problems, nit-picking over the details about guns, and then the darker issues of the extreme left’s hatred of the right, and the right wing’s deep suspicion and fear over President Obama and his political agenda for America. I found some helpful insights regarding how we deal with mentally ill persons in this country, but those things were often drowned out by more comments by what I can only term as “gun worship.”
I have spent this last week with my daughter and son-in-law and 4 ½ year old grandson. And you need to know that many, many parents—many of whom sit in the political center of this nation—are fearful for the threat to their children, and absolutely frustrated by the fanaticism and intransigence that seems to define both the debate and any attempt at a meaningful solution of the simple problem of gun violence perpetrated on children and innocents both in schools and public places by mentally imbalanced persons who have easy access to whole arsenals of weapons and ammunition. And they are deeply concerned of the impact of this violent culture upon the well-being (physical, emotional and spiritual) of their children.
So hear me plainly … this is not a time for fanaticism or intransigence. Whether it comes from the left or the right, this is not the time.
It is time to reframe the discussion.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, my concern is that we address this issue with a clear perspective of the heart of this matter. And the heart of this matter is, how will we protect the innocent—our children, the weak, the defenseless—in this nation from this escalating spiral of violence.
In the Old Testament we hear clearly about God’s perspective towards children and others who are innocent and vulnerable. “ A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5) In Isaiah 1 we are told that God’s judgment against Judah comes in particular because she has not protected the children, the widows, the defenseless. This was equated with idolatry.
After the massive outrage perpetrated by Herod, commonly called, “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” Matthew records, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
And then we have the words of Jesus himself, in Matthew 18:14 – “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
These innocents should not be the collateral damage to a political debate or a culture war. As a Christian, this is precisely the oppression and injustice for which the Prophets condemned Israel and was at the heart of Christ’s judgment against those who claim to belong to Him when they appear before the King in Matthew 25.
Clearly we must approach the whole issue of how we deal with persons with mental illness in this country. Our pushing them into the streets or leaving them entirely to parents who are often older and overwhelmed is not acceptable.
This means that our healthcare system must stop trying to negate benefits for such treatment and care, and governments must also help provide programs and treatment for such persons.
This means that we must stop making weapons with such firepower so easily accessible to people that such persons can have almost unfettered access to those weapons. Background checks and waiting periods clearly have proven insufficient.
This means we must protect our schools. I am not proposing arming teachers nor do I believe that encouraging our citizenry to be self-appointed law enforcement because they are armed is a solution. Only persons properly trained (including how to be in these settings with impressionable children) and authorized by the government (who scripturally I believe to be the persons responsible to restrain the lawbreakers, e.g. Romans 13) should be given these jobs.
But this is just dealing with this at one level. Since our frontier days we have been a “wild west” people for whom guns are a right and an obsession. When the Founding Fathers adopted the Second Amendment, the “arms” they protected were single-shot guns and not all that accurate. None of them could have envisioned what our human ingenuity or perversity would manufacture. Our culture’s worship of the gun is legendary across this planet. It is not a healthy legacy.
We need to address the proliferation of violent games and entertainment. We must address the excesses of violence in our sports culture.
Many of my biblically conservative friends correctly say that laws do not change people, a change of heart is what changes them. Our world will never be “right” until its inhabitants are right with God. But too often this is simply used as one more slogan in a political campaign or culture war instead of being translated into serving as God’s agents of reconciliation in this fallen world. And some of my more darkly conservative friends have come to believe that they are called to possess the guns themselves so they can be agents of God’s justice in an immoral society. I found no such justification in God’s Word.
And too many people on the other side of these issues, mock or thwart any attempt to let the values of the ultimate peacemaker, the Prince of Peace have a seat at the table or a place in the schools or an unfettered hearing in the public arena. The violence in our culture is a deeply spiritual matter and will never be solved by increasingly secularizing our society or making religion so inoffensive as to be unprophetic and unauthoritative.
The time has come to change the debate from rights and political philosophies to what has violence done to our society and what are we going to do to combat its effects—especially on the innocent.
In the mean time we must take steps, albeit small and sometimes difficult to protect the innocents. Our children, who are our future, absolutely need it.
It is time to reframe the debate.
© 2012 by Stephen L Dunn