An Evangelist is someone who brings a message of good news. This is the opposite of that.
Gun violence and mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas are not going away. We can’t even call them the new norm anymore. They’re just the norm. And the norm is increasing gun violence.
President Obama famously noted that we have a routine for mass shootings and their aftermath. We hold vigils. We offer prayers. And we ultimately do nothing. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved one because of our inaction,” he said two years ago after Roseburg.
Guns are the true American idols. We worship them. We grant them salvific powers. We credit them for our nation’s existence. We treat one gun law as untouchable and sacred while calling any other gun law pure evil.
Identifying the idolatry of guns in America is part of the healing in the sense that step 1 of 12 is to admit you have a problem. Sadly, we cannot even agree that we have a problem. Even if we were to agree that there is some problem, Congress won’t even allow the matter to be studied. We value our ignorant adherence to unfettered gun ownership more than basic truth. You can psycho-analyze this reality all you want, be forewarned that your head might begin spinning rapidly.
Idolatry, sadly, does not go away easily. When I think of idolatry, I think first to YHWH’s famous screed against it in Isaiah (44:12-17):
The ironsmith fashions it and works it over the coals, shaping it with hammers, and forging it with his strong arm; he becomes hungry and his strength fails, he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line, marks it out with a stylus, fashions it with planes, and marks it with a compass; he makes it in human form, with human beauty, to be set up in a shrine. He cuts down cedars or chooses a holm tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god!”
God must be having a really painful laugh at us Americans right now. Laughter over the absurd faith we put into our firearm culture. Painful, because God hurts over the pain of her children. And we are hurting.
Isaiah is not fully chronological. There are themes that weave throughout the book. In section 1, YHWH lays out the charges against the nation. “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made” (Is. 2:8). God later chides the people for trusting in chariots to save them when trouble arises (Is. 31:1).
I fear that this current generation will have to pass before the wisdom of peace will be known. I know that the money protecting our current lack of gun legislation is a mighty force. Presidents past and present have decided that taking on the gun lobby was either too tough or against their ideology. And it is well-known that mass shootings often lead to a spike in gun sales. I’ll never forget after Sandy Hook, going to my local Wal-Mart and seeing AR-15s on sale with a queue lined up. Rather than be abhorred by the slaughter of first graders…we chose to make money and double-down on our gun-worship.
That to me was the moment of truth. The funny thing about moments of truth is that they reveal the truth. President Obama wept openly. A panel led by VP Biden recommended many changes. Obama signed numerous executive orders but Congress ultimately could not pass any action. The NRA spent ~$800,000 lobbying Congress that year. It worked.
Now after Las Vegas, with far less concerned leadership at the federal level, the prospects of even a debate taking place seem slim. Surprisingly, there is some chatter in Congress this time. Joe Manchin says he will revive a previous effort with Pat Toomey. The bump stock ban seems to have some steam. (But, then there’s this.) I know that Wayne LaPierre practically lives at the US Capitol building. He’s certainly waving his checkbook at vulnerable Senators. I would welcome any progress…but I can’t bring myself to hold my breath.
What now then?
Basically, a weird thing Jesus said comes to mind. When asked about a recent tragedy where a tower fell on top of the builders, killing scores of people, Jesus simply responded with a call to righteousness (Luke 13:4-5).
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
None of the victims in Las Vegas deserved their fate. And it’s not like God picked a few to protect. They just got lucky. And it’s not like I can free myself from the fate of dying in an idiot’s hail of bullets. Rain falls on the just and unjust. So too does gun violence. What can I do given this atmosphere in which I live? Basically, all I can do is live as well as possible. Eliminate any regrets. Heal all broken relationships. Purge myself of all vices and fears. Love as fully as possible. Raise my kids well. Hold my wife tightly. Walk the woods a lot. Preach more boldly. Listen to people more carefully. That kind of thing.
Certainly, I can fight the lobby and call my representatives, etc. John Oliver is right about that. But I cannot ignore the immensity of that particular hill, either.
When someone gets a killer disease, they typically make a bucket list: things to do now that life is precious and fragile. Well, gun violence is a disease that is killing our society. As it stands, we’d rather die and let our neighbors be killed than to find another diety. The doctors with the power to heal are in bed with the disease makers. If they wake up, great. But you better have a contingency plan otherwise.