Thoughts and prayers…
15. That is how many school shootings we have had so far in the first three months of 2023.
16. That’s how many fatalities there have been this year.
18. That is the number of people injured.
51. That’s how many school shootings there were last year.
141. That is the number of dead and injured last year.
In the last 10 years there have been 15 mass shootings with 10 or more people killed in this country. ALL of them involved semi-automatic weapons. There were only 6 in the previous decade, and 6 in the 20 years before that. Every single one of these tragedies involved a semi-automatic weapon of some kind.
Most of the guns used in these mass murders were purchased legally. Some were gifts. Most of the mass murderers were young White men. Many had come from Christian homes. Some were acting out against the strictures of the Christianity they were raised in. Others as an expression of it. All were enabled by the easy access to high-capacity assault-style weapons designed for the military or police.
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:50b-52)
It is not lost on me that the religious right has made the ownership of guns a part of their doctrine. There are churches here in town that boldly post notices on their front doors that say they are armed and willing to use their weapons. This week I learned that this is now being called the Militia Church Movement. Many of these proudly packing parishes are also preaching some version of a White Christian Nationalism that is now defining Christianity in general in the minds of so many.
Sadly, there is a direct connect between the decline in church membership and involvement and the rise of these White Christian Nationalist Militia Churches. And the legislators who are a part of these churches (all of which profess a literal interpretation of the Bible) conveniently ignore the words of Jesus in his final days when he said to his followers, “all who live by the sword will die by the sword.” They would rather adhere to the gun lobby manifesto that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” They would rather protect their proudly packing constituents as they prep for the future apocalypse then protect the lives of the unarmed innocents today. This is a theology of violence, of vengeance and not one of peace and love. It is a kind of theological nihilism that I really can't comprehend.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we have an opportunity to reflect upon what it means for us to be a Just Peace Congregation in the face of this theology of violence. Our Just Peace statement says, “We seek to keep the vision of shalom central to our corporate and individual lives, working to deepen our understanding of the many dimensions of peace and justice in our time. Through our worship, programs, and outreach, we seek to be a community of reconciliation, hope, and courage, as we work and pray for peace and justice in our world.”
I wonder what actions our reflections might inspire as we face down the nihilism that surrounds us? I wonder how we might bear witness to the God of Love and inclusion who asks us to beat our swords into plowshares? I wonder how we will be a voice in the public square that offers an alternative vision from the one being offered by the Militia Churches? I wonder if we will choose the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection once again, even when to claim that we follow Jesus is to put ourselves in the cross hairs of both rejection and an assault weapon.
I, for one, will proudly proclaim the God of Love embodied in Jesus the Christ. I will claim the journey from Palm Sunday to Easter with all of its terror and sadness, because I have lived the joy and grace of resurrection as a follower of the Jesus Way.
I pray that your journey through Holy Week will renew your heart and call you to recommit yourself to the Prince of Peace. The world needs us now, more than ever.