Much work needed to change violent culture
Among us are school teachers, military officers, miners and loggers. Now we are area clergy affiliated with five different Christian denominations. Believing that our religious traditions can and should inform the moral issues of the day, we would like to comment on the debate on guns and violence that has intensified since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December.
We live in a culture that includes and sometimes glorifies violence. Most of us enjoy participating in various aspects of that culture in legal and responsible ways, whether it’s possession and use of firearms for hunting and target shooting, or entertaining ourselves with movies, television or video games.
The most popular sport in this country is professional football, a sport of grace and athleticism on the one hand, but also a sport of hard hitting violence that is celebrated by players and fans alike. All of this is part of who we are.
Unfortunately, mass shootings and the highest number of gun-related homicides of any country in the world have become an unwanted byproduct of this violent culture.
There is no one reason for this, but whatever the reasons, a disproportionate number of deaths by guns has become the reality in the United States.
The question then becomes, do we accept this as just being the way things are and wait for the next shooting, hoping it doesn’t happen too close to home, or do we begin the hard work of changing the culture?
The issue before us isn’t about pointing fingers and assessing blame. It is about working together to build a society based not on fear, but on spiritual, moral and ethical principles that respect individual conscience and also promote the common good. From a biblical perspective, social issues should be framed not as questions of “What do I get to do?” but “What do we owe God and the neighbor?” Biblical freedom is not freedom to do whatever I want. It is freedom for and in service to the wider community.
As Christians our sacred text is the Bible. The Bible itself contains troubling texts that include and even seem to approve of violence. People of faith must struggle with this. We can’t ignore such texts, but still the New Testament teachings of Jesus are clear on compassion, justice and non-violence.
These teachings are not unique to Jesus; they echo those of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah with his vision of the peaceable kingdom, the wolf living with the lamb, the calf and the lion together. Surely these passages are closer to the center of the Bible’s message for us.
We are not naive; we know that there is no solution available that will quickly and dramatically change things. However, that is not an excuse to do nothing.
We believe that steps can be taken that will begin to change the culture without violating first or second amendment rights neither of which represents unregulated freedom without limits. No individual right is absolute. Free speech doesn’t include hate speech and bullying, it doesn’t include shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or trafficking in child pornography. Similarly, the right to bear arms includes limits and regulations.
Some would suggest that enforcing the regulations that are already in place would be sufficient, but for the well being of all, it seems reasonable to also support legislation like that currently being discussed.
We support legislation that would ensure background checks on all gun sales in both private and retail venues, a ban on high capacity, military style assault weapons and increased mental health screening for anyone purchasing a handgun or rifle.
Changing these or other laws does not represent a complete solution to a complex social problem, but it does represent a step. We join Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in saying, “Enough.” For the sake of our children and grandchildren we can’t lose hope that over time meaningful change in the culture is possible while still protecting the rights of law abiding citizens.
It starts with a vision like that of Isaiah. Let us begin the work of being the people and the culture that God would have us be.
Editor’s note: The Rev. Warren Geier is pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming. He can be reached at 486-4351 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The following area clergypersons have endorsed this opinion: Rev. Terry Cathcart, Rev. Dave Van Kley, Rev. Allan Johnson, Rev. Jon Magnuson, Rev. Chrys Levesque Hendrick, Rev. Tamra Harder, Rev. Douglas Norquist, Rev. Amanda Kossow, Rev. Karen Hinz and Rev. Lauri Maki.