As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” … “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18)
I don’t usually comment on all current events—there are plenty of opinionators out there who think they have something to say about every issue. Often they are just interested in keeping people aflame about issues important to them, so they appeal to the passions and rarely offer well thought out solutions.
The recent murders of the children and their teachers in Texas and the grocery shoppers in New York fills my heart with pain and sorrow, and I know my emotional response is shared by many in this country, but it does little for solving the problems that lead to these gun murders. I don’t have a practical or easy solution to this either. Yet, I do think Americans and Christian Americans ought to think about the issue and support ideas that might help prevent such murders in the future. The passage above from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans ought to raise some concerns for us. The issue is not the sins of ‘others’—the mentally ill or ideologues, extremists and terrorists—but our own sins. As St Paul says we have “feet swift to shed blood” destruction and misery are in OUR ways. Gun owners seem to assume more guns are the answer which only contributes all the more to the sin of having “feet swift to shed blood.” The gun deaths of innocent children and shoppers which happens way too often in America are self-inflicted gunshot wounds because we refuse to come up with solutions to the problems. We seem to have accepted that our ‘right to bear arms’ means a certain number of our children and citizens will have to be murdered by guns each year. The price of our freedom is the murder of our children. It is a price too high to pay for such a freedom in my mind. But, as I already confessed, I don’t have the solution, which should cause me to repent of my failures. It is what America needs to do –repent of our inability and unwillingness to do what it takes to protect our children. All the sorrow and handwringing we do won’t change what is happening daily in our country.
In 860AD the head bishop of the Christians in Constantinople, Photios, had to address his congregants after the city had been besieged by the marauding Rus who mercilessly attacked the city’s outskirts slaughtering the inhabitants. There were plenty of tears and lamentations in Constantinople by the residents who lived in dread behind the impenetrable walls of the city. But Photios notes all their tears cannot change what happened and do nothing for the victims of the slaughter. Photios preached:
“I do not see now any benefit even in the shedding of tears. For when before our eyes the enemy’s swords are drenched in the blood of our fellow-countrymen, and we, as we behold this, do not take it upon ourselves to help, as we ought to, being at a loss what to do, but instead collapse in tears, — what kind of consolation is this for the victims? Even more copious streams than the tears welling from our eyelids might the blood of the severed bodies have prompted, but since the gory flood that flows therefrom cannot wipe off the pollution of our transgressions, how can the rivers of our eyes wash it clean? It is not now, my beloved ones, that we ought to weep, but we should have hated sin from the start; not mourn now, but have formerly avoided the pleasures which have caused us this sorrow. It is as though we had delivered ourselves into bondage to cruel masters and were unwilling to bear the torture of the whip, if, having given ourselves over to the wicked deeds, we were to beg off the punishment which God’s righteous judgment inflicts on us. . . . Not to attend vigils, now, and run to litanies, and beat the breast, and sigh deeply, and raise the arms, and bend the knees, and weep mournfully, and looked dejected, when the pricks of death are sharpened against us: we should have done these things long ago, we should have long ago devoted ourselves to good works, we should have long ago repented over our evil ones.” (THE HOMILIES OF PHOTIUS PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, pp 85-86)
Yes, Photios says people are flocking to Church and offering prayers and appeals to God for mercy, which is appropriate, but it changes nothing. The OCA’s Metropolitan and the company which manufactured the guns which killed the school children and teachers in Texas, both have posted sentiments to pray for the victims and their families. None of those prayers can undo the evil already done and none will change the direction of our country. Photios in the 9th Century tells the people the problem is they should have long before the current events occurred turned to God in repentance and thought about their own sins and faults and how that contributes to the problems of their society. Lamenting over the deaths of the victims and the suffering of their families cannot change what happened and brings no comfort to the victims of violence or their families. However, they can begin to look at themselves and make the changes necessary to prevent these events from happening in the future. Now is the time to do the hard work to make the necessary and even painful changes so we don’t invite more vileness and violence on ourselves.
Photios doesn’t fault the Rus for attacking – he faults the Chrisitan population for not taking their own failures seriously and making the changes needed to assure themselves a more peaceful existence and to prevent more violence from ripping their lives apart. There are changes we need to make in America regarding guns and violence. Are we now willing to do the hard work to make those changes or will the two major political parties simply retreat into their corners and snipe at each other trying to put blame on the ‘other side’ rather than doing the hard work of finding and supporting changes in law and policy that can change our culture? Maybe the time comes to vote out of office any politician who says they will not listen to ideas of the “other” political party because our politicians are supposed to represent not just those who voted for them but all the people who live in their districts. We need politicians who are willing to work together to solve problems, not become problems by being entrenched in their own ideas.
Blaming the ‘mentally ill’ for gun violence may make sense to some, but mental illness exists in every human population and yet it takes a particularly violent form in America. Maybe we need to look at why this is so—what is it about our culture and our sense of ‘freedom’ that yields gun violence and gun murders. It seems to be a particularly American problem. My thoughts are only that the politicians of this country need to lay down their own differences and work hard to find some solution to these particularly American issues of violence. Because of the 2nd Amendment it will require American ingenuity and a particularly American solution.
And for Christians who mistakenly believe that more gun ownership is a godly solution, I would say read St Paul’s words:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put on the complete armor of God, so that you may be able to resist the devil’s tactics. Truly, our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness and against the evil spiritual forces of the supernatural realms. Therefore, put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to resist when the evil day comes. Having accomplished all things, may you stand your ground! Yes, stand [firm], having the belt of truth around your waist, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having fitted shoes on your feet so as to be ready in the Good News of peace. Above all, take up the shield of faith which will enable you to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word [spoken] by God. (Ephesians 5:10-17)
St Paul’s words about the armor of God is all about spiritual warfare; it is not about using guns or weapons of death and destruction. The battle he sees Christians waging is against spiritual powers. The only weapon he advocates is “the sword of the Spirit which is the word spoken by God.” The above words really are St Paul’s ‘stand your ground’ speech but he only refers to a spiritual battle, not the storing up of guns, ammunition and weapons in the face of a hostile world (and his world was very hostile to Christians). We are to be people who look for the way of peace and to endeavor to fight the spiritual warfare that might change our hearts and minds. Again, St Paul writes: “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
Some might object, but are we therefore to sit around and let people shoot and murder us while not defending ourselves and our families and loved ones? I think we do have very difficult choices to make including violating God’s command that we not kill. I just don’t think we ought to consider killing our only or first way to deal with violence. St Paul identified Death as God’s final enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). We shouldn’t be relying on death, God’s enemy, to solve our problems. We need to be working now on other societal changes and solutions that might prevent future murders or future reliance on death to solve problems. I don’t know what those changes are, but let’s return to American ingenuity to find some. I’m hopeful that the issue isn’t that we tried and failed. I think the issue is we haven’t even begun to do the hard work to find the changes and solutions that can make a difference. If there were easy solutions, I’m sure they would have been found and implemented already. Now we have to roll up our sleeves and labor together to uncover possible solutions to these terrible problems. And we have to repent of our failures up to this point to find solutions because we allowed ourselves to become entrenched in and blinded by our favored ideologies. Our enemies are not those with whom we politically disagree, but rather any who refuse to work together for a solution to our shared American problems.
Although this post is already too long, I saw the following comments about guns in America from NPR:
“Children are more likely to die from gun violence in the United States than in any other rich nation. Consider these two facts alone:
- A study of 29 countries found that the U.S. accounted for almost 97% of all firearm deaths among kids 4 years old or younger — and 92% among those ages 5 to 14.
- In 2020, gun violence overtook car accidents as the No. 1 cause of death for American kids and adolescents. And while overall firearm-related deaths increased 13.5% between 2019 and 2020, they surged a staggering 30% among children.
One of the main contributing factors in that astounding toll lies in another figure: the sheer amount of guns in the country. While the U.S. makes up just 4% of the global population, Americans own nearly 46% of the world’s estimated 857 million civilian-held firearms.”
Personally, I don’t see the ever-increasing number of guns in America as making people feel more secure. Just the contrary, I see paranoia and anxiety increasing in our country – two factors which take away from our sense of freedom, security and safety and add to the mental problems of our society. We need to consider St Paul’s words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That is the daunting task we face as Christians in our society.