By Stephen K. Reeves
What can I say that hasn’t been said before in response to a mass killing perpetrated by a white male armed with a high-powered, high-capacity, semi-automatic rifle?
I wish we were better than this but, evidently, we’re not. We have proved it time and again. We seem incapable of a rational response to address routine mass murder.
I’m a pragmatic idealist at heart, always willing to embrace practical progress that makes the world better. I have no desire to increase the rancor and division. I’m not interested in adding my two cents to the noise, but my conscience demands more than silence.
Thoughts and prayers. The phrase has almost become a punchline. It sounds so trite. Dismissive, even. Sadly, it seems to be the extent of our collective response to yet another mass shooting.
But, it’s true. I can’t get thoughts of the latest victims out of my head and my prayers have been constant, along with a heaviness on my chest and an uneasiness in my gut. My thoughts and prayers are indeed with the victims and their families. And for the soul of my country.
I believe America is being put to the test. All the sins of our past and present are manifest in this epidemic of evil and death. It feels as though the full force of history is bearing down upon us, handing us an impossible combination of all that we are unwilling to face and our systems too broken to address.
Again and again, we see the result of a dangerous mix of isolation, toxic masculinity, racism, nationalism, white supremacy, online extremism and a culture that glorifies violence. Certainly, the decline of healthy families, strong communities and a faith committed to following the Prince of Peace fuel these murders as well.
The shootings in El Paso and Dayton feel different. The El Paso shooter’s manifesto makes clear his motive. The language decries an “invasion.” (The irony that El Paso was in fact Mexico before it was the United States should not be lost on anyone who knows our history.) Such rhetoric is incompatible with imago dei and the Gospel itself. It is incumbent on white Christians to clearly and loudly denounce this dangerous racism and the policies it undergirds.
The shooting in Dayton shows just how efficiently lethal his weapon was designed to be.
When a shooter kills 9 and wounds 27 in 30 seconds, the type of weapon and amount of ammunition it can hold matters. The good guys with guns showed up with lethal force in less than a minute but incomprehensible damage was already done.
Other countries have the same violent video games. Other countries have the same violent movies. Other countries have mental illness. What they don’t have is millions and millions of guns and easy access to semi-automatic military-style rifles. Few countries have as many committed, self-professed, church-going Christians as the US, yet no country has even a fraction of the mass shootings we do. America is exceptional, alright. An outlier in our willingness to accept mass casualties and uniquely unwilling, ill-equipped and unable to end the carnage.
I’m a gun owner from Texas who enjoys bird hunting. I’m familiar with and sympathetic to the feelings of fellow gun owners. But how many deaths are needed before we consider pro-gun policies a public safety failure? There is a wide gulf between taking away all guns and reasonable measures supported by the majority of citizens like universal background checks and more limits on powerful military-style rifles. For those who refuse to believe guns are part of the problem, what will it take for you to reconsider? If no evidence will change your mind, have you made an idol of the gun?
This moment feels different, will our response be? Will your thoughts and prayers lead to self-reflection and action? It is hard not to give in to cynicism. But cynicism leads to a paralysis that supports the status quo.
I fear that changing the situation will take more from America than we can muster right now. But my faith and ultimate allegiance belongs to the One who has overcome death already. Today I pray for His mercy and plead for another undeserved miracle. It feels that is what it will take for us to act.
Stephen K. Reeves serves as Associate Coordinator of Partnerships and Advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.