Bishop of Nevada Dan Edwards has written a Pastoral Letter on the Sparks Middle School shooting on his “Bishop Dan’s Blog“. Here is an excerpt:
Back when I was teaching religion to law students, I read something theologically profound in a law review article by a great legal scholar, Robert Cover. He said, “Violence is always an act of despair.” That statement has stuck in my mind for nearly 20 years. “Violence is always an act of despair.” All of the things we really want we get from loving relationships. We want respect, kindness, understanding. We want to be heard and held. Everything we truly desire is a fruit of communion. It happens in mutual, caring, appreciative relationships. It is only when we despair of ever having what we truly long for that we resort to violence to get something less, something that will never satisfy. So yes, “violence is always an act of despair.” Nothing could be more explicitly despairing than a murder-suicide.
Despair is giving up on ourselves, giving up on each other, and giving up on God. Violence is despair in action. I don’t know the details of what happened at Sparks Middle School. But I know this much: it was a single act of despair by a boy, who some say had been bullied. Whatever his pain was, it overflowed his capacity to hold it, so he poured it out on others. Such acts are committed in the context of a society of people who are giving up on themselves, each other, and God. It is a hard, hard thing for a teenager to live in hope while growing up in a hopeless society.
Some of my friends will be disappointed in me, but I am not going to politicize this tragedy. The Episcopal Church clearly supports reasonable restrictions on gun purchases, the same restrictions supported by the overwhelming majority of Nevadans, and a substantial majority of the rank-and-file of the NRA nationally. As a member of Bishops Against Gun Violence, I am on board with all of that. But laws and regulations — right, reasonable, and necessary as they may be — will not be nearly enough to prevent gun violence. There have been school shootings where better laws would have made a difference. But, at Sparks Middle School this week, I don’t know whether the law our legislature passed last session, had it not been vetoed, would have made any difference. So I make no political point.
Instead I make this spiritual point: When people despair of being loved — not just cared for, but being appreciated, respected, delighted in, and rejoiced over — when we lose faith in our own loveliness and the capacity of others to enjoy us, then we compensate with fantasies of violence. We imagine ourselves as armed heroes, which is a short step away from armed villains. We shift our hope from the power of love to the power of violence. That, brothers and sisters, is a spiritual issue, a moral lapse, a failure of faith, hope, and love. It is the fundamental corruption of the soul. It corrupts the soul of the individual and it corrupts the soul of the nation. The first province of the Church is to address that spiritual issue, that moral lapse, that failure of faith, hope, and love.
So I call on each of our congregations and on each Church member, to pray this week for the victims of the Sparks Middle School shooting – the wounded and the dead, the frightened and the bereaved. And I ask you to pray for the Church, not that we will grow in numbers and institutional vitality, but that we will set aside all trivialities, all self-will, all distractions in order to fully embrace God’s mission. Do more than pray. Think and talk and plan about what you can do to share God’s love with the folks outside our Church walls who need Christ’s love so desperately. How can we tell the story of redemption? How can we prove by our own actions that it is true?