by Eugene Taylor Sutton
The morning after the Las Vegas murders a sidewalk chalk board sign at my local coffee shop read, “GOD HELP US!”
God help us, yes. But is that a prayer of hope, or a lament of despair? Because after tragedies of mass suffering the question in many peoples’ minds is, “Where is God in all this? How could God have allowed this to happen? Where is God now?
God’s where he’s always been; everywhere where love, compassion and justice reside. God’s in our heart moving us with compassion, and God’s with all the victims of senseless violence in a special way.
God’s also the one moving us to act! God doesn’t merely comfort us. God also challenges us to do more for peace and justice than we think possible. But who wants to be challenged if it’s uncomfortable, or causes us to change our minds about some things, or if you’re a public servant, the challenge by God isn’t the politically safe thing to do?
In the Hebrew scriptures, the Book of Deuteronomy, God says, “Behold, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live.”
God is telling us that we have a choice to make: life or death. To choose life means STOP CHOOSING DEATH – and all the instruments of mass death that we’ve come to love so dearly.
In the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus is betrayed and arrested we read, “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 perish by the sword.’”
What would Jesus say about automatic assault weapons? He would say, “Put them away. They have no place in a society committed to a common good; committed to shared values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They have no place in God’s desire for how we should live.”
If such a command of Jesus sounds unrealistic to you, it’s because we’ve done a poor job teaching the principles of nonviolence. Many fear that our culture will never do this because we’ve become intoxicated with violence as the only effective means to achieve our personal and national aspirations.
We’ve worshiped for too long at the altar of the gun to solve our problems. This has led to a “mythology of violence”; namely, the widely held belief that violence works and nonviolence is a pipe dream for idealists who don’t know how the world really operates.
As Christians, as followers of Christ, we’re called to teach peace as well as to practice peace, which means we have to continually re-learn the ways of peace in a culture that’s awash in violence. We must repent, both individually and collectively, for our idolatrous attachment to guns and other weapons that kill masses of people in only seconds.
Where is God in all this? God’s the one pushing us right now to act. God’s not to blame for our violent culture; we are! And we need to take personal and social responsibility for fixing the problem of gun violence that we’ve created.
Just as God moved religious leaders in this country to put pressure on the political system to end slavery, segregation and injustice, so he’s moving us today to demand action from our politicians to reduce gun violence.
Changing laws isn’t going to end every act of gun violence. Yes, there are many causes for this epidemic. But we know that arming everyone with more and more deadly weapons will not reduce mass shootings. That’s not good policy; that’s insanity! Arming everyone to the teeth will only increase our death spiral into lethal madness.
Banning private ownership of all military style assault weapons and large capacity magazines is a good start.
Politicians beholden to the gun lobby will try to dissuade you from advocating for common sense legal remedies. They’ll criticize you for “doing politics in the name of the religion,” just as those opposed to God’s values have criticized the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, Christian abolitionists, leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, and those who continually push for the rights of every human being. Don’t fall for tactics that try to prevent you from acting on your religious beliefs.
They’ll try to make you afraid to speak out. Fear is ruling our country. But more than 300 times in the Bible we read the divine call for us to not be afraid. We have a God who tells us, and lived with us to show us, that love is stronger than death.
God is love, the scriptures tell us. God is life. Let’s stop choosing death. Choose life!
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and co-convenor of the Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of more than 70 Episcopal bishops in the United States, Latin American and Europe.