I've been largely staying away from online chatter around the mass shootings in El Paso + Dayton over the weekend. I've been following the news to keep myself informed, but the sadness I feel is so deep, I've needed to take long breaks between small bites of news.
I approach my work pastorally, meaning that my role in the lives of those I serve - which, I would argue, is both my local church and the world at large - is to name the activity of God, the invitation of God's Spirit in any given moment or circumstance. That's my goal with this post.
My words/thoughts are imperfect, but I offer them for you to consider with humility and grace. I'm deeply troubled by how the conversation unfolds in our culture after mass shootings. Not as troubled by the shootings themselves, but still deeply troubled.
I'm particularly troubled by those who call themselves Christian, but who in both words and attitude look no different from any other anxious, angry, partisan person in our culture. When we can no longer identify the Christians in a conversation, something is deeply wrong with our Christian witness in the culture we are called to love and serve.
So, here's my take on the whole thing (for now). I hope this helps.
What might God be inviting us (Jesus Followers) into in light of the current mass shootings? A few thoughts:
1. We live in a culture that prefers to see any given choice as binary. Right or Left. Black or White. Good or Bad. Our brains love binary thinking because we love simple thinking. We understand and process information that is simple and easy to take in. This can be helpful at times (Cheerios or Chex for breakfast), but when it comes to overwhelmingly divisive cultural issues (guns, abortion, etc.) it tends to not serve us well. Especially when the cultural narrative becomes more and more entrenched over the years, which I believe our conversation on guns and gun violence has become. We must resist the urge to see these complex issues as binary.
2. Most powerful people are powerful because they fall in one of two binary camps. They are either 1) Conservative or 2) Liberal. There is certainly some nuance there (I see you Libertarians and Progressives) but for the most part the dominant narratives you are hearing around guns and gun violence come from one of these two camps. The lines have been drawn, the sides have been fortified, and you must decide which side you are on. The only people who win in these situations are the people in charge, or really just the people in power. There is no room for creative or critical thinking in these narratives. you are either for us or against us. Full stop.
3. If you are a person of faith, particularly a Christian, you are invited to see and approach the world differently. There is no room for partisanship in the New Testament, and there is no room for partisanship in the Church. Many of us grew up in environments where this principle was largely ignored, but it still remains true to the ethos of the New Testament that in Christ there is no longer Greek or Jew, Male or Female, Slave or Free, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal. The Jesus People are the people who don't neatly fit into any of these partisan camps.
If your identity nearly DOES fit into one of these camps, I would humbly suggest your faith has been co-opted by the powers that be, rather than the gospel of King Jesus and God's now-but-not-yet Kingdom. I'm open to being wrong about this, but the longer I serve in the church, and more destructive I see partisanship being to the witness of the church in society, this is where I've landed.
That said, it is certainly possible to identify as a Republican or Democrat (or Libertarian, Progressive, Green Party, etc.) and still follow Jesus as Lord, but these monikers must be secondary to the identity you are invited to have in King Jesus.
Another way to put it: when one is too conservative for one's liberal friends, and too liberal for one's conservative friends, one may be onto something. That is not to say that a moderate political stance is more Christian than a partisan one, but rather a more nuanced political stance that doesn't neatly fit into partisan politics is more Christian in our current culture than many care to see or admit.
4. The Jesus People resist the urge (and it is an urge) to align ourselves neatly with one political party, one media narrative, or one set of talking points, and instead make a commitment to being the people of the Third Way. We don't do this on principle, as if a Third Way is always warranted (it is not), but we do this as people who are not partisan in our identities. To be a Third Way people means that we are more fully committed to the Way of Jesus in any given circumstance or event, and we are more committed to embodying the hopefulness of Jesus Christ in those places and spaces to the extent that we enter into the particularities of what is presented in front of us (Malcolm Gladwell has an excellent introduction to moral reasoning a la Casuistry in season four of his podcast - Revisionist History. It's worth your time.)
5. So, what is presented in front of us? We know that more guns are owned in our culture per capita than any other culture. We know that men (particularly white men) feel more disenfranchised in our culture than at any other time in recent history (for real and apparent reasons). We know that mental health is an issue for white men, and really every other group of people in our culture. We know that most mass shootings are perpetrated by young-ish (under 40), white men. We know that access to high round, semi and fully automative guns is relatively easy in our culture, compared to other wealthy nations. We know that there are more mass shootings in our culture 100 times over compared to other wealthy nations.
6. We have a problem, and the first step to solving a problem is simply admitting that we have one. Like an addict that fears his hit will be taken away, we resist the plain truth in front of us: we have a problem in this country with men (because it's almost always men), with white men (because it's almost always a white man) picking up a semi-automatic gun and firing indiscriminately at innocent bystanders that they either don't know or don't really have any connection to. This is an ongoing problem that is unique to our country, and our culture at this time. To fight the admission of this problem is to make clear the fear behind your fighting.
7. I can empathize with those who are afraid of admitting this problem. I've been afraid too, for many things over the course of my life. Often fear is irrational, but to say this to a fearful person does not dissipate their fear. To my friends who believe that the admission of this problem inevitably means the removal by force of all guns of law-abiding citizens, you're just wrong. You've been fed a lie, from a partisan power broker (usually a media outlet) and it is reaping havoc in our culture. We need you to wake up to the issue at hand, and stop being so terrified by people who benefit when you are terrified.
8. We are the country that put men on the moon. We are the country that defeated Hitler. We are the country that built the greatest amount of wealth in the history of the modern world. We help people, we lift people up, we come to the aid of those in need. Surely we can solve this problem. We've done so much together over our history, surely we can tackle this problem together. It will not be easy, and it will not come without a fight. But it can be done. We can learn to work together IN SPITE OF our partisan differences.
9. Christians are the people who refuse to believe the dominant narrative that is being handed to us from the powers that be. We are the people who shine the light of who Jesus is in the darkest corners of our culture, not by modern notions of evangelization, but by sitting in the nuance of complex issues and situations with grace, with humility, and with empathy. We can do this together, but we must resist the urge to organize around simple, partisan, grand narratives that prop up a political party.
10. I'm hopeful this story in our culture will change in the coming years. I'm hopeful that the Church will actively put aside its political affiliations in order to help solve this problem. It is solvable. We simply must have the will to solve it. Politics is how we order our common life together, and our faith speaks volumes to how we order this life together. Who will we be? What will we be remembered for? What will be our legacy? What are we willing to relinquish in order to benefit the Common Good? How we answer these questions moving forward will tell us who we are.
May we be the people of the Third Way.
May we hold our convictions with passion.
May we enter into the particularities of life, especially on behalf of those who have less power than we do.
May we let ourselves be guided by our principles, but not blinded by them.
May we be willing to give up something, in order to benefit others.
And may we resist the urge to by led by fear, for perfect Love - the Agape of God - casts out all fear.
May we be the fearless, Third Way People.