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The Blood Is Crying

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
Genesis 4:10

The recent Texas school shooting is only one in a virtual daily incidence of mass gun carnage, yet it demands special attention because nineteen children have died. It was the worst massacre of children sustained by this country since Sandy Hook. And that is not even the full extent of the children’s suffering. The husband of a slain teacher died soon afterwards from a heart attack induced by unbearable grief, leaving four children orphaned in just two days. And the children who survived the attack are indelibly traumatized.

Many others more eloquent than I have exposed the hypocrisy and mendacity of the usual excuses of conservatives for not doing anything to limit the easy availability of guns in this country. Virtually anyone who wants a gun can easily obtain one, even a military-grade assault weapon, no questions asked. There is no need to repeat here what others have already said about this absurdity. But the focus of this web site is religion, and so I would like to take a look at the religious dimension of this problem.

American Christianity is broken. It has become a menace to this country and to the world. It has allied itself with the most extreme elements of our society, pushing it towards more hatred and violence. And it has become a potent political force. Yes, people will object that I am being too broad, and of course that is true. Many Christian churches have no sympathy for religious extremism, and do good work to improve conditions for all. But there are not enough of these churches, and they do not stand up with a unified voice. Many are too timid, afraid of offending their congregants. They have allowed American Conservative Evangelical Christianity to become the face of American Christianity to the world.

Christianity Today (July 24, 2017) reported a Pew Research Center survey indicating that 41% of white evangelicals own a gun, significantly more than the 30% of all American adults who do. President Obama was not off the mark when he infamously said that some conservative voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” Attempts have been made to analyze this pathological attachment to firearms. Some believe it comes from fear, especially fear of the country’s changing in ways that threaten the way of life of people who turn to guns for security. But whether such fears are real or exaggerated, will guns really keep them safe against those fears? Or are those who insist on the absolute and unqualified universal right to own a gun only putting everyone, including themselves and their children, in greater danger?

The “right to bear arms” was originally phrased in the context of “a well regulated militia,” but no one thinks of it that way anymore. It has come to be understood as an individual right. And this is precisely the problem. American society worships the individual, often at the expense of the common good. “You’re not the boss of me!” cry those who resent having to wear a mask or get a vaccine to protect not only themselves but the people around them. Or those who for years fought regulations restricting smoking even after the effects of second-hand smoke were scientifically demonstrated. Perhaps the worst consequence of excessive American individualism is the uncompromising, absolutist opposition to even the most moderate and sensible measures to regulate the unrestricted use of firearms.

This extreme American individualism has no single cause. But Christianity as it developed has been a strong contributing factor. It has turned Christ’s message into a program for the salvation of the individual - and for this, all Christian denominations bear some responsibility. That is not what Jesus intended. His message was meant to drive people outside of themselves, to serve others in love without self-interest. The last thing he would have wanted would have been for a Christian to think, “it’s all about me and my eternal destiny.” Jesus would have been appalled by the message that all the unthinking people with “John 3:16” signs are sending about Christianity. Christians today pick apart the words of Jesus and Paul to figure out how they can be saved. Their resources would be better spent in understanding how they can be a true benefit to the other inhabitants of the planet. When the final moment does arrive for each one of us, will God be more interested in how we got saved, or in how we loved?

Christian theology has been twisted into providing sanction for evading this social responsibility. Instead of responding to Christ’s call for justice, American Conservative Evangelical Christianity has been more concerned with controlling people who pose a perceived threat: women, gays, people of color, and non-Christians in general. Some are even proposing prayer in schools and otherwise dissolving the barrier between church and state as the way to solve America’s gun violence problem, thus attempting to exploit a national tragedy to increase the power of the church. Ultimately, it is all about power.

How do we know this? The hypocrisy of the differing conservative Christian responses to abortion and gun violence gives it all away. One cannot call oneself pro-life, yet hold the unrestricted right to a firearm more sacred than protecting the lives of real children. It is blatantly hypocritical. And it shows that the real underlying concern about abortion is not the sacredness of life at all, but controlling women’s sexuality. Other countries have already shown the U.S. that gun control does work. A truly “pro-life” position with even a shred of integrity would demand at least as vigorous a push for gun control as is now being made against abortion.

The Protestant Reformation needs to be reformed. It made a grave mistake in elevating faith above good works, to the denigration of the latter. God will not judge us on what we believed, but will judge us on how we have treated others - that is, if Jesus himself is to be believed. Christianity must show us the way out of this societal breakdown, not become part of it. Christian theology must be reconstructed from top to bottom, with the true message of Jesus constantly in mind, or there will be no hope for escape from this earthly hell we have created for ourselves.

The gun violence death rate in the United States is orders of magnitude higher than that of any other developed country. And the reason is not that the U.S. has more mental illness, or more gay people, or not enough church attendees. The obvious reason, for anyone who will reflect, is that the U.S. lacks the restrictions on gun availability that other countries sensibly possess. The problem is gun proliferation, not whatever group of people conservatives feel like scapegoating. That is what sets us apart from other countries.

To put the paranoid gun owner at ease, I am not suggesting confiscation of everybody’s guns. Even if that ever had been feasible, it is way too late for that now. And some people do have a legitimate need. But there should be a sensible compromise. Never mind universal background checks; there should be universal licensing, of which background checks would be only a part. You need a license to drive a car and even to cut nails in this country, so certainly you should require a license to own a gun. And an assault weapons ban should go without saying. No one needs an instrument designed for mass murder to shoot a deer or protect their home or business.

The American people want sensible change. They are tired of sacrificing their children on the altar of the sanctified and sacrosanct Second Amendment. If America fancies itself a world leader, it must lead in this area of minimal human decency. Instead, we trail the world in our attitudes toward guns and in our lack of reverence for human life, in spite of all the protestations about the rights of the unborn. It is now the born who need our help and our protection most. Meanwhile other countries look at us, unable to understand what makes America so different when it comes to guns.

Or should I say, what makes America so “exceptional”?

May 2022