Seek the Peace of the City: If Not Now, When?
What would Jesus do with guns?
Would he own guns? Sell guns? Perform miracles and multiply guns for 5,000 people? Would he use guns? Would he ask his followers and disciples to own guns? I’m no expert on the topic of Jesus and guns but I do know Jesus and for this Jesus who encouraged people to “turn the other cheek” and gave encouragement to be “peacemakers," my guess is that he wouldn’t be a member of NRA.
I know that Jesus has many names but he is also the “Prince of Peace.” Right?
The sad truth is that guns and violence are no laughing matter.
Today only marks a week and a half since the horrific mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newton, Conn. Even as of today, families are burying children and loved ones. We still can’t make sense of something so senseless.
When the shootings at Columbine took place in 1999 that left 70 shot and ultimately killed 13 people, I heard some pundits explain that we need not fear and that Columbine was going to be an isolated once-in-a-lifetime incident. Since Columbine, there have been 181 shooting at schools across the United States, 61 mass murders since 1982, and six alone here this year including one about three miles from our home that left six people killed on May 30.
I don’t care what you say, we have a problem.
Sick and Tired of Mourning and Weeping
I don’t know about you. I’m sick and tired of mourning, grieving, and weeping.
And while people can go and on in the debates about guns, I’m convinced we can’t just do nothing. What I’m suggesting is not being reactive but rather, to push for common sense gun regulations.
Last week, I gathered with numerous Seattle religious leaders for a press conference to convey our collective voice against gun violence and assault weapons. Many major group were represented: evangelicals, Catholics, mainliners, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Jews — mostly everyone except Mayan end-timers.
And for those who would criticize why I, as a Christian leader, would work together with other religious leaders, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, but I digress.
Sadly, I think I was the only evangelical pastor. For some reason, I think many tend to group us evangelical pastors to those pastors like this one who urged his congregation to “Bring Your Guns to Church Sunday.”
7 Steps We Can Take
Several of us spoke and urged a commitment to the following:
- A ban on all assault and assault-style weapons, including a buyback of such weapons.
- A ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
- Universal background checks, including at gun shows
- Requirements for trigger locks and safe gun storage.
- Microstamping technology on all firearms sold, bought or delivered in the state to improve bullet tracing by law enforcement.
- Investment in the state’s mental-health system to promote well-being among those at risk for committing acts of violence.
- An end to the glorification of violence in the media and in games played by young people.
Even if all of these might not be possible – immediately – there are some that can and must take place – particularly the ban on all assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. I was particularly intrigued by an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times titled, “A conservative case for an assault weapons ban” – written by Larry Alan Burns, a federal district judge in San Diego.
But if we can’t find a way to draw sensible lines with guns that balance individual rights and the public interest, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.
There is just no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gun enthusiasts can still have their venison chili, shoot for sport and competition, and make a home invader flee for his life without pretending they are a part of the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden.
It speaks horribly of the public discourse in this country that talking about gun reform in the wake of a mass shooting is regarded as inappropriate or as politicizing the tragedy. But such a conversation is political only to those who are ideologically predisposed to see regulation of any kind as the creep of tyranny. And it is inappropriate only to those delusional enough to believe it would disrespect the victims of gun violence to do anything other than sit around and mourn their passing. Mourning is important, but so is decisive action.
Congress must reinstate and toughen the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Seek the Shalom of the City
Already, I’m getting a slow trickle of emails, criticisms, and questions – since the press conference made all the local TV news, the local NPR, and the Seattle Times. In the newspaper article, another local pastor disagreed with our collective actions:
Joe Fuiten, conservative pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, did not attend the event but said his colleagues are “looking at the wrong thing.” It’s not a matter of gun but a matter of evil.”
Leaders of faith in particular, he continued, “should be more interested in what’s in a person’s heart than the mechanism of expressing the evil that’s in their hearts.
“With or without guns, violence can occur and does occur,” he said.
I agree – in part – but it’s a false dichotomy. With or without guns, violence can, does, and will occur. No one is disputing that. But if we can do something to stop the mass murder of children in elementary schools happening again, won’t we even try?
I’m not naive. Terrible things will continue to take place in our broken world but I don’t just want to be interested in a person’s heart, I want to be interested in the whole of a person and for that matter, in the whole of our society. As Jeremiah encourages us in 29:17:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city … Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
I agree. Absolutely agree. One of my callings as a pastor is to point people towards the Gospel. I will teach, preach, and proclaim the Scriptures and share about Jesus like there’s no tomorrow. I will serve the Sacraments and testify to the body and blood of Jesus. I will talk about sin and depravity and call people to repentance. I will pray for the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to inform and transform lives. I will testify to a hope that is Emmanuel. I will be about the good news of Jesus …
But I can do that and pursue peace and shalom in my city, nation, and world. (I can multi-task.)
I believe in a Gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the One that ushered forth all that is good and beautiful. I believe in a Gospel so great that in now only saves sinners like you and me but it can transform communities – on earth as it is in heaven.
What Would I Say to a Parent?
Recently, someone asked me what I would have conveyed to the parents and loved ones of those who had lost their children in these tragic shootings.
Well, there are things you just should not say. Rather not trying to over explain, over analyze, over theologize, over whatever, I think there’s a certain power in just being present in their pain. To mourn with those who mourn isn’t to help them quickly escape their mourning with convenient theology but rather to join them in their mourning.
But at some point, I’d also like to convey:
“I can’t bring back your child but I want to pray, work, and do whatever I can – by God’s grace – to ensure that something like this will never happen again.”
If not now, then when? If not for our children, then for who?
Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. You can stalk him at hisblog, Twitter or his Facebook Page. Eugene and his wife are also the founders of a movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. This blog post originally appeared on Eugene Cho’s blog. Follow Eugene on Twitter @EugeneCho and on Facebook.