William Sloane Coffin said that the real tragedy in life is not that we suffer, but suffering that never gets redeemed. The tragedy at Sandy Hook would be compounded if nothing good comes out of it; if it doesn't force us to do something about the violence of our culture.
The sad fact is that what happened at Sandy Hook was as rare as it was tragic. Arming our schools is a deceptive illusion of safety because most of the violent deaths in our country happen in our homes and on our streets. An average of 87 people die every day from gun violence in America, including eight children and teens. Every day, 183 people are shot but survive their injuries, including 38 children and teens (http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/Facts/Gun_Death_and_Injury_Stat_Sheet_2008__2009_FINAL.pdf). One writer said it's a mistake to use words like senseless, inexplicable or unimaginable to describe Sandy Hook. He said that it makes sense, can be explained and is not only imaginable but predictable based on fundamental assumptions in our culture. As I thought and prayed about this, I began to focus on three factors that contribute to the problem, each of which is primarily a spiritual issue.
The mythology of violence.
In his classic work entitled "The Powers That Be," New Testament scholar Walter Wink, describes "the myth of redemptive violence." It's the persistent idea that we can use violent means to accomplish a peaceful end. It's the insidious assumption behind far too many of our movies, television shows and video games. The movie, "Jack Reacher," is just one current example.
We can redeem the suffering at Sandy Hook by digging more deeply into a biblical understanding of the mythology of violence in contrast to the power of God's redeeming work at the cross. We can redeem this suffering by watching what we and our children watch on our screens.
The ideology of gun ownership.
The National Rifle Association gets it right in pointing to the pervasive influence of violence in our culture. But the NRA is dead wrong (with emphasis on the word "dead") in denying that it has anything to do with guns. The first phrase in the second amendment is "a well-regulated militia ... " There's nothing "well-regulated" about gun shows where anyone can buy anything without even a minimal background check. There's nothing "well-regulated" about military-style weapons being easily accessible to extremist fanatics or mentally ill persons. There's nothing "well-regulated" about it being easier to buy a gun than to get a driver's license.
Reducing the number of guns on our streets won't solve all of our problems with violence, but we won't solve our problems with violence without reducing the number of guns, particularly guns that are not designed for sportsmen, but for war.
We can redeem the suffering at Sandy Hook by supporting efforts of reasonable gun control that respects the rights of the second amendment, supports ownership of guns by sportsmen and hunters, and attempts to reduce the level of gun violence in our country. One of those groups is The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Our United Methodist Board of Church and Society has a sample letter that can be sent to the President. I have signed the "Protect Children, Not Guns" petition at Groundswell. I invite you to pray about whether you are led to support these efforts.
The theology of the cross.
The fundamental question for Christian people goes much deeper than mythology or ideology. It takes priority over everything in the Bill of Rights. It goes to the core of the theology of the Gospel. What do we do with Jesus who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, told his followers to put away the sword because "those who live by the sword will die by the sword"? What does it mean to be like Jesus who died by violence while praying for forgiveness for those who killed him? What does it mean to take seriously Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount? (Matthew 5:38-48) What will we do with Jesus? And what would Jesus do with us?
We can redeem the suffering at Sandy Hook by walking more closely with Jesus along the pathway of discipleship as we intentionally listen to his words and allow his way to become the way by which we live.
Thanks for allowing me to share my heart with you on this. I am fully aware that not everyone will agree with my convictions. I honor brothers and sisters in Christ to see it differently and expect them to honor my convictions as genuinely as I honor theirs. If there is a more Christ-like way to redeem the suffering at Sandy Hook, I want to join you in finding it.
Rev. Jim Harnish is senior pastor of Hyde Park UMC.