Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing Gun Violence!

[This is a reflection given at Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, icujp.org, on Friday, September 23.]

This week our conference “Not in God’s Name” will focus on religion and violence. It seems fitting though a bit  inconvenient that All Saints Church in Pasadena will be hosting an event focusing on gun violence at the same time. When people think of religious violence, they often think of terrorism and Islam, but far more dangerous is America’s cult of guns.
There is ample evidence showing how guns have turned into a deadly religion in America. A bumper sticker sums up this pernicious and delusional belief system: Guns, God and guts have made America great.
 I commend James Atwood of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship for condemning the cult of guns in our country in a brilliant article written in 2008. In this piece entitled “When Guns Become Idols,” Atwood writes:
I’d like to expand on my contention that guns in America have become idols. I define America’s idolatry with guns as an aggressive belief system dedicated to the expansion of gun ownership which encourages people to take their guns to the workplace, college campuses, public schools, libraries, national parks, churches and bars. This belief system is enhanced by an attitude which overtly and subtly proclaims that safety and security come through guns. My friend, Rev. Rachel Smith calls this phenomenon “Gundamentalism” Although claiming the highest of social values, the belief system itself requires continuous deception and the distortion of the truth in order to minimize or ignore the 30,000 people who are killed by guns every year.
First, I believe guns have become idols in America because many people give them sacred status. Warren Cassidy, former NRA executive said, “You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.”
In 1998, when Charlton Heston, President of the NRA, was given an antique musket, he mused, “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blue steel when ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument.” 

 I hope that ICUJP will play its part in unmasking the idolatry of guns and proclaim that there is nothing sacred in these instruments of death. Religious communities must stop blessing guns and encouraging gun ownership.
I am pleased that Sojourners magazine devoted its May issue to the question “Should Christians Own Guns/” and includes an article by a conservative pastor decrying the “idolatry of the gun culture.” Rob Schenk begins his article with this chilling story about the relationship between racism and the cult of guns among white Evangelicals.:

SITTING AT A DINING-ROOM TABLE full of fellow evangelical pastors, I asked how many were “carrying” (a euphemism for being armed with a concealed handgun). They all raised their hands. Then I asked, “What determines when you draw your gun and prepare to shoot another human being?” There was awkward body language and mumbling. After a few seconds passed, one older man said, “I’ll tell you what determines whether I draw the gun or not. It’s the man’s skin color.”I was left speechless by the pastor’s jarring, blatant racism. Still, as respectfully as possible, I asked him to please clarify what he meant.“Well, we got a big city nearby, and, you know, the black people there are always killin’ people. Now, if a colored man comes into this county, I know he means trouble because he knows he doesn’t belong here. That makes him more dangerous than a white man. That’s why I’d pull my gun.”The man who was speaking, and the others nodding their heads in agreement, are my colleagues. I am one of them when it comes to a statement of faith—but not when it comes to race and guns.
This article makes it clear why people of faith who oppose gun violence need to work together to unmask the false religion of guns. As you may know, Jill and I organized a gun buyback in Pasadena as part of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. Over 200 people took part, and we had a Peace-source Fair as well as a guy buyback. We raised nearly $30,000, bought back 130 guns, and provided grants for groups like Women Against Gun Violence. We also provided a biblical perspective on why Jesus would not have agreed with the Evangelical pastors who were “carrying.”  Jesus made it clear that he didn’t want his followers to use weapons even when he himself was under attack. In the garden of Gesthemane, when Jesus was about to be arrested by Roman soldiers, one of his followers cut off  the soldier’s ear with a sword. Jesus rebuked his disciple, healed the wounded soldier, and said, “Those that live by the sword perish by the sword.”

This is what Christianity stood for before it was hijacked by the Roman empire and later by the American empire. I am glad that All Saints is leading an effort to end gun violence. I have invited Julian Serrano of All Saints to speak to us about her church’s gun violence prevention work.
Meanwhile, let us have a moment of silence to pray for those who have been killed by guns. The statistics are sobering. Here in this land where the NRA encourages parents to keep loaded weapons in their homes,  a toddler with a gun accidentally kills himself or someone else with a gun each week.  Each day 82 Americans perish by gun violence.
World-wide, guns are used to kill as many as 1,000 people each day. Millions more are wounded, or their lives upended when  to development aid, markets, health, education and human rights is disrupted by people with guns.
Let us pray for the victims of this devastating plague. Let us hold in our loving thoughts the families of those who have perished due to gun violence.  [Time of silence.]

Friends, let us dedicate ourselves to ending this terrible disease of the human spirit. Those who agree, please say AMEN!

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