Many of us continue to try to make sense of the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. People of faith have offered helpful and not so helpful explanations and prescriptions after the tragedy.
I agree with my Christian brothers and sisters when they say that atrocities like Sandy Hook reflect issues of the heart and mind. I agree that laws do not address those issues well. No law or collection of legal actions can guarantee that Sandy Hook will never happen again. Nor will they address the core issues that lead a person to commit such atrocities.
But my friends and I diverge when they suggest that because this involves matters of heart and because we have no ironclad guarantees resulting from our action, then nothing can be done. Some of my friends, people I respect greatly, suggest or explicitly state that no law can be enacted, no regulation can be administered, no personal or communal soul searching is necessary, no action is relevant, and no remedy is available to make these atrocities less devastating, less costly, and less common.
I reject this belief of my dear brothers and sisters. Ours is not a faith that says that because evil is in the heart and violence is in the world, there is nothing we can do about it. Nor are we prohibited from addressing and minimizing the effects of sin. We were not called to this Christian life to sit back and watch sin run rampant. Sin will always be with us in this life, and according to our Scriptures, the human heart will continue to be wicked. But we do have resources to address both the wickedness and its effects. We are people who offer hope. And there is more to our calling than waiting till everyone follows Jesus or waiting until Jesus returns. On the contrary, we have a proud Christian history of addressing sin and its effects using all resources at our disposal, including the championing of legislation.
We Americans are, after all, a nation of laws, not of weapons. The right to bear arms itself is enshrined in legislation. But laws can be ineffective, overly restrictive, or just stupid. We have heard a sickening array of those proposals in the past week. But if all legislation falls into that category, then I suppose we should try anarchy until Jesus comes. We don’t do so because laws do serve a purpose.
Since I agree with my friends that laws don’t effectively address the heart and mind core issues, then why have laws? Because they address the common good. By advancing the common good, we limit the impact of deceitful hearts. We do our part in the Kingdom of God—not that we will see it fulfilled next week or next year or whenever some legislation goes into effect, but we “kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight” (Thanks, Bruce Cockburn).
I am horrified by Christian cries against any gun restriction for anybody under any circumstances. I understand the libertarian stance, and I recognize that a Constitutional law professor can establish legal justification. But I cannot reconcile those cries with my Christian calling.
I’m afraid that my friends’ rhetoric reflects more than a difference of opinion between them and me. I’m afraid (and I here’s the part I especially hate saying) it reflects a commitment to something else above the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m no perfect Christian, nor do I expect them to be, but I expect us to proclaim the truth of Jesus more loudly than we do the fallible documents of the state or our own pursuit of "rights." And I expect that Gospel to be effectual in all aspects of this life as well as the next. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe
We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who ... refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself in behalf of a cause they knew to be right. Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants. Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests....If the church of Jesus Christ is to regain once more its power, message, and authentic ring, it must conform only to the demands of the gospel. (from "Transformed Nonconformist," in Strength to Love, 1963)
Gospel proclamation takes courage, it takes willingness, it takes guts, it takes desire, it takes a refusal to sit back in proud judgment and a willingness to enter into the fray with an open heart. The answer to wickedness is not resignation. It is love. Tough love often, complicated love sometimes, even sacrificial love (as in “I might have to give up some secular rights”) but it takes love. Courage and love, both affairs of the heart, can address sins of the heart. And they can give us the will and the means to dare to entertain policies and actions that limit the potential effects of that sin...until Jesus returns.