Columbine…Sandy Hook…San Bernardino…Orlando…Portland…Parkland…
18 school shootings between 1/1/18 and 2/14/18. Some self-murder and others horrific murder. Accusations. If the Congress would only make more laws… If the FBI and Sherriff’s Departments could have gotten on the same page… If those who read Facebook posts had done more… If… If… If.
We have been down these roads before. I just went back and re-read some of my previous posts on mass shootings. Some are because of a broken love-life (If I can’t have her no one will). Others are because of anger over what was perceived and the unjust termination of a job (“He’s gone postal.”). Others are because the person is simply crazy, and all the warning signs were there (the lonely, isolate, angry, relatively young, male…) and the proper responses were not initiated. Still others are because of religious ideology. Once again we are called upon to prayer. Prayer for those who have been lost. Prayer for those whose lives hang in the balance of medical care. Prayer for who are recovering. Prayer for who are grieving the loss of loved ones and the loss of innocence. And we should. And we must. However, we must also think through actions, actions that are spurred on by prayer. Actions that flow from the love of God who created each of these young people. Actions that grow from loving our neighbor as ourselves. Actions that acknowledge that these types of acts of violence, on the level we are witnessing them today, have not always been a part of our history. Actions that ask the question, “What has happened to us?” Experts in social history can give much better insight into these changes, but, from my limited position as a citizen and as a pastor, let me offer three.
First, the increase in weaponry often does not take into consideration the moral bent of individuals and nations. The discovery of nuclear energy could have been a tremendous step forward in providing a resource to make our world a better place. In some segments of our world this has been the case. However, harnessing the atom also became available to those with more malevolent intent. The weaponization of the atom moved our world into a new era of potential violence. For some, the moral choice about using nuclear weapons has been as a deterrent to greater war. For others the moral chose has been to see nuclear weaponry as a tool to attempt to access leverage and power through threats on the world stage. From my perspective, weaponry from all aspects is neutral. If I want to protect myself, my family, my business I have much better resources by which to do so in our present day and age. In like fashion, if I want to activate revenge or claim power or inflict harm upon others I have much better resources by which to do so. Weaponry is neutral. The moral condition of those who use weapon is not. Our laws and their enforcement might provide some control in this area.
I believe a second reason for the increase in violence is the imagery that is being presented to our young people today. Studies have been done on how many acts of violence a young person will witness through life and through media before the age of 18. An article in The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Eugene V. Beresin, M.D., Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital titled, “The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions,” states Studies reveal that children watch approximately 28 hours of television a week, more time than they spend in school. The typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence, including more than 16,000 murders before age 18. Television programs display 812 violent acts per hour; children’s programming, particularly cartoons, displays up to 20 violent acts hourly. Does this have an impact on the development of children? Yes. Certainly when children grow up in stable environments where they can process what they see the impact is different than in settings where such processing is not available. When you add the component of mental illness into the equation, I believe our media becomes an educational tool teaching young people how to release their anger or gain power in evil ways. This needs to be addressed first within media-related industries and then through the marketplace of what we as citizens are willing to purchase and watch.
Third, I believe these mass killings also reflect the removal of a psycho-emotional-spiritual braking systems that once existed within our society. When a people believe in a higher Being, a Being who created us, a being who structured how we should live so we could have the best of this life, and a Being who will hold us accountable for how we have pursued the best of this life, behaviors are evaluated differently. When I am aware of that Divine Presence with a knowledge of the established boundaries and accountability for living within them, a person has second thoughts about breaking out of those rules. America used to have those boundaries and they were common knowledge amongst the religious and non-religious alike. This certainly does not mean that everyone followed them. People have always attempted to twist and turn and use and abuse those rules for their own benefit. However, when the rules exist they provide a form of cultural braking system. Things have changed since World War II. Symbolic of this change was the removal of prayer from public schools in 1963. This has been further advanced through the work of the ACLU with its important legal victory through the US Supreme Court, June 27, 2005, initiating the removal of the 10 Commandments from public buildings as part of the “Separation Clause.” The societal braking system ain’t what it used to be. Please note, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its founders advocated for a “Non-establishment of a religion” clause within our constitution as far back as 1789. We don’t want a state-sponsored religion. I am not talking about such a thing. So, what can we do in regard to the decline of a societal braking system? We have no guarantee that government or society will make changes to help break the aberrant behavior that leads to tragedies like we witnessed yesterday.
What are we to do? As Christians of all types, Jesus, the One from whom our label comes, gave us a very simple formula. He said there are two great commandments which complete all others: “Love God with all you are. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:34-40
In addition, Jesus told his followers to be, “The salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Matthew 5:13-16.
These are not theological issues about which we are called to argue. These are discipleship directives we are giving to live. We have no guarantee that anyone else will agree with us, encourage us, support us, or follow us. But, others are not our focus. Jesus is. Let us lead the way as salt and light, as lovers of God and neighbor.