"If we as followers of Jesus can help make it harder for another human being to take a life, ... should we as followers of Jesus not be in favor of that? I mean, if we are truly pro-life?"
This question was posed by a friend of mine in a Facebook conversation last week surrounding the shooting in Florida. It got me thinking (again) about how we as citizens of heaven might be able to speak into this debate in redemptive ways.
To be sure, the conversation regarding how to address mass shootings, and particularly those occurring in schools, is complex and fraught with challenges. It is not made easier by the fact that deeply held convictions loom large on all sides. As I have observed and engaged in the discussion in the last 5 days, I am concerned by how followers of Christ speak into the discussion. What follows are three types of statements I have seen Christ-followers make both in recent days and in other similar discussions in recent years that I feel in some way betray our responsibility to present grace and truth as ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven. My prayer is that we will take these observations to heart such that our conversation "might be always gracious, seasoned with salt, so [we] may know how [we] ought to answer each person" (Col. 4:6).
1) It's a heart problem, bad people will disobey laws. This line of thought is often accompanied by some analogy: vehicle deaths, opioids and illegal drugs, box cutters on 9/11, Hitler's use of cyanide gas and Cain's use of a rock or club to kill Abel (by the way, Genesis is silent about his weapon). There are three problems with this approach. First, it suggests that laws are useless unless they perfectly prevent crime, which is to argue against laws at all. Of course the root problem of crime is the human condition of sin and only the gospel will ever perfectly address that. However, Romans 13, among other passages, establishes laws as means of common grace to restrain sin, albeit imperfectly, in the meantime. Second, in all of the instances I mentioned above, we do have laws to restrain the lethality of the objects by controlling them (we license drivers, register cars and have a legal drinking age; prescriptions are required for legal drugs; we now screen for any sharp objects on airplanes). Third, it ignores the fact that while evil people will find a way to kill someone if they are determined to, not all weapons are equal in their effectiveness. In the case of mass shootings, the weapon used absolutely impacts the number of lives claimed (the Vegas shooting demonstrated that emphatically). Ironically, Hitler turned to cyanide gas after finding that guns were too time consuming and expensive to achieve his purposes. At the end of the day I'd rather face an evil person armed with a rock than with an AR-15.
2) Our culture has abandoned God and that's why these things happen. There is no question that we live in a culture that is distant from God and resistant to His truth, but there are a few problems with this type of statement. First, it implies that God is absent and uninvolved in the affairs of our nation, which misrepresents his sovereignty and grace. More significantly, it implies that there was a time in which our nation and culture were somehow broadly aligned with God's ways. It is beyond dispute that institutional Christianity used to occupy a more central place in our nation's life, but that is not the same thing as a heartfelt commitment to God and His ways. If tolerance of violence or a disregard for life is a barometer of our nation's godliness, it would have to be observed that we have never had a robust moral character. We actively endorsed the wholesale enslavement of Africans and slaughter and dispossession of Native Americans until 100-150 years ago. Following that we endured a century of segregation that was accompanied by a culture of lynching without consequence in which thousands were killed as a spectacle to which children were often brought and of which postcards were made to send to family and friends with pictures of the event (for a detailed history of this check out this link https://eji.org/reports/lynching-in-america). In the midst of that we fought a war against tyranny and genocide but employed the targeting of civilian populations with firebombs as an acceptable strategy. We then legalized abortion and now witness not just homicide (which has always been present) but indiscriminate mass killings. To suggest violence and disregard for human life is new in our country is to ignore our history. All nations have sins for which God will hold them accountable and all nations serve to restrain the worst of our evil by the existence of their cultures and governments. No country is perfectly wicked, none is basically righteous, some nations are worse than others, but all nations are weighed in God's scales of justice and are found wanting. All nations at all times need to hear the gospel call to turn to God, not to return to some mythical moment in their previous history.
3) There's nothing to be done. While I have not seen anyone say this directly, it is often the implied conclusion of the previous two types of statements. This is inexcusable as followers of Jesus. If we have nothing to offer to our neighbors who suffer from these events and fears that benefits in the here and now we deny the truth of the gospel. The gospel is not only a matter of the heart and is not only a matter of hope in eternity. The hearts transformed by eternity give space for God's spirit to break forth in the here and now and produce foretastes of the Kingdom. This line of thinking is denied by our posture towards other things. Those who suggest there is nothing to be done legislatively or practically to mitigate mass shootings would never suggest that we not strive to see abortion restricted (although that is a heart issue as well), or that laws preventing racial discrimination have not improved things and shouldn't have been passed (although there is still work to do), or that while we will always have the poor among us that we should not seek to alleviate their suffering.
In short, the pessimistic fatalism that we often present with these lines of argument is in contrast to our calling to be beacons of joy and hope. People without Christ can be expected to cast shadows but we should be the light of the world.
Marcus Little is the Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church. This blog is a place where he can share his thoughts and reflections on how Scripture intersects with life, work, community, culture and the events of our times.