This post was included in a collection we shared several weeks ago in response to the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX. We share it now as a standalone piece in the hope that it will spark dialogue as our nation continues to wrestle with the epidemic of gun violence.
Yet another mass shooting in a long list of massacres that have marked an epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Can anything be done to end this cycle of violence, and who has the power to do it? As with many other issues, Americans have been responding to these questions in vastly different ways.
Many have been insisting, rightly so, that our elected officials have the power to tame the gun lobby and limit people’s access to deadly weapons. Many politicians who have been refusing to act are quick to suggest that the blame lies elsewhere: mental illness, lax security, our failure to arm more people, etc. So much deflection, but really, who has the power to end this crisis?
The story of John the Baptist in Luke 3 offers some insights. John was ministering in the context of a very different crisis—extreme poverty in the first century—and encountered people who professed a desire to alleviate the crisis even as they were likely perpetuating it to varying degrees. They collectively asked John, “What then should we do?” The question assumes that they didn’t know what needed to be done, or that they might lack the agency to resolve the crisis.
John places the onus solely on them and highlights their agency in remedying the crisis. He asks some to give away one of their shirts or share food, others to not collect any more than what they absolutely had to, and yet others to not abuse their power in order to accumulate wealth. John’s point is that remedying a major crisis is not about making grand, abstract commitments, but about committing to specific, concrete steps.
John also suggests that everyone has agency to varying degrees. Even as John critiques people in power, he called upon individuals to undertake changes at the individual and community level. And he offers specific suggestions they can undertake within their contexts.
Many of us are rightly angry with politicians who seemingly express a commitment to end the gun violence but deflect blame during each crisis only to continue with business as usual once the public outrage abates. We should certainly hold them accountable for their failures in preventing the epidemic of gun violence, but we should also focus on our own potential complicity in perpetuating a culture of gun violence.
Specifically, there is the rampant ethos of violent imagination that stems from a culture of violence and in turn perpetuates a culture of gun violence. And we have become a nation that encourages, or at least, condones violent imagination at an early age. Recently, I was at a birthday party for my son who is eight. Many kids were passionately discussing a violent video game called Fortnite. At one point, when a kid used a cuss word, many parents were appalled but none of them, myself included, said a word about the violent imagination in which the kids were engaged.
We cannot normalize violent imagination at age eight and hope that none of it will translate into lethal violence at age eighteen. We should perhaps actively explore ways of stigmatizing anything related to gun violence. What if we respond with disgust and horror at the very mention of violent video games just as we do when we hear of a shooting incident?
While our elected officials have a moral obligation to enact stringent anti-gun laws, the rest of us too have the power to make a difference. May we not become numb to a culture of violence. May we cringe and be disgusted when we hear the words “guns” and “shooting” at birthday parties, schoolyards, and playdates.
Yes, it takes a village, or perhaps a nation, to end this epidemic of gun violence.
Dr. Raj Nadella is the Samuel A. Cartledge Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. His research and teaching interests include postcolonial biblical interpretation, migration and New Testament perspectives on economic justice and their ethical implications for the Church and society. He is the author of Dialogue Not Dogma: Many Voices in the Gospel of Luke (T&T Clark, 2011) and an area editor for Oxford Bibliographies Online: Biblical Studies. He is the co-author of Postcolonialism and the Bible and co-editor of Christianity and the Law of Migration, both forthcoming in 2021. He has written for publications such as the Huffington Post, Christian Century and Working Preacher.
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