Monday, February 19, 2018

Adventists, Politics, and Guns

I know I'm late to the conversation. It's been almost a week since the Valentine's day shooting at a school in Florida. But I, like everyone else, need to say something. We need to talk, because the lives of seventeen families were ripped apart, and every student in that school and community has found themselves living in a darker, more terrifying world.

And the question is--the question always is--what can we do? Can we--and should we--control the guns? Can we control the people, and how? Is there a way to cure or prevent whatever turns people into killers? And in a society in which kids can turn into killers, can we even play by the same rules anymore?

And this is where it goes bad. Because at this part of the conversation we stop talking to each other. We even stop talking to the actual problems. Somewhere in here, the train of thought jumps the rails, and the conversation turns into a meme slug-fest, and we all get to accuse one another of "politicizing this tragedy."

My church is particularly handicapped here. For very good reasons, we don't tell our members what to vote, or what party to listen to. I'm glad for that, but it means that our members end up listening to other Christian groups who don't have that scruple. Most often, it's the right wing, sometimes it's the left.

But it's always bad, because politics mistaken for faith is a horror all its own.* When the power-mongering voices whispering in our ear make us believe they have us by the conscience, there is no greater form of slavery.

So what can we do? What can Adventists, specifically, do about tragedies like this? This is what I think:

1. Grieve--There's a lot of emotion in these conversations, for good reason. The feelings are all valid--sorrow, anger, fear, bewilderment. We need a chance to feel them before we use them, or let someone else harness them, for an agenda. Grieve for the lives lost, and the countless other lives changed. Feel anger for the loss of safety and innocence. The victims of this shooting deserve to be mourned as themselves.

2. Pray--Yes, social media is jaded with the sending of "thoughts and prayers" after a tragedy. But prayer is much deeper than our own well of feelings. It is our link to the God who actually has answers. Pray for comfort, and pray for a solution. If we're going to struggle through this web of emotions and politics, and do something productive, we need help.

3. Resist the memes--I know, they work. I've read a hundred snarky memes for every thoughtful article I've click on and read. If what we want is evangelism, or just a way to vent our own feelings, snark is the way to go. But I want something better. These horrors are not partisan. These problems belong to all of us. We cannot change the world with snark. Instead of trading memes, we have to talk to real people. If we owe anything to the innocent children killed in Florida, it's this. We owe them the respect of actually trying.

Resist the political parties and the lobbies whispering in your ear. Resist the urge to share something just because it's clever. Refuse to be someone's enemy just because they're wrong. We need those people, too.

4. Be present where you are.-- I'll never forget the day, in my own teens, when my best friend's mother followed me as I was leaving to say, "I noticed you've been having a hard time lately. I care about you." She gave me a jar of homemade applesauce. It was a small thing, except to me.

Maybe legislation will help us. Maybe it won't, or maybe it won't yet. Work for what you want, but don't forget to be present where you are. Care about the people around you. Take the time to be curious, and to say something.

No, a jar of applesauce won't cure a sociopath. But a community that notices, and cares, can make a difference for most everyone else. I've realized lately that I'm failing here. I'm not curious, because I don't have time. I don't say anything, because I'm self-conscious. I need to do better.

I am an Adventist. I know the only whole solution to violence is the Second Advent, and I pray it happens soon. I also know that "soon" is not defined, and it isn't an excuse to ignore the problems here and now.

So what do I think Adventists should do about politics and guns? Simply, I hope we will live our faith.

Vote, because it's our duty as citizens, but vote your conscience, and not a party line you've been fed, even if it came in Christian language.

I hope that we will think and speak responsibly about guns, violence, and personal freedoms. That we won't be lured in by the conversation-squashing charm of snark. That we will be able to consider the problem for itself, and not because of its political implications.

And I hope we will be a force for good in our own homes and communities. I hope we care, not simply enough to argue with one another, but enough to love others.

*To be convinced of this, I recommend CS Lewis, and his article on a Christian political party in God in the Dock.


  1. "When the power-mongering voices whispering in our ear make us believe they have us by the conscience, there is no greater form of slavery."


  2. Love this article that speaks cleanly, clearly, and with love in a way that is accessible to any of us.

  3. Everyone always asks why, especially when there has been a school shooting. The answer is two fold. (1) Our young people have not anchor and their teen and young adult years are emotionally trying. We all remember that. It's why teens and young adults have such an appallingly high suicide rate.

    Suicide is almost always a cry for attention. It says "I am in pain and you didn't fix it for me!" Kids commit suicide in part to stop their own pain, but in part to inflict pain on those they see as responsible.

    (2) In our 24 hour media environment, every time a kid shoots up a school he becomes famous for a few weeks. The news media, in effect, broadcast your suicide note to millions upon millions of people.

    The cure is for parents and schools to pay better attention to their children; to give the kids an anchor to hold them steady through the storms of adolescence. In our churches we can do this by giving them real things to do in the church. We should listen to them sing, let them pass the offering plate, do special music, talk to the elders about what could be done to improve the youth program. We can take them camping, go to the lake for Sabbath School and potluck. We must give them a real stake in our churches and an opportunity to meet God and hang with Godly people.

    Rudderless kids often sink into despair. They feel ignored and mistreated and lash out. The difference between now and when kids used to drive to high school with a gun in the gun rack of their pickups without starting a random massacre, is that back in the olden day, such a thing would NOT have got you worldwide attention and your name splashed all over the television, radio and Internet.

    Remember Satan's second lie. "Thou shalt be like gods." His first was "Thou shalt no surely die." The media provides both immortality and a godlike ability to wreak vengeance upon your enemies, both at the time of the killings and then over and over and over again afterward.

    Until we stop giving fame to mass shooters, most of whom are trying to commit suicide anyway, this isn't going to stop and the devil knows it. He will use political wrangling over it to further divide us, because his favorite tactic is to make us think that somehow there is something we ourselves can do to stop horrors like this. The truth is, only God can end this and sadly, because of the nature of sin and God's having given us the free will to choose whether or not to sin, we must wait, as you said, until Jesus comes to fix it.


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