The short-term meaning as well as the long-haul implications of the horrific events of the last few months both at home at abroad continue to unfold and is shaking our nation.
As you know, I normally do not preach from a written text and I do not often address contemporary events directly in my sermons. I am deeply convinced that my role is to preach “Christ and him crucified” (as St. Paul would say) and leave the practical conclusions to be drawn by you as faithful disciples. In what I am about to say, I want to stress that I speak for myself alone as a leader within the Church and not for the Episcopal Church as a whole. I do not believe preachers should take political positions in the pulpit. However, sometimes events cry out for the Church to draw out meaning in a plain and direct way. Today is one of those days.
These disclaimers aside, I would argue strongly that the larger issues surrounding the recent mass shootings and the events unfolding in the cities of our nation, demand that we all force ourselves to think reflectively and not reactively. Regrettably, this is very difficult when social media, the toxic nature of present day politics, and countless ideological, soundproof echo chambers make us wonder what’s fact, what’s true, what’s right.
First and foremost, we must refrain from any rush to judgment about what are the “causes” of any of these tragedies. When we do rush to this kind of judgment, we often do little more than reactively push our own political world view front and center. There is no single explanation for what has been happening, or, I am afraid, will continue to happen.
For example, we know what happened in Orlando last month was a surprise only to those who have had their heads parked snugly in the sand. Both ISIS, on one hand, and the FBI, on the other, have been predicting something like this for some time. If it comes as a surprise at all, it is simply because we have been unwilling to accept those realities that made it possible in the first place.
Second, all the familiar ideological positions about both “what brought these situations about” and “what is to be done” need to be examined, re-examined, and examined yet again, to put them in proper perspective. In some sense, we are unfortunately all blind men and women literally sensing only a portion of the proverbial elephant, and because we lack clear vision we often miss the big picture.
I urge us all to consider the wisdom of lyrics of the half-century old song by The Buffalo Springfield entitled “For What It’s Worth”: everybody’s both right and wrong, and that’s the problem.
Yes. Making private gun ownership far more prohibitive, including ownership of assault weapons, might mean that only 25 instead of 50 people are killed in an attack like the one in Orlando. The bottom line is, it won’t stop such assaults, because it is not about guns but about ideology. If guns are less available, in fact, assailants will use other weapons of choice, even something so common as kitchen knife.
Yes. Restricting immigration of Muslims to the United States, as some have proposed, would lower the number of potential “lone wolf” terrorists, often disgruntled individuals who can’t seem to assimilate in America. By the sheer force of statistics, such a measure would lower the number of those disposed to undertake such attacks. However, such bans on entry into this country wouldn’t do anything to roll back the appeal of ISIS globally and might even radicalize other peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to the extent that we might then have more of a domestic problem among adherents of Islam, who happen also to be U.S. citizens.
Yes. We can understand the Orlando shooting in the context of pervasive anti-gay bigotry.
No. It isn’t really a matter of progress, or lack of progress, on giving LGBT people equal rights in this country, because such bigotry is far more extensive in the developing world than it is in this country. Some countries make homosexuality a criminal, if not a capital, offense. For example, a recent Pew Study indicates only a very small percentage of Muslims worldwide countenance gay rights. And even in the United States, according to the Washington Post citing the same research, “Muslims are less accepting of homosexuality than most religious groups.” But this religious conviction did not cause the massacre. Hate did.
Yes. We have to deal with ISIS and its accelerating worldwide campaign of terror forcefully in ways that will inevitably challenge our basic assumptions and call us to make hard choices between our most cherished values and our demand for safety and security.
No. There is no easy, or even straightforward and intelligible, set of simple military, political, or legislative solutions, and for the time being the current moral idealism of the millennial generation may be in danger of going the way of our grandparents during the increasingly dark 1930s.
Yes, we can point to the reality of personal and institutional racism that has been part of our society from the beginning. It is undeniable. Even our founding fathers were comfortable with counting slaves, almost all of whom were black as three fifths of a person.
No. No level of racial bias ever justifies the violent taking of life in the name of law and order when less onerous means of enforcement are easily available, most especially when the alleged offenders were not involved in any sort of violent crime. And there is no reason whatsoever, to target individuals regardless of the color of their skin, ethnic origins, or belief systems who have pledged themselves to protect our society.
Before we can adequately address these daunting and often complex issues, we must call for an end of the endless off-the-cuff name-calling and our vilification of the “other” in our political discourse. We need to move away from our all-too-comfortable habit of seeing the world through the lens of identity politics. The apostle Paul reminds us continually, none of us are righteous before God. The way forward, then, requires not so much a new kind of politics, but a bold new way of thinking on the part of all followers of Christ that many of us honestly will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into even attempting.
In short, it involves a deep, almost paradoxical and God-inspired respect for the “other” no matter how much we suspect or have demonized them. Today's familiar gospel lesson of "The Good Samaritan" makes this clear. We must make real the words of our own baptismal vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, not just the ones we like or the ones that agree with us. In the midst of all the chaos and strife our sometimes timid voices may seem ineffectual in the face of what some consider “real danger.” But, the real danger for us as followers of Christ, may not so much be the physical threat we encounter as the very real danger of losing our soul by simply tossing our hands in the air in a spirit of helplessness.
It will take deep thinking and even more profound spiritual self-discipline. Some of us may recall Vince Lombardi’s philosophy that “the tough getting going when the going gets tough.” But our “toughness” cannot merely be more bluster. Each and all of us, like the prophet Amos, must be willing to cry out “enough” and then gird ourselves with the armor of faith to do whatever small thing is in our power to make even a small difference.
In the end, all those little acts of courage will add up. As the Christian faith spread throughout the world one soul at a time, so will the impact of God’s kingdom in our own world if we but take up its cause – one act, one person at a time. In this way, we will begin to build the kingdom of God.