O.K., so I’m one of those guys who, actually reads bumper-stickers while waiting at stoplights. One that is memorable at this post Las Vegas moment in our history was: “Thou shalt not kill” is not a suggestion. Written into the heart of God’s moral design for humankind is that of the sacredness of human life. That commandment is about manslaughter. To be sure there are those arguable ‘situational ethics’ gray areas such as issues over abortion, or the death penalty which are worthy of serious study and discussion. But the crass taking of another human life is unequivocally condemned by God in the moral law.

But we become so callous to this killing. It becomes almost normative and expected in our country where there are mass killings every day, and where the annual toll of such victims is staggering.  There was a time when the Geneva Accords condemned the taking of the lives of innocent civilians in warfare, but even that got lost when we began to bomb cities un-conscionably. It was boasted in the brief Desert Storm War that we lost none of our troops, yet the massive bombing that made it so took the lives of an estimated 100,000 civilians in Iraq. According to the Geneva Accords, that would have made us a nation of war-criminals. But we have become insensitive, or hardened to such killings.

And now it comes much closer to home, and it is not a time when God’s people can stay silent with impugnity. There was the Sandy Hook elementary school, and we were appalled but un-willing as a nation to take costly action to prevent such. We offered, rather, our prayers for the poor people in Sandy Hook. Then there was the deranged kid who shot up the Mother Immanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which briefly called for our shock and pity. Then the nightclub in Orlando with its huge toll of life, and we were shocked, but not enough to say: enough is enough. And, then the horrendous killing at the musical festival in Las Vegas . . . .

There are never absolute solutions to those determined to do violence to others, or those deranged or mentally disturbed persons, but there are solutions that take costly political courage and popular support. The nation of Australia demonstrated this after a similar mass-shooting some six, or so, years ago and they have never had a repeat. They let us know that there are legal solutions that move in the right direction. There are those principalities and powers embodied in the gun lobby which seek to control the agenda, and they must be called out and held accountable. The making illegal of automatic weapons is a good start. No one needs an AK-47 to go deer hunting. It was automatic weapons that made all those mass shootings mentioned above possible.

It is not a time that God’s people can, in good conscience, stay silent. It reminds one of the prominent German pastor, Martin Niemoller, who was taken prisoner late in Hitler’s Germany. His post-war lament was about his silence as he saw what was happening. First, said, the Nazis came for the socialists, but he wasn’t socialist, so he kept silence. Then followed the trade-unionists of which he was not one, so he kept silence. Then they came for the Jews but he was not a Jew so he kept silence. Then, finally, they came for him, and there was nobody left to come to his aid.

Christian obedience is costly, but the ethical demands of our New Creation calling cannot find escape in personal piety, or expected prayers for the victims. It’s time to speak out—even if with a bumper-sticker, or to find those other agents of righteousness who are organized to bring about solutions and to call to account the vast economic principalities that protect the gun industry. Human life is too sacred for us to retreat into ethical cowardice. To be continued …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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