Man still has one belief, one decree that stands alone:
The laying down of arms is like cancer to [his] bones.
— The great philosopher Dave Mustaine
Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
— Luke 10:25-29, Common English Bible
Who is my neighbor?
Is my neighbor the unborn child no one will ever meet, killed by her mother before ever seeing God’s sun?
Are my neighbors the parents down the street, struggling to pay bills, postponing doctor’s visits because they cannot afford health insurance, which is not provided by the employers who provide them the part-time jobs with which they can barely stay afloat?
Is my neighbor Trayvon Martin and the thousands of other victims of gun violence, slain in a nation with the highest rate of guns per capita in the world?
To which Jesus replies, “Yes, my child. But the real question is: Are you their neighbor?”
The only people who really know what happened Feb. 26 on a sidewalk in Sanford, Fla., are George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and Martin’s voice was silenced by Zimmerman’s bullet.
So let’s be clear. George Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty, but we know this: Trayvon Martin was unarmed when he died, and Zimmerman admits to killing him. Zimmerman claims self-defense, and that may yet prove to be the case, although it seems that if anyone on that sidewalk had the right to be acting in self-defense it was the skinny teenager without a gun being pursued by the armed man 100 pounds heavier than he.
And there are a host of questions about race – whether Zimmerman holds an active hatred for African Americans that prejudiced his perception of Martin, whether he holds a more sublimated prejudice that caused him to see a gun that simply wasn’t there, whether the Sanford Police Department saw a dead black kid and accepted without question the idea that Zimmerman would feel threatened enough to use deadly violence in a confrontation with him.
But putting aside – with great difficulty – the race question, there is the matter of the law. Because it is possible the Sanford authorities simply felt they had no recourse under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which states a person may shoot to kill when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another” or “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
Nothing in the law prevents a person from acting in “self-defense” after pursuing and confronting someone else. This law – the nation’s first, but now enacted in more than 20 states – was drafted and pushed by the National Rifle Association. As a recent editorial cartoon argues, the natural extent of this law is for the one being pursued to kill the pursuer first, under the reasonable belief that the pursuer will open fire at the slightest provocation.
It is hard to believe this sort of law is necessary, extending the right of deadly self-defense beyond the parameters of one’s home, removing the legal incentive to flee a potentially dangerous situation and replacing it with a legal incentive to escalate it.
But of course laws like this are what the NRA does.
The NRA was behind the lapse of the assault-weapons ban in 2004, which allowed Jared Loughner to legally purchase an extended clip for his handgun that doubled the number of bullets he could fire into the crowd at Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s meet-and-greet event in Tucson before he stopped to reload. And the NRA was behind the effort to stifle legislation introduced after the shooting that would have re-banned such extended clips.
In fact, the NRA has spent millions over the years in federal and state legislatures to roll back gun-control legislation.
That has led to such seemingly nonsensical permissiveness regarding weapons – just since the 2011 Tucson massacre (h/t Rachel Maddow):
- Schools, public libraries and some public hospitals in Indiana are prohibited from restricting handgun possession.
- Concealed handguns are now allowed in and on the campuses of all Kansas K-12 public schools.
- A similar law in Utah, but the state also now allows handguns within 1,000 feet of preschools and daycares.
- Concealed handguns are now allowed in Ohio restaurants, arenas and bars.
- Counties are prohibited from imposing waiting periods for firearm sales in Florida.
Our society is addicted to violence; indeed, we have become desensitized to it.
How else to explain, as my friend Dan Carlson pointed out on his Facebook feed, that The Hunger Games, is rated PG-13 while Bully is rated R?
Here’s a description from a Gawker story explaining how Hunger Games – “a slaughterfest for the whole family,” according to New York’s David Edelstein – avoided an R rating:
It’s a dance, incorporating the violent deaths of more than 20 teenagers into a film whose blockbuster aspirations aim it virtually at all age groups. Ross pulls it off with a host of tricks like shaky-cam blurring, tasteful squirts of blood (well, as tasteful as squirts of blood can be) and selective montages that focus more on the effect (lifeless corpses) than the cause (say, bludgeoning).
Why does Bully, a documentary about the dangers and effects of bullying others, have an R rating? It uses the f-word six times.
There are many things wrong with the MPAA rating system, and the Hunger Games-Bully dichotomy gets at several of them, but the one I’m focusing on is how much violence is glorified in our culture.
Think about this: Christians who support non-violence or even pacifism are confronted with tough questions about the practicality of their beliefs. Who confronts Christians who supported – or even rushed headlong into – the eight-year carnage-filled adventure that was our war in Iraq? Who confronts the followers of a rabbi who preached turning the other cheek when they advocate nuclear armament, saber rattling or, yes, the NRA.
Rachel Held Evans’ continuing “Ask a …” series this week featured Tripp York, a Christian pacifist.
And, sure enough, York was asked about whether the growing number of young people in the church turning toward pacifism are doing so more because it’s trendy and less because they’ve truly struggled with the implications of pacifism. One of his points made me pause:
If it is a trend, then I say let’s embrace it. The alternative has been trendy long enough! You very well may be correct. I think your question is an interesting one. Though, I doubt that the “blank check” most Christians write for the never-ending wars of their nation-states are “wrestling” with the challenging implications of their “position” either.
Indeed, we need a reassessment of our norms as a church.
We rightly condemn abortion and would have justifiably tough questions for any Christians who were members of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
But where is the condemnation of the culture of violence fetishization? Where are the tough questions for those Christians who support the NRA, paying dues to an organization that spends millions to continually expand access to weapons of violence in a nation with more guns – and more gun violence – than nearly any other?
Similarly, where is the condemnation of a system that is so broken that thousands of people can be deprived access to health care to the point of dying? Where are the tough questions for those Christians who demonize and promise to repeal attempts at making that system better, such as the Affordable Care Act?
Are the victims of gun violence no less our neighbors than the victims of abortion? Are the children dying from preventable diseases in our own country no less our neighbors than the children dying in their mothers’ wombs?
They are all our neighbors. But whose neighbors are we?
“What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”