Last November I wrote in this space, “So what are people of faith to do after the violence of Las Vegas, New York City, and Sutherland Springs?” Now we can add yesterday’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. We can also add 18 other school shootings since the beginning of the year. In 2018 we are averaging one school shooting every 60 hours. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, there have been over 1100 mass shootings and over 1300 people killed and thousands wounded. In addition to all this carnage, 32,000 Americans are killed by handguns every year. The levels of gun violence in this country far exceed the levels in any other country on the planet that is not in the midst of a civil war. So once again we need to ask, “What should people of faith do?”
We know that 80% of Americans support bans on assault-style weapons and 90% support tougher background checks. Given those statistics, we would think that our political leaders would be falling over each other to pass legislation for tougher background checks and to ban assault weapons. Think again. So many legislators live in fear of the NRA that they do nothing. What can we do? We can engage our elected leaders. Contact your local representative and appeal to their conscience. Ask them why they haven’t taken the initiative to do something real and meaningful about gun violence. If they have resisted past efforts, why? Tell them you won’t support them in the next election unless they do something.
People of faith must be engaged in the political process. Following Jesus isn’t some private spiritual pursuit, but one that calls us to help God transform our various neighborhoods into peaceable communities where people don’t live in fear. People of faith may well disagree with each other on what to do about the various issues of the day, but all are called to be engaged with shaping our world through our political process.
In light of this coming Sunday’s reading from Genesis 9:8-17, I couldn’t help but think of God’s response to our current levels of violence. The above text is the final chapter of story of The Flood. Of course, the story begins with God looking at the state of human affairs and making this assessment:
God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them” (Gen. 6:5-7, The Message).
In this passage, God has clearly given up on his first experiment with creation and except for sparing Noah and few other creatures decides to start over. Of course, The Flood story ends with an astonishing change of heart on God’s part: the story concludes with God making a covenant with all creatures “that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters” (Gen. 9:11).
At times like this I wonder if God has once again had it with us and wants to start over; that the only answer is a total redo. But then I think of people of faith who want to keep at it. I think of people who embody God’s everlasting commitment to the human project, and I find hope that the intractable problems of our time can be solved. I am reminded of Jim Wallis’ paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1: Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.” Let us keep at it and then wait for the evidence to change.