I’ve come to the conclusion that our inability to engage in civil discourse is a greater threat to our Constitution, our democracy, Christian values, and our lives then all of the guns that have been used to commit senseless murder. Our battle ought not to be against guns themselves but against the violent culture in which we live that devalues human life and disrespects the other core values upon which our nation was founded. Sadly much of this violent discourse and disrespect for human dignity and the value of life comes wrapped in a cloak of false Christianity.
As a case in point, I recently came across a meme posted on a Facebook group called “Nation In Distress””. There are apparently a bunch of gun enthusiasts who are radically passionate about their Second Amendment rights. I know nothing about the organization so I won’t speculate about their origins, connection to NRA etc.
The meme had a photo of David Hogg who is one of the Parkland Florida high school students who has been a major voice for gun control since the shooting there. The text on the photo reads “If this man came to your door and demanded you give up your guns what would you do?” Here is a link to that post.
My first reply to this meme posting was as follows
I got 2 “likes” and 2 “loves” as well as a supportive reply comment from a friend of mine but no one else from the page in question responded to my message.
Today the meme appeared in my timeline again probably from a like or a share and I began reading through several of the other replies. It’s sickening to wade through the comments. First of all let me say as I’m writing this there are 114,000 comments, 22,963 shares and 46,000 reactions to the original post. So it’s a little bit difficult to wade through all of them and obviously I did not.
From my unscientific incomplete survey of the responses I would say perhaps 5% of them took my position that the young man is not trying to take your guns that he’s only advocating for common sense regulation. Some of these suggested that Mr. Hogg and his friends be treated with compassion and understanding because they had been so affected by such a tragic incident. One of them, although a bit condescending, suggested he was suffering from PTSD and pitied him. At least it indicated some amount of compassion or empathy.
I will be generous and say another 15-20% were kind enough to say they would ignore him, slam the door in his face or just laugh. Maybe 5% more were dismissive personal attacks saying things such as “He’s not a man he’s a boy”. One that I found most ironic said “I would tell him he’s too young to have a gun.” The boy in question I believe is 17 so technically that’s correct but I wonder if he would’ve said the same thing if he was 18 considering in Florida you can own such weapons at age 18.
Some of these dismissive messages attempted to discredit him saying “He didn’t witness the shootings as some have suggested. He is a senior and the shootings took place in the freshman building.” Others made the unsubstantiated claim that he wasn’t there at all. Fortunately someone pointed out that even if he didn’t personally witness any of the shootings that does not diminish the effect the events had upon him. The responders stated something to the effect that “I wasn’t there either. I live in a completely different part of the country yet that horrible incident affected me as it should have everyone in the country.”
I found it interesting that I did not find anyone who said “I would call the police because someone was trying to steal my lawful personal property”.
However the vast majority of replies advocated violence against this unarmed young man. The viciousness and volume of those kinds of responses were what discouraged me and shocked me the most. I was especially disappointed to see one such reply from a friend.
On the news I had seen stories about the numerous attempts to discredit the leaders of the #NeverAgain movement and the March for Our Lives rally. I was dismayed to see people engaging in these attacks. So far what I have seen on the news about these personal attacks has either been unfounded or absolutely proved incorrect. If you’re only response to a political opponent is to attempt to discredit them rather than to engage in a logical support of one’s own position or in a logical attack on the opponents position (rather than the person) then that does not serve your own cause very well.
Yet these kinds of attempts to personally discredit political opposition are pretty much par for the course these days and although it disappoints me and disgusts me I can understand that’s what people do when they don’t have logic on their side. So I wasn’t that upset that such ridiculous tactics were being employed.
I had heard there were death threats against these kids but had not personally seen them in the way that I saw them on this particular Facebook post. That really affected me to see how easily these people’s first response was to advocate violence.
Most of them said something to the effects of “I would give him the bullets first” which while despicable was a bit clever. The nicer ones only threatened to shoot him in the foot or kneecaps rather than empty their clips in his brain. Maybe 10% of the violent responses were for physical violence rather than shooting him. Most of those were “I would give him the butt end of my gun in the face”. Most of the violent responses simply said they would shoot him. One particularly interesting response was “Shoit him” which drew replies which said something to the effect of “How do you expect us to take you seriously when you can’t even spell “shoot” correctly?”
I suppose that the appropriate response is to send a note to the FBI to warn them that there are a large percentage of 114,000 comments on this particular message that are advocating gun violence against unarmed citizens. My fear is that someday one of these nut-jobs will actually pick up their AR 15 and go shoot some unarmed teenager carrying a protest sign. And then there will be all of the controversy saying “Why didn’t somebody report this person when they were advocating violence on Facebook” Fortunately we don’t have “thought police” in this country. Even the Florida shooter who posted on YouTube that he wanted to grow up to be a school shooter really wasn’t actionable even though it could have been taken more seriously. It’s not reasonable to expect the FBI to wade through hundreds of thousands of comments on this one of what are no doubt numerous similar Facebook posts and to track down all of the individuals who have threatened violence.
I think the one that set me off today was someone who brought up the Scripture quote from Luke 22:36 which says in part “sell your cloak and buy a sword”. This particular passage has long been used as sort of a biblical confirmation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. I’ve heard people say it is biblical proof that it’s okay to carry a gun under the concept that guns are the modern-day versions of a self-defense weapon like a sword.
While the person who quoted the Scripture did not appear to be among those who was advocating violence, this alleged Christian chose to use Scripture to defend the right to bear arms rather than to use Scripture or Christian doctrine to denounce the threats of violence that were rampant in this message thread.
That particularly upset me. Even though this particular person was not among the advocates of violence, I’m confident that many of those who were advocating violence would probably describe themselves as Christian warriors with divine support for their position.
Like all Scripture, this particular passage is open to a variety of interpretations. Most reasonable theologians simply say that taken in context, Jesus is warning them that unlike their previous missionary missions where he told them to take nothing with them, they should be prepared for persecution. The footnote in the New American Bible attached to Luke 22:36 says:
* [22:36] In contrast to the ministry of the Twelve and of the seventy-two during the period of Jesus (Lk 9:3; 10:4), in the future period of the church the missionaries must be prepared for the opposition they will face in a world hostile to their preaching.
The apostles themselves seemed to take him too literally when they said something to the effect that they already had two swords and Jesus rebukes them shouting “It is enough!” The idea that 2 swords was sufficient to defend 12 men would tend to indicate he wasn’t being quite as literal as they thought he was. The New American Bible footnote on this verse says…
* [22:38]It is enough!: the farewell discourse ends abruptly with these words of Jesus spoken to the disciples when they take literally what was intended as figurative language about being prepared to face the world’s hostility.
A few verses later when one of the apostles cuts off the ear of one of the Roman soldiers attempting to arrest Jesus, Jesus tells them to put away his sword and he heals the injured soldier. Luke 22:49-51. This doesn’t bode well for the interpretation that somehow violence is the answer.
While the quoting of Scripture in a way in which I disagreed was the trigger that caused me to respond, I knew better than to try to argue Scripture with someone. I respect those who can read the same passage and come to a somewhat reasonably different interpretation than the one which I hold.
Instead it prompted me to respond in such a way as to suggest what I believed would be a more Christian response that I would’ve hoped someone in this thread might have offered. So I posted the following comment.
The complete comment reads as follows:
Let’s say for the sake of argument that this person did come to your door and ask for your guns. He’s not doing that. He’s never advocated taking those guns away from you. Let’s also say for the sake of argument that I disagree with him (although I don’t). The vast majority of the people responding to this message have advocated violence against an unarmed person. Not one of you has said “I’m so sorry that you and your friends had to suffer the senseless murder of your classmates but I respectfully disagree with you and hope that at some point you can begin to heal, to find peace, and to respect those of us who differ with your political positions. I disagree with your proposed solutions to the problems of senseless gun violence. I pray that no children will have to experience what you and your classmates have experienced. May God bless you and may you know the peace of Christ.” That’s what I would do if I disagreed with him and if he did something like come after my guns (which he is not done). But the vast majority of the people replying to this message have not suggested they would behave in such a manner. Instead they have threatened violence against an innocent unarmed young man. One of you said “read the Bible”. I do. That’s why I would respond in the way I have suggested. Also not one person has responded to my previous comment that suggested that these teenagers were only suggesting that we enforce the part of the Second Amendment that says “well regulated”. What part of well-regulated don’t you understand?
That final sentence really sums up my whole approach to the debate. I continue to be dismayed by the concept that any form of gun control is somehow misinterpreted as the first step on a slippery slope to banning guns altogether. The Second Amendment reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The amendment itself speaks of regulation as an axiom presupposed as part of the discussion of the right to bear arms. It ties this right to bear arms to “being necessary to the security of a free State”. I fail to see how adding reasonable common sense regulation on weapons violates the Second Amendment. Does the unregulated access to deadly weapons secure a free state or make it more unsecure?
Historically an obvious motivation for the Second Amendment was so that the people could rise up against an unjust government authority. The British had confiscated the weapons of ordinary people thus diminishing their ability to rebel against that unjust authority. One of the ironies of this debate is that one could argue that the Second Amendment would ensure the right of black people to take up arms against racist police who are gunning down unarmed innocent civilians as a matter of course. I’m not advocating that in any respect whatsoever because I’m an extremely nonviolent person. But a strict constructionist view of the Second Amendment would say that the kind of abuses that African-Americans are suffering at the hands of racist government run police forces are exactly the kinds of issues for which that amendment was written. I doubt many Second Amendment advocates would agree.
Back to the original topic… The defenders of these teenagers have asked rightly “Why are people who are attacking these kids while supporting the Second Amendment so fearful of they who are exercising their First Amendment rights?” I consider it part of the wisdom of our Founding Fathers that the Bill of Rights is in the particular order that it is. The First Amendment says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The fact that this amendment precedes the Second Amendment tells me that they considered it of higher priority. It tells me that they valued civil discourse, peaceful assembly, petitioning of the Government for redress of grievances as more important than the ability to take up arms against an unjust Government.
Isn’t that what these children are advocating. They are speaking their minds. They are making use of the free press. They are peaceably assembling. They are petitioning the government for redress of a grievance. That is at the core of our American heritage, our democracy, our founding principles, our Constitution, our civil society, and our Christian values.
I don’t have the answer to the issue of gun violence. These kids don’t either. But I fail to see how further violence or advocating such violence, especially against innocent teenagers, is an appropriate response either. If the members of this particular Facebook group and of Second Amendment advocates in general expect to have their voices heard and respected and to have their opinions given serious consideration then it is not enough to defer from calling for violence. They must denounce those who advocate violence as well. Anything less hurts their own cause, hurts our Constitution, hurts our society, destroys the reputation of Christianity and its values, and threatens democracy itself in ways far more dangerous than these tragic shootings.