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Try Again!

In the wake of several mass shootings in the last two weeks, it seems the time for flowery and sophisticated rhetoric is over. So let us begin at the conclusion and state it as directly as possible – any Christian church that is unwilling to actually do something about the scourge of gun violence in our country – should strongly consider whether they hold any real value in our society. And that includes Adventism. While public statements are a necessary element of a church’s response, they are no longer sufficient as the primary response of any institution, especially the Christian church in America, which continues to hold an outsized influence in our social and political culture. As a society we find ourselves at the culmination of a five-decade project in Evangelical Christianity to amass political power to reshape American society in accordance with one definition of Christian values. There are many within Adventism who supported and continue to support that movement. I cannot think of any better use of such accumulated power than to take decisive action to help protect the lives of our children.

There are those who would say that Adventism should not be held to the same standard because of our long-standing principle of the separation of church and state. They would argue that the Adventist Church does not get involved in these types of issues. That is true generally. It does seem, however, that the church will make an exception to that principle when it comes to issues that directly affect us, and rightly so. The most prominent example of this recently has been the church’s involvement on the question of same-sex marriage and the rights of the LGBTQIA community. There were para-church organizations involved in the Prop 8 debate in 2008, and the church publicized its support for the Fairness for All Act in late 2019. It is not a difficult argument to make that the lives of these innocent dead children should be more important to us than curtailing the rights of a community because those rights might infringe on ours. The blood of these innocent ones, and the others who died, cries out to us to do something. The church has political influence – or at least it appears to. So, if the church is willing to make its voice heard on any issue, it should be this one.

The question remains as to what the church should do, what measures it should support. The truth of the matter is that sensible gun reform would help to stem the tide of violence. Measures that the vast majority of Americans support, such as strengthening registration requirements, mandatory waiting periods, and background checks, would be simple things that the church could support. In the end, all serious ideas would be welcome for debate and discussion. Some GOP legislators are against such measures and want the focus to be on mental health issues or curbing access to violent entertainment.[1] I think the church should do its research and support measures that align with our beliefs and values. The most important thing is that the church tries to do something. There is no reason why we must accept this type of violence as part and parcel of American life. This type of violence is a uniquely American phenomenon, in part because other countries took the steps that we seem unwilling to take to protect our children. You would think that a religious movement that considered no form of political chicanery unethical in the quest to protect zygotes and fetuses would have the same fervor for children. But sadly, that does not seem to be the case. Maybe the worst of what the world is saying about Evangelical Christianity is true – that these elements in our society love their guns more than they love other people’s children. I’m hoping this belief is just hyperbole, and that our church and others are willing to prove the naysayers wrong. Adventism at any level (local, conference, union, etc.) should be willing to use its voice and actions in defense of these children and the ones to come, who may be harmed unless we do something. In the end, the demand on our time and attention, by comparison, is so small. If we cannot manage to care enough to do this for these grieving families and for the ones to come, then we are failing as an institution and there is no reason for us to remain here.

One note – for some readers the preceding may feel familiar. If so, you are not wrong. I originally wrote the above almost two years ago in response to a series of mass shootings, including ones in Uvalde, TX, and Buffalo, NY. The only change I made here was the explicit reference to the current places where mass shootings have occurred. I’ve been wrestling for days on how to say something new about gun violence, until it occurred to me that what I said before is just as relevant today as it was two years ago. And that should shame all of us. It is so unfortunate that we now live in an era where shame is no longer a sufficient motivator for positive change. And it saddens me that we are now stacking mass shooting anniversaries on top of each other. The Kansas City mass shooting that occurred during the Chief’s Super Bowl victory parade was on the six-year anniversary of the Parkland Shooting.

The question I keep coming back to is: what is the role of the church in society? While some may argue that it has no role in making society different or better generally, that does not seem to apply on some issues. If we are willing to meddle in human affairs on some things, then we should certainly be willing to meddle to keep people from being shot. I would like to think that it must certainly be a part of our mission to care enough about people that we would want to keep them alive. And I think it says something about our institutions if we can’t find the means and the opportunity to join this cause, as unreasonable death and suffering occurs all around us.

[1] Even though this may be a reasoned analysis, it seems to only get raised when someone is looking to deflect from having to address arguments in favor of gun regulations.

Image Credit: Max Kleinen on Unsplash

About the author

Jason Hines is an assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Administration at AdventHealth University. He has a PhD in religion, politics, and society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, an MA in religion from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a BA in political science from the University of Connecticut. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at More from Jason Hines.
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