How Should Christians Respond to the Mass Shootings?
Conversations and Aftermath
The nation is still reeling from the shootings last weekend, and as the funeral services wind down, and political figures have voiced their support and concerns, the conversation is turning to the future. What are we going to do about gun violence?
In the midst of all the lines of discussion, there may be some consensus building around “red flag” laws. Already on the books in 17 states, these laws allow judges to order the temporary confiscation of weapons from individuals who show dangerous warning signs. Andrew McCarthy argues that these laws are both sensible and constitutional. If due process is carried out, it is perfectly reasonable to include gun confiscation with other measures of precaution for potentially dangerous people. The President and a growing group of GOP reps have supported increasing the red flag laws across the country. Until Congress acts, every state has the opportunity to design the background check and red flag laws they think best.
But there’s plenty more to talk about when it comes to the recent shootings. From a cultural standpoint, everyone is asking what can be done about rogue shooters. How do you combat pockets of white nationalism, radicalization, and lone gunmen? Politicians and commentators have offered the complete spectrum of solutions, ranging from increased surveillance of white men to ignoring the problem of ideology all together. Some of the debates have been enlightening, others have been obvious attention grabs, but on the whole, they tell us a lot about our culture.
Unsurprisingly, last year, Rep. Ilhan Omar said we should be less worried about Islamic jihadists and other terrorist threats and more focused on white men, who seem to be committing all the attacks, and the quote has come back into prominence this week. The 2020 hopefuls have sequentially blamed the President for the attacks, called for assault weapon bans, and identified white supremacy as the most important issue tied to gun violence. In response, Tucker Carlson ignited serious outrage (even for him) by saying white supremacy is a hoax. At The Federalist, David Marcus took up this case and fleshed out the argument. White supremacy itself is not a hoax, but the belief that it is a significant portion of the country, or even a big enough group to be discussing as a national crisis is a hoax. White Supremacy is not a pervasive ideology in the country, but it is a significant force for violence in some of these mass shootings.
On “The Argument” this week, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg debated two sides of the issue. Michelle compared the white supremacist shooters to ISIS and accused the President of directly inciting violence against minorities. Douthat argued that some tactics the President has used may be construed as inciting violence, but he cannot be held directly responsible for encouraging violence.
On “The Editors,” David French offered some helpful suggestions about what to do to prevent ideologically driven gun violence. He recommended that the FBI get more involved in surveilling the popular channels of white supremacy as they have with terrorism in the past. Similar advice was given by former white nationalist Christian Picciolini in an interview with the Atlantic. He currently runs an organization designed to de-radicalize white supremacists and extremists, and suggests de-platforming influencers and regulating hate speech will be most effective.
Why Are Christians Quiet About the Shootings?
What’s been alarming in most of the media response to the shootings is that it has been devoid of religion. The backlash against praying for the victims may be taking its toll. But I think there’s something even deeper. As Christians, we look at these shootings and we really don’t know what to do. Emma Green catalogued some pastors’ responses to the shootings in her weekly column. She charges churches on the right with silent complicity. There are many Christians who feel like speaking out about the shootings would violate their political commitments. If this is true, it’s extremely sad. But I’m not convinced this is the motivation behind Christians’ confusion over the shootings. These acts of violence actually make sense in a Christian worldview. Whereas in a secular framework it is difficult to explain the rationality behind extreme violence, Christians understand that human beings are capable of terrible acts of evil. What’s most frustrating is that we also believe in the power of God to transform individuals and societies, but we are seeing very little of it right now.
Jarvis Williams and Curtis Woods wrote an important article at Christianity Today this week titled, “Jesus, Deliver Us from This Racist Evil Age.” They make two significant claims; first, the only way we can combat the present evil age is through spirit-empowered sacrificial love. As Christians, we should be growing in this capacity to love others as Christ has loved us all the time. Second, it will take every individual Christian confronting racism and opportunities for racism to take root to make a difference in our society. Evangelicals are often tempted to believe that racism is not a problem. We can see at unconscious bias training, PC speech policing, attempts to change history to suit the current ideological climate, and ubiquitous charges of racism and think racism is just a boogie man of the far left. The ERLC put out a helpful post this week on defining white nationalism and domestic terrorism, as distinguished from these other cultural fads. For many white evangelicals, any discussion of mass shootings and race tends to feel accusatory. It’s easier to ignore the racial component. But let’s not allow these trends to lull us to sleep when there are real problems in the way we love one another across racial boundaries. Williams and Woods provide a solid biblical paradigm for viewing race in the kingdom of God and some great action steps for what to do about it.
The same thing is true about mass shootings. Whether the shooters are motivated by racism, bigotry, misanthropy, of if they are lashing out to feel like they matter, the same principle of action applies. The only way to make a difference is by individually addressing the problems presented to us. We all know people who are lonely, who tend toward violence and dangerous ideologies, or who are struggling with mental illness. What does it look like for us to sacrificially love them? What does it mean to continue to hope and believe in the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit to transform people, cultures, and nations? Sometimes that means tough love. Sometimes it means adding boundaries. We each have a role to play in addressing the evils of the age. Christians have to talk more about this, openly, Christianly, faithfully.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.