We’re told not to expect much change anyway. And why do we need another divisive issue in the church. Nothing will change! Unless …
But we must dare to expect this time. We the people need to be active because we really do have the opportunity to change our culture of gun violence. We continue to hear that now is the time for a “conversation” about gun violence. “Conversation” is actually a pretty safe word. Can’t we at least have that? But, “It won’t make any difference,” we hear and believe. President Obama, in his press conference on Jan. 16, invited all kinds of community people, including pastors, to take a lead. Now is the time.
Martin Luther King Jr. marched and we the people marched during the Civil Rights Movement, a few of us at first. Most thought it would be impossible to change a culture of segregation which was a “way of life.” But the movement grew. Issues remain: racism, classism, voter suppression laws. But we as a nation changed.
“The Abolitionists” has been on PBS this month. In the 1820s slaves had become the largest economic asset in the country. Blacks, in great danger, raised their voices but white America, with an institution so deeply embedded culturally, politically and economically, could not imagine turning monetary assets into compatriots. Slavery was a religious issue. People spoke and wrote and led and fought and so we have the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.
Many did not expect Barack Obama to be giving a second inaugural speech on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many did not expect him to be elected four years ago. How could one have expected an African American to be president? But he did give a powerful speech, despite efforts to nullify him and his executive orders. Still people say, “Don’t expect too much from his second term.” “He won’t get things through Congress.”
Unless we the people become actors in our own drama of change beyond expectations.
Walking through centuries-old cemeteries, one sees grave stones of small children who died of disease. Families then could not expect all of their children to grow to adulthood. The same is still true in many nations around the world. But through research and work, we as a nation now do expect our children to grow up; so we experience tragedy when lives are cut short by mass murder. But I have heard this week, “Of course we can’t stop all the shootings.” Have we come to expect nothing can change a culture of gun violence? On the streets of some cities young people themselves think they may die of gunshot wounds, perhaps in a drive-by shooting, before they reach adulthood.
Not many decades ago in the United States it was expected that when children returned to school in the fall, some classmates would be missing because they had died of polio during the summer. We stopped polio. That change is true almost all over the world except for a few countries. The World Health Organization recently announced a nationwide Pakistani polio vaccination campaign has been temporarily suspended because at least eight Pakistani health workers were shot to death as they administered the vaccination to children. We worked, and are working, to change the expectation that children die from the epidemic of polio. What about the epidemic of gun violence?
At the time of President Obama’s press conference Jan. 16, 900 Americans had died “at the end of a gun” since the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School. How many more have died since? Don’t expect much change unless in each community, in each extended family, in each faith community at the local, state and national level, we the people are determined to work together to change a killing culture. Death and life are issues that Christ calls us to care about. Christ’s death and resurrection free us to be agents of life in a death-denying, death-defying culture.
We can expect gun laws to have little effect unless we pay attention to the ongoing legislative process. About 10 years ago then Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt was able to place amendments (the wording of which was approved by the National Rifle Association) in a congressional spending bill that significantly weakened law enforcement efforts to prevent gun crimes and prosecute gun offenders. While some components of the Tiahrt Amendments were improved in 2007 and 2009, several damaging provisions continue to tie the hands of law enforcement. Background check records are still destroyed within 24 hours. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives still does not have the power to require dealer inventory checks to detect lost and stolen guns. Cities and states are still restricted from using trace data to fully investigate corrupt gun dealers and traffickers. What can we expect? We can insist that Congress confirm the appointment of a director for the bureau. The NRA will literally call the shots unless
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day my husband and I attended a breakfast here in Dubuque, Iowa, at the Grand River Center overlooking the Mississippi River. We have done this for years. It began as a small group, then moved to local Loras College dining hall. Now families, high school and college students, business people and more gather. People participated in not just a day but a weekend of service all over the city. We did not take guns to the River Center. Likewise a small group of people has begun to organize here, energized in part by nuns, to help this community address issues and causes of violence, all kinds of violence. The group will gather for the second time Feb. 3. What should we, together, dare to expect? To work, to walk, to “like, share and tweet,” to organize, to persuade congressional representatives and senators who say they will simply vote against anything. Nothing will change. Unless
Norma Cook Everist is professor of church administration and educational ministry at Wartburg Theological Seminary. She holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, a Master of Arts in religion from Concordia Seminary and a Bachelor of Arts from Valparaiso University.