Saved from Violence Part 1: A response to the Newtown tragedy
“Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen.” Scott Ostrosky, Newtown resident, owner of informal shooting range, as quoted in the New York Times.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” President Obama, speaking at a Newtown, CT prayer vigil
In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT on Friday, who has not been touched by the grief of the parents who lost children, of the children who lost mothers? Coming in the midst of the Christmas season, it could not help but bring to my mind a part of the birth narrative that is rarely recalled amidst the serene scene of animals, shepherds, angels and kings paying homage to the newborn child. It’s the story of King Herod’s massacre of all the boys under two years old in Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to kill the one child who was foretold to take his throne. The New Testament quotes the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah in response to the long ago horror with words that feel all too fresh: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted.”
Yet we offer comfort – family and friends, ministers and priests, grief counselors and politicians, and President Obama on behalf of the nation – we rush to embrace and cry together. What can we say now except, “You are not alone. We will not leave you to endure this without community, friendship and love.”
That’s America at our best. We respond with open hearts and a generosity of spirit in times of tragedy that always comforts me. And we ask not just what can we do in the wake of this devastation, but how we can prevent future suffering and loss. It’s right that we do so. It’s right that we continue the debate about America’s gun culture with a new urgency. As we wrestle with an appropriate national response, I want to point to one truth that, though overlooked, is central to our search for a response that will actually bring about the change that President Obama called for.
I quoted a Newtown resident, Scott Ostrosky, to begin this article because his observation that this nation’s freedom was won at gunpoint is undeniably true. We wrested political control from Great Britain through war and violence. What is not true is what his historical memory leaves unspoken: that what we won through war was true freedom. Scott is a prisoner of his own faith in violence, as is our nation. We are enslaved to violence through our belief that it is only through violence that we can protect ourselves and our freedoms. It is not just gun rights advocates who believe this. Almost all of us, whether we own a gun or not, believe without question that violence is the most powerful force in the world and if we want to be free we had better have bigger, better and more lethal weapons than our enemies.
This is a lie. Violence does what we have witnessed in Newtown, CT: it destroys life, generates fear, causes us to retreat, retrench and rearm. And if that is how we feel, I hope you can see that those on the receiving end of America’s superior violence feel the same. This is not freedom, friends. When we enshrine violence we become its puppets, dutiful marionettes dancing to strings pulled by the gods of war. Here’s the truth: King Herod failed to kill the threat to his reign of violence, a threat that appeared in the form of a defenseless infant. This child became a man whose only weapons were love and mercy and who we celebrate as our Savior. If you have ever wondered what exactly he came to save us from, let the victims of Bethlehem and Newtown, and all the victims of violence in the two thousand years separating them, lead you to the most obvious answer: Jesus came to save us from our faith in violence. We must change, but the call to change is millennia old. Our response is overdue.
(This was part 1 in the Raven Foundation’s series on the Newtown tragedy. Click here to read Saved from Violence Part 2: What we owe our children in a violent world, by Adam Ericksen and here for Saved from Violence Part 3: The social dimension of mental illness, by Suzanne Ross.)