Yesterday, ten lives were lost at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Since the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it counts as the seventeenth school shooting. This time, however, the weapons used were not assault rifles or semi-automatic handguns, but a shotgun and a .38 caliber revolver. These are the sort of guns many of us grew up with. They are the sort of guns with which we might have actually learned to shoot in many parts of the country. While I certainly believe in stricter gun control, universal background checks and all the rest, there is something else going on here and it involves us.
We are slowly learning not to be outraged by such tragedies.
We are increasingly becoming inured to the rising tide of violence that surrounds us. It is not, however, merely violent acts such as school shootings that we now accept as commonplace or normal. It is the violence of speech from politicians. It is the violence of families separated in deportations. It is the violence of intolerance from both the right and the left witnessed in street demonstrations. It is the violence of men who exploit and abuse women. It is the violence of economic inequity where working families find it hard to make ends meet and frequently have to choose between food on the table and paying the rent. It is the violence of demeaning an opponent with the casual cruelty of insults. It is the violence of poverty in the abandoned industrial towns of Appalachia. It is the calculated violence of discrimination whereby another person created in the image of God is made out to be less than human because of their color, their national origin, their faith, their gender or their politics.
Now, with increasing regularity, that violence is put on display in the form of an alienated angry teen with a gun in his hands in a school hallway.
Oh yes, we will try to establish the individual motive of the shooter, or we will debate the availability of guns, but I think something more is going on in our society and it seems to be getting worse.
Meanwhile, as the Church, we are debating what it means to be the Church. There are numerous church leaders, seeking political and policy advantage, who seem willing to accept the current state of affairs. Using golf metaphors, they are willing to give certain political leaders “a pass” when it comes to blatant immorality, or to mocking a disabled reporter or a continuing stream of lies and insults. They condone the violence of speech and, at times, amplify that speech. Then there are others struggling to understand how the Church is to function in the current atmosphere. Yet, even here, we find it hard to reach consensus. We debate the relevance of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes to our current lives as believers. We parse the words of Matthew 25 hoping that it might say something different from what it actually says. In any case, we’re more interested in the latest denominational (and non-denominational) scandals and we would rather discuss the finer points of soteriology or eschatology.
We are no longer outraged by the violence of thought and action that surrounds us… and that is a problem.
The early church recognized that it bore a special responsibility toward the world. As the letter to Diognetus says:
“[Christians] pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…To sum up all in one word–what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world.”
If, indeed, we are the soul, we cannot afford not to be outraged, no matter what that might cost us. Yet, in my darker moments, I fear that a sickness has entered that soul… and we stand in need of healing.