How would you feel about a phrase like, war against children? Virtually no one would like such a phrase, but isn’t that exactly what happens when someone bursts into a school brandishing an AK-15 assault rifle? When someone uses a weapon to kill children inside a school room, and when a nation refuses to change its culture of weapons and bullets, then we need to own it: America wages and perpetuates war against children!
The total lack of regulation of firearms and ammunition in America is the source of the shooting that held nineteen children and two teachers hostage in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in the hands of a murderer. The ultimate ”perpetrator” could be called the National Rifle Association (NRA), the group who promotes the idolatry of lethal weapons. Protesters at the site of the NRA’S National Convention this weekend were joined by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who listed previous school shootings and called on those attending the convention to make sure that gun violence would no longer harm children in this country.
“The time to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe High School. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is right now, right here, today with every single one of us.”
Gun violence in schools is not a national scourge in every country. There are examples of gun control our nation could follow if we had the passion and political will to do so. A case in point . . .
About a month after the Parkland school shooting, a letter of condolence addressed to the survivors arrived from survivors and parents who had endured a similar tragedy 22 years before when a local shopkeeper walked into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and opened fire, killing 16 five and six-year-olds and their teacher.
Writing the letter to Parkland survivors was a act of solidarity. Offering hope for change, they told of their successful campaign for gun reform. They wrote, “Laws were changed, handguns were banned and the level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world.”
Since the 1996 Dunblane massacre, they said, “there have been no more school shootings in the United Kingdom.” Because of a grassroots campaign led by the parents of Dunblane students, leaders in the U.K took decisive legislative action. By the end of 1997, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, enacted a semi-automatic weapons ban, and implemented mandatory registration for shotgun owners.
The signees ended with words of encouragement, “Wherever you march, whenever you protest, however you campaign for a more sensible approach to gun ownership, we will be there with you in spirit.”
Here in “the land of the free,” we have become callous to gun violence. We hear of mass shootings on streets, in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques, and we move on. We are becoming immune to shootings in night clubs, stores, shopping malls, military bases, restaurants, theaters and homes.
Violence inside schools, though, is on a higher, more lethal level. People who grapple with making sense of school shootings strain to come up with “reasons” that such heinous acts of violence could happen. People choose to go into restaurants, clubs and theaters, but children in school classrooms are mandated to be there.
War against children.
Do we dare look at the list of school shootings since 1969? I studied the list today, lamented over it, I guess. There were fourteen school massacres that left 169 dead children.
After every single incident, people cry, “enough is enough.” After every horrific mass murder, lawmakers and power brokers say, “enough is enough.” And then comes the question, “Why?” Why is this violence happening? The following answers for “why”—some good and some preposterous—emerge from the national dialogue.
mental health problems; delinquent youth out of control; inattentive parents leaving guns accessible to children; weapons and ammunition too easy to get; untrained resource officers. It’s because the adults in the schools don’t have guns. They need guns.
Franklin Graham blamed school shootings on “a nation that has turned its back on God,” and on violent video games, the entertainment industry and on “taking God out of our schools.” James Dobson blamed the shooting at Sandy Hook on God’s wrath over abortion and same-sex marriage.
War against children.
This is a sad season, but it is also a sad time for Christianity. Just days after the tragic slaughter of innocent children and their teachers, the National Rifle Association meets in national conference to celebrate themselves only 300 miles away from Robb Elementary in Uvalde. Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood name it and explain it in a recent article published in A Public Witness.
“Even after Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, and now Robb Elementary — not to mention the numerous other mass shootings at churches, theaters, concerts, restaurants, grocery stores, homes, and basically any other place in our society — some Christian leaders still try to baptize the death cult that will gather in Texas this weekend.”
Shane Claiborne, co-author of Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, criticizes pastors who “bless this group that is literally contradicting nearly every word of the Sermon on the Mount.” He continues, ”I’m going to go straight to Jesus and say we cannot serve two masters. And we really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”
His words are true, as are words written by Dr. Obery Hendricks in his recent book, Christians Against Christianity. He writes a fiery epithet about what he describes as “the unholy alliance between right-wing evangelicals and the NRA. Their annual prayer breakfast,” Hendrick’s writes, ”tries to add a veneer of Christian religiosity to the NRA’s deadly agenda.”
In the article in A Public Witness, Kaylor and Underwood describe ”the NRA’s Hell” in scathing commentary. ”As the blood of more slaughtered children cries out from the ground, preparations continue for this weekend’s NRA convention.”
War against children.
There is no lack of commentary following the terror at Robb Elementary School. Stephen Reeves, executive director of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Southwest, also criticized Christian leaders who bless the NRA, saying, “I don’t know how you pray in the name of the Prince of Peace and ask for God’s blessings on the mission of the NRA. No other country sacrifices their children on the altar of the gun.”
Yet, the prophets and the mourners somehow coalesce this weekend, in solidarity with one another regarding weapons of war and slaughter. While a Texas community mourns grievous loss, righteous prophetic critics stand on their behalf to call out sin, complacency, greed, self-interest and idolatry and those who champion the evil of it. ”As our children are killed at the altar of a semiautomatic idol,” Kaylor and Underwood write, ”high priests like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Jonathan Falwell help the NRA damn us all to this hell.”
Meanwhile surviving parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members and friends are oblivious to the rhetoric, to the NRA, and to anyone or anything else. Theirs is to mourn, to keep vigil over the memories of the children, and I suppose, to continue asking, ”why.” Why did this happen? Why in our school? Why did it have to take my child?
The “why” questions? Could the answer be because America is waging war against children? The ”why questions” are literally unanswerable, no matter how long we sit before them waiting for answers, for reasons. Some cataclysms have no reasons or explanations, at least none that are worth anything. One needn’t ask ”why” to pure evil, but must instead try to ease beyond ”why” to a more answerable question.
Still, getting beyond “why” brings another question that hovers over us like an ominous cloud: “What can I do about it?”
That is the question that remains. It pierces us. It drives the conversations we have and the prayers we pray.
“What can I do about it?” I can only answer with possibilities to consider. Here are a few.
- Make a commitment to stand courageously against violence in the ways you are able.
- Become an informed activist, aware enough to help influence the passage of legislation that protects children.
- Communicate constantly with members of Congress, by phone, letter, email, text. Go to their webpages and keep on prodding them to do right.
- When your activism seems small, know that it helps wage the big war against violence.
- Be open to acts of tenderness. Hold a mourner in your arms, when they feel nothing and when their crying will not stop.
Many parents of the Texas children are in in shock, in trauma-induced silence. Without voice, without tears, without any emotion at all. It will be a while before they can make any audible expression of grief.
Other parents are crying uncontrollably. They will cry at the funeral home, in the church, in the graveyard, at the store, in their beds in the night. Their bodies will literally shake as grief pours out from their deepest places. It will be a while before they can stop crying.
Most of us, in fact, cannot stop crying when we see and absorb this war against children or begin to grasp the utter senseless evil of it.
In my work as a victim advocate and trauma counselor, I was present with those who were trapped in silence and with those who could not stop crying. That was the thing I could do, and after the crying, being with them in marches and sit-ins or just for a cup of coffee. In a 2021 article for The Trace, Journalist Ann Givens interviewed me about my victim advocacy and my activism to end violence. She asked me about God, about how God responds to us in a crisis to help us move beyond trauma while we are still facing so much suffering. This was my response:
“God is a God of peace. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God helps us take the deep, excruciating emotions that come with bad things, and do something with them.”
In the very middle of this war against children, can we take our powerful, intense emotions and do something even more powerful? Can we persevere until the war against children is over and we can see the bright hope of children lying down with a lion and a lamb in places of peace and safety?
May God empower us to say, “Yes, we can!” and fill us to overflowing with a living hope that empowers us to say, ”Yes, we will!”
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
May 26, 2022
Please take a few moments of prayer and meditation to listen to this song, Precious Child.
Precious Child – Words & Music by Karen Taylor Good