Jesus Come Near

NOTE: Prepared for delivery at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Rye Brook, N.Y., on May 29, 2022.

Our scriptures this morning are full of Jesus.

We so need that. After last week’s terrible news – the massacre by firearm of 19 innocent school children and two dedicated teachers – we need Jesus to gather us in his arms as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

We need to know that Jesus weeps with us.

We need to know that no one laments these lost lives and destroyed families in Uvalde more that Jesus.

We need to know that Jesus weeps with all who are devastated by sorrow, especially those who grieve the loss of loved ones through gun violence.

In Uvalde.

In Buffalo.

In Charleston.

In Paradise, Nevada.

In Orlando.

In Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And there are less publicized tragedies, and Jesus weeps for them, too.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety (www.everytown.org), “each day on average, 30 Black Americans are killed by guns and more than 110 are wounded. At least every other day, a Black person is shot and killed by police.”

“America Is A Gun,” writes Brian Bilston, a mysterious figure described as “the Poet Laureate of Twitter.”

England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.

Brazil is football on the sand.
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah ban.
America is a gun.

Holland is a wooden shoe,
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a kangaroo.
America is a gun.

Japan is a thermal spring,
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh, better to be anything
Than America as a gun.

And Jesus weeps for America. 

This is obvious to all who have experienced the redeeming love of Christ and know just how mad it is to imagine Jesus endorsing instruments of death. There are hunters who make cameo appearances throughout scriptures, and Jesus probably knew them and did not condemn them.

But what do AR-15 assault weapons with expanded magazines and exploding rounds have to do with hunting?

Jesus weeps.

Senators and representatives owned by the NRA, let’s be frank. The time for debate is over.

I address those of you who profess to be Christians, including the woman who is running for governor of Georgia under the slogan, “Jesus, Guns, Babies”. For her and others who proclaim Christ as Lord,  be warned. Your souls may be in jeopardy.

Where in God’s name did you get the idea that Jesus, who commanded us to love our neighbor and turn the other cheek, would bless the massive proliferation of guns in our country?

And how can you, as Christians, suggest that the solution to the carnage is to arm teachers and parishioners in schools and churches to shoot suspicious looking interlopers? Are you crazy? Even cops have made tragically fatal mistakes trying to guess whether a person is carrying a gun or a cellphone. Are you trying to exponentially increase the slaughter? And if you’re relying on good guys with guns to solve school shootings, remember that Uvalde cops dithered for an hour as they debated which one of them should get to be the good guy.

You Christian politicians are probably good persons regardless of your unholy marriage to the NRA. With love, may I offer some suggestions as a fellow Christian, former NRA member, veteran, and erstwhile expert marksman. 

Consider this a prayer list.

First, my Christian sisters and brothers, my prayer is that you enact legislation to get rid of guns.

This requires awareness that the 2nd Amendment is not the 67th book of the Bible. It was born out of 18th century white men’s fear that they might need to defend themselves against slave rebellions. It endures with the support of judges who don’t know history and who nurse the mad theory that citizens might need to form a militia to defend the country against foreign invaders. A nation that spends 16 percent of its national budget on defense doesn’t need help from armed farmers and merchants. It’s time to repeal the 2nd amendment, as suggested by no less a legal scholar than Justice John Paul Stevens.

Second, I pray, some guns should be banned, beginning with the AR15s and other automatic or semi-automatic weapons that have no purpose other than killing people. This should be easy enough since the vast majority of your fellow citizens want these weapons taken out of circulation. It will be up to you to decide if the lives of victims are more important than your NRA support. Take courage. Make it a felony to own automatic weapons.

My prayer list continues:

Third, require detailed federal background checks of any person attempting to purchase a gun of any kind.

Fourth, sponsor legislation to limit the number of guns an individual should own. I have yet to hear a convincing argument that any one person should own more than three sporting guns, including a deer rifle, shotgun, and handgun. If people want more guns than that, make them fill out long forms to explain why and leave it up to a judge to decide whether their application has merit.

Fifth, sponsor legislation to require the National Rifle Association to contribute to a fund to buy back guns from individuals who exceed the limit, and to provide medical support and counseling for the victims of gun violence and their families.

Sixth, require the licensing of all guns and charge a reasonable fee for the license, which should be renewed annually.

Seventh, maintain a federal registry of these gun licenses so law-enforcement can quickly determine if individuals named in orders of protection or domestic abuse charges, or who display signs of mental illness, own guns.

Granted, none of this will be easy. But it will be up to you, my fellow Christians, to resist the insane notion of the NRA and obsessive gun nuts that people should be able to purchase an unlimited number of guns of any kind without anyone knowing about it. Look at the headlines to see where that has led.

Look also to the fact that because the United States does not control the flow of guns it has a staggeringly higher record of gun deaths than any other civilized country in the world.

If it helps clear your minds, think of Australia where 35 people were killed by a gunman in Port Arthur in 1996. According to the BBC:

Less than two weeks after the massacre, all six Australian states agreed to enact the same sweeping gun laws banning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns – weapons that can kill many people quickly.

They also put more hurdles between prospective gun owners and their weapons.

Australia has 28-day waiting periods, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a “justifiable reason” to own a gun.

Unlike in the U.S., self-protection is not accepted as a justifiable reason to own a gun.

In the 21 years since the laws were passed, about one million semi-automatic weapons – roughly one third of the country’s firearms – were sold back to the government and destroyed, nearly halving the number of gun-owning households in Australia.

There have been no mass shootings in Australia since then, and rates of homicide and suicide have also gone down since 1996.

Granted, we are not Australia. But we could move toward this standard of civilized behavior. Ask yourself, my fellow Christians, if this is not a reasonable approach for the United States before more children are killed in more schools, theaters, or churches.

Finally, think of Jesus who you claim to know and love. Can you imagine this Jesus with a Glock strapped to his thigh? Can you imagine Jesus blessing your efforts to keep guns of all kinds freely flowing in our cities, neighborhoods, villages, and farms? And can you believe this Jesus blesses your inaction whenever more children are killed?

If that is the Jesus you imagine, then all I can say is this: 

I will remember you sadly in my thoughts and prayers. 

But you will never get my vote.

About Philip E Jenks

Philip, a synodical deacon in the ELCA Metropolitan New York synod, is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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