It’s clear to all that something has to change when it comes to our national experience of mass shootings. Too many have been impacted by these tragic shootings, and yet as a nation, we seem poised to do….well, nothing. “It’s not the right time” to talk about gun control, or any regulations, or whatever the reason given is. I came across this article on the Metro NY Synod website, as a thoughtful place to start a conversation. I invite your feedback!
Ocotber 11, 2017
An Opinion Article by Pastor Justin Johnson
I am writing this article on the morning of the shooting that happened at a country concert in Las Vegas. As I am listening and reading the news coming out of there, I am going through a wide range of emotions- frustration, anger, helplessness, and grief. Here is another mass shooting after so many with more calls for thoughts and prayers. It is another mass shooting where I am yearning for any discussion on guns.
It is time to admit we have a problem. It is a time to repent.
As much as I know this, I also know it is not an easy discussion. There is no simple solution that will solve everything and things will be fine. There are so many factors that go into any discussion around guns and I wanted to share one such discussion with you.
It is the Sunday after Sandy Hook and I am in a college/farming community in Geneseo, NY (a suburb outside of Rochester). In the midst of heartbreak and hurt, I begin to preach on hope in the midst of darkness and state in the midst of my sermon that we need some kind of gun laws. While it wasn’t the first time I’ve had people leave during my sermon, it was one of the more dramatic times as some individuals got up and left. The odd part was I felt I wasn’t saying anything controversial. I was asking for conversation and people left.
One of my members pulled me aside. It was a man I knew, trusted, and we enjoyed each other’s company. It was the type of relationship that if he spoke, I knew to listen as he didn’t speak often. He was a farmer who was kind and loving.
He pulled me aside and said, “Good sermon pastor and a tough one, but you know your words are going to fall on deaf ears today.” When I asked him to say more, he said something that stuck with me for the rest of my ministry and transformed how I see guns. He asked, “Do you truly think that people are not carrying guns in this church today?” He then showed me his hidden weapon. I was a bit taken aback until he began to share his story.
Here is my best summary- for farmers, guns are a needed tool, just like any other tool. They usually get strapped on and forgotten about until there is a need for them- a stray animal, a threatened animal, etc. Larger guns, such as rifles and shotguns are used during hunting season for food for the rest of the year.
His point to me was to talk about gun control was seen as the equivalent of talking about farming without seeds or planting without a shovel. Guns were just a part of the way of life. Carrying a gun was the same as carrying a wallet or a purse. It was just there. I needed to hear his explanation that day.
I share this story because every tragedy, such as the one in Las Vegas brings out my inner desire to start shouting that we need gun control. In this time, I also think of the farmers I have served in the past and what those words mean to them. So, how do we begin to communicate about issues recognizing there isn’t a simple solution? How do we listen to one another?
To me, coming from the direction of repentance binds us together with one another and helps us to see we may be thinking the same thing, but coming at it from different directions. I truly do not believe the average card carrying NRA member, for example, is a gun wielding nut who wants to see another tragedy like Vegas play out. Nor do I believe that those who say gun control mean a ban on all guns. So, how do we listen to one another’s repentance? How do we, on whatever side of the aisle we sit, own statements from our own circles and see where we have added to the problem through blame and finger pointing?
Part of that is admitting we have a problem. It is a big problem, but it isn’t a problem that can’t be overcome. It involves deep listening and the desire to begin a conversation with an open mind. If we begin that conversation with preconceived notions and hardlined ideas, it won’t be a conversation that lasts too long. How do we live out James 1:19-20?