A Common Theme

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I’ve delayed writing this for a while, because I was waiting for some of the ‘sharp edges’ to come off recent violent events in the U.S. Unfortunately, it’s becoming hard to tell when that day might come. So here it is.

Also – I want to make clear at the outset that I am in no way advocating or condoning the actions of any individual or group I talk about here.

There have been lots of violent incidents in the U.S. in recent years. When you look back at, for example, the history of mass shootings over the last 30 years, you find a variety of horrifying situations, but there seems to be a lack of a ‘common thread’ between them. There are people who, completely without a reason, decide to shoot up a school, movie theater, or some other place where people congregate. Since the shooter usually ends up dead, we have little to go on to try to understand what happened.
Then there are the aggrieved people: I got fired, my boss hates me, my girlfriend left with another guy. These people are simmering with tension, anger, and hatred toward a person or group. We can understand these people a little better, because all of us have felt that way at some point. But most of us don’t act out.
Finally, there is a small number, but perhaps a growing number, of violent incidents that are of our own making. They share a common thread across a wide spectrum of U.S. citizens. Here I’m talking about those individuals who believe they are fighting an out-of-control and oppressive government.

In May 2010, Jerry Kane and his 16 year-old son Joseph opened fire on two West Memphis Arkansas police officers during a traffic stop. Using AK-47’s, the Kanes shot each of the officers over 10 times and left them dead on the side of the road. The Kane’s were a traveling team who gave seminars on the oppressive tax structure in the u.S., and (illegal) ways to not pay taxes. They were part of a growing movement of ‘sovereign’ citizens.

In January 2016, a group of armed protesters took over a building at a Federal bird sanctuary in Burns, Oregon. The group was led by Ammon Bundy, the son of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was at the center of a 2014 armed standoff in Nevada. The events in Nevada are not part of this discussion; the events in Oregon are.
During a standoff that lasted several weeks, the armed group of protesters held news conferences and made inflammatory and threatening remarks to Federal agents who had surrounded the sanctuary. Federal agents made no effort to “move in” on the compound. But, when a large group of the protesters left the compound to go to a meeting in a nearby town, Oregon state troopers and federal agents took the opportunity to stop the convoy, with the intent to arrest the occupants. In the ensuing activity, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum opened fire on the police, who returned fire and killed him. Fortunately, there were no other deaths or injuries in that particular series of events.
The Bundy group was motivated by an anti-federal government view, that said the federal government was taking over land that it had no right to under the constitution. Mr. Bundy subscribes to a branch of Mormonism that, among other things, believes that the U.S. constitution was written by Jesus Christ. Therefore, his commitment to his interpretation of that document is ‘sacred’.

On July 7, 2016, Micah Johnson opened fire on Dallas Police Officers who were guarding a Black Lives Matter protest. Firing carefully over a period of several hours, Johnson murdered 5 police officers, wounded 6 more, and also wounded one civilian. Mr. Johnson was killed by police, so the only thing we really know about him is his personal history (a dismissal from the army based on sexual perversion) and a scant social media trail.
It appears that Mr. Johnson was enraged over recent shooting of black citizens in Louisiana and Minnesota. His careful targeting of police officers in the middle of a crowd shows that he was intentionally killing policemen, rather than just any person who was around.

On Sunday, July 17, three Baton Rouge police officers were murdered and three more wounded by an (apparently) lone gunman. The gunman, Gavin Long, also had a military history, and had left a better social media trail. Some videos on Youtube actually called out his separatist, anti-white views. While information is still being collected, it appears that these killings, too, were the deliberate targeting of law enforcement by a person with a grudge against the police.

Four separate events, by people at extremely different ends of the political and social spectrum. What could they possibly have in common?

The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 in an effort to teach Americans to shoot. A combine of former Civil War officers had seen too little marksmanship, and vowed to improve the situation through citizen action. The organization survived ofr over a hundred years as a group promoting marksmanship, gun safety, and hunting.
In 1977, at the NRA convention in Cincinnati, a group of gun-rights radicals ‘took over’ the convention and voted in a new group of leadership. This groups converted the NRA from it’s focus on marksmanship and hunting, into a powerful lobby for gun rights and gun manufacturers. Although there have been some rough places along the way, they have ultimately been very successful in the American political process, mostly by stopping legislation at the national level.

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4 Replies to “A Common Theme”

  1. Not all gun owners support the NRA.

    There are way more people who own guns that never shoot anybody than there are those that do.

    Chances are greater that any given person will die from a car accident than from being shot with a gun.

    A gun is an inanimate object until a person picks it up and pulls the trigger.

    When it comes to mainline Protestant Christianity in America, including The United Methodist Church, a social justice agenda via legislation has replaced any clear teaching about our brokenness and God’s absolute perfection. Church has become too much about support our ministries and social justice efforts to fix the world and not enough about sin, repentance and the experience of God’s grace that transforms individuals into the truly human person God created us to be.

    The concept of justice with mercy and mercy with justice are lost because Jesus is no longer understood as being the epicenter of God’s justice and mercy for all of humanity; he is viewed more as a moral teacher.

    In his book “What Is So Amazing About Grace”, Philip Yancy does a stunning job of comparing what can be accomplished by legislation vs the grace of God: legislation only changes external actions; God’s grace transforms the way individuals look at each other. That has been my personal experience. Problem is, I had to distance myself from all things church to learn enough about God and myself so that I was enabled to acknowledge my brokenness and wanted to submit myself to his transforming grace.

    It is an established fact that we have entered a post Christian era here in America.

    In early Methodism, the Priority #1 John Wesley never ever lost sight of was that first and foremost Christianity is about the individual and their connection to and relationship with the Creator God. Absolutely nobody, including the prisoner on his way to be executed, was beyond redemption.

    1. Jesus gave us two universal commandments. Or instructions, as the case may be.
      The first is in Matt. 25, where he made it clear that it is our job to help the hungry, thirsty, strangers, the naked, the sick, and prisoners. The other is in Matt. 28, where he made it our job to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

      Both of those are “change the world” kinds of things. The first represents our need to help those less fortunate or gifted than ourselves (social justice). The second describes our job to bring other people to Jesus (evangelism).

      Perhaps we don’t preach enough about God’s perfection and love. But it’s very hard to say we preach too much about social justice and evangelism.

      And I’m not sure what any of that has to do with my essay.

      1. I’m not surprised you don’t get it because an understanding of basic orthodox Christianity has been all but lost in America for quite some time. John Wesley did not change the world by addressing social justice issues; the world was changed because he created space for individuals to be transformed by God; the church has lost sight of the fact that society changes when individuals change. The church has lost sight of it is not just about feeding the poor and the hungry it is also about connecting them to God in a life transforming relationship. As it all pertains to your essay: individuals shoot others in a bid for justice with absolutely no understanding of mercy. The gun violence by individuals you are so concerned about has escalated as basic Judeo-Christian ethics–beginning with the concept of justice with mercy and mercy with justice–have diminished. The following does not directly address your essay but it might help you understand how the loss of Judeo-Christian ethics is damaging America:

        https://juicyecumenism.com/2016/07/19/secular-civilians-assault-warfighters-faith/

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