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AP photo/Gosia Wozniacka

AP photo/Gosia Wozniacka

From my latest article at RNS:

Less than 24 hours after a gunman began killing people at Umpqua Community College, our country’s political fires were raging at maximum intensity.

President Obama was clamoring for more gun control laws.

Gun rights advocates were blaming “gun-free zones” for making it possible for public places to become killing fields.

An out-of-context comment by Jeb Bush spread like wildfire through social media, as if to prove that heartless conservatives care more about guns than people.

Witnessing all the fury, I can’t help but feel like this unspeakable tragedy in Oregon has just become — if possible — even sadder.

There once was a time in American life when a crime of this magnitude would bring people together. We carried with us a sense of patriotic grace, a river of pathos flowing underneath common ground. Moments like this hushed our lips and led our hearts to reflect. More often than not, that reflection led to empathy: “That might have happened here. That could have been my child. What if I had been there? Oh, God — give us peace.”

Those sentiments dissipated all too quickly this week. Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common, we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.

I understand how the feeling of helplessness intensifies the desire to just do something — to promote some person or push some policy. Make a statement. Pass a bill. Do whatever it takes to help us at least feel like we’re making progress in preventing these senseless horrors.

What troubles me is not that these tragedies lead to advocacy for policy change, but that our country’s imagination is held captive to the idea that the only place where such change can take place is in the legislature or courthouse. That’s why the conversation turned immediately to governmental blame and governmental solutions:

  • From the right: Government is to blame for preventing good citizens from being able to act quickly and protect people in situations like this!
  • From the left: Government won’t pass common sense legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals!

All sides of the gun control debate seem to think government is partly to blame and government is our only hope.

But this raises an interesting question: Why do we turn to government first? Are there no other places to turn for comfort, for consolation, for change?

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6 thoughts on “Our Tragic Response to the Oregon Tragedy”

  1. Doug says:

    We need God control, not gun control. As the apostle said, to those “that knew God” and rejected him, “God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” Active Shooter Incidents, SSM—these are all manifestations of a once enlightened people who’ve abandoned their Maker. These tragedies are meant to goad us back to our Savior and Source of blessing.

    1. Curt Day says:

      Doug’s comment rather over simplifies the matter into believing that we should exist in a Godot state where all we need is to wait for people to repent and believe and then our problems would be solved. Unfortunately, Church History does not agree with that sentiment. And neither do the Scriptures when they speak about the responsibility of the government.

      Our reluctance to look to government might be due to the fact that we hav combined the democratic processes available to us with the competition mentality that comes from our free market economy in order to gain control over those who are different. Thus, government is not seen as the representative of all the people, just a small subset of them. And so we want to limit government in order to make tolerable the times when we have failed to use democratic processes to gain control over others.

      If government is to represent its people and to protect them from wrong doing, then it is our government’s job to make laws that would decrease the number of shooting incidents. It isn’t the complete answer to the problem, but it is a necessary component to any worthwhile effort to curb gun violence.

      1. Doug says:

        Curt, I was simply trying to point out the root of our problems.

        Godliness (a disposition toward God) is the root of righteousness (a disposition toward our neighbor). Therefore, if we would have a society blessed with brotherly love, we must first have a society in love with God. We cannot have it any other way. The only government fit for an unrighteous nation is one of chains.

        “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” —William Penn

        1. Curt Day says:

          And I am trying to point out that since we could say the same thing about every problem and so such a response, by itself, does not help. That history has shown temporary aid can come from society and government. In addition, stumbling blocks provided by society, the state, and even Christians have caused people to sin.

          Finally, you are taking remarks, such as the one by William Penn, as if they are canon. Realize the different historical contexts between his time and ours. And also realize that if you were not a White, landowning Christian who belonged to the state church, you would be marginalized to some degree in 9 of the 13 colonies. In the other 4, your denominational affiliation would not determine if you were marginalized. So even when Christians were in charge, wasn’t there tyranny?

          1. Doug says:

            Curt, tyranny is relative (see Psalm2). The ideal is for the wicked to see government as tyrannical, not virtuous citizens. In order for a people to experience the most liberty, that people must be most virtuous as a result of freely being ruled by Christ. Thus the words of Penn are to be seen as wisdom, not canon.

            1. Curt Day says:

              The way we can act like the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying is to externalize evil. So when we call anything that unbelievers do in gov’t as tyranny and say that it is because they are unbelievers, we are acting like that pharisee. But we also lose credibility because any unbeliever has to do is to point out the many instances in history where Christians ruled as tyrants.

              Second, we need to recognize that we are dealing with two spheres here. Society and gov’t make up one and living as a Christian makes up another. And words like ‘liberty’ has a legitimate definition in each sphere. Penn came from a social context where the Church was dominant. And yet, he saw unrighteousness in them. Would he have applied that saying to all secular gov’ts had he lived now and was able to survey those gov’ts in which there was freedom for the people? I have great respect for Penn, but the historical context in which he live limited what he saw as possible.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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