Apocalyptic Passivity, Christians, and Tragedy: Where Do We Go After Sandy Hook?

What’s left to say after one of the darkest single days in American history?

All I can think of are 20 or so dads just like me sitting in their office on a ho hum Friday, all of a sudden stunned as news broke on their computers or phones, and then the icy creeping terror upon seeing that familiar school name scroll across the screen.  I can’t imagine those next minutes and hours of uncertainty, the finality and agony of knowing, and now the silence.  The silent bedrooms, silent classrooms, silent playgrounds.  The gifts under the tree now never to be opened.

It is hideous.  Unspeakable.

My feed soon exploded with well meaning Christians.  People longing for the kingdom to come in its fullness.  People searching for answers and only seeing solutions coming from beyond.  I understand such sentiment.  I share it.

But.

It’s also a cop out.  I am sick of it.  I am sick of escapist apathy, of apocalyptic passivity.  It is time to live in the here and now.

The church is the body of Christ on earth.  A body is meant for action.  For speaking, working, building, protecting.

No, we don’t have the power to inaugurate utopia.  There will always be a snake in our garden.  But we can change things for the better.  We can work towards justice.  We can confront evil.  We can make schools safer.  We can instill hope, loyalty, community, and maybe even humanity.

Don’t believe me?

Ask William Wilberforce.

Ask Dorothea Day

Ask Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ask Francis of Assisi.

Ask Mother Teresa.

Ask John Wesley.

Ask George Mueller.

Ask the International Justice Mission.

Ask the untold legions of Christian doctors, teachers, and church planters laboring diligently and silently in far flung, gritty places even now as I write.

With such a great cloud of witnesses how can we sit back and return to our lives just hoping the world ends soon?

Christianity is for tomorrow yes, but making it only about tomorrow is a veiled slap to the “least of these” we are called to uphold.  It is an excuse to cling to privilege, comfort, and respect and it’s revolting.

America is sick, soul sick with the disease of gun violence and its time we speak truth about it.  Already today there was another shooting at a hospital in Birmingham.  Two days ago 3 were killed at a mall in Oregon.  Every 6 months we have a true massacre with dozens dead.   Mark your calendars.  You can count on it.  There have been 31 major school shootings alone since Columbine.  The entire planet combined mustered only 14.

Public massacres are now as quintessentially American as apple pie, baseball, and barbecue.

And we shrug our shoulders.  “Well, there will always be sin in the world.”  “Now is not the time for politics.”

No, we cannot eradicate violence.  However, we can take some common sense measures that will substantially reduce it.  For example:

  1. Advocate for accessible mental health services for all and end the stigmatizing of those who partake of them.
  2. Challenge the media status quo.  Graphic violence in movies, television, and video games marketed to minors must be drastically reduced.  Impossible?  Consider this, how many teen slasher movies have you seen lately?  Right, none.  That’s because a group of Christians challenged Hollywood and Washington and won.  It can happen again.
  3. Render illegal for civilian use all military grade weapons and accessories which serve no purpose other than to quickly tear humans to pieces.
  4. Close existing loopholes and enforce universal background checks on gun buyers of all types.
  5. Install a waiting period and quota for all gun purchases.  Also force every gun buyer to have at least 2 people vouch for their responsibility.
  6. Stop glamorizing history and heroes through a “shoot ‘em up” narrative.  We need to tell our stories differently.
  7. Maybe, just maybe we need to stop being so afraid.  We need to stop driving through whole parts of town with our doors locked.  We need to get to know our neighbors.  Talk with people who pass us by at work.  Turn off the news. Share meals.  Share laughs.  Share sorrows.  Share community.  Warm and fuzzy?  I guess so, but really it’s our only chance.

Do any of the above steps infringe the right of responsible citizens to protect their families with fire arms, hunt, or collect relics?  No, not in any way.

If you have better ideas I’m all ears.  What we can’t do is sit around and wait for more dead 5 year olds.

The time to act is now.  The time for fear is over.  It’s time to live.

Don’t worry.  We’re not alone.  A great cloud of witnesses is watching, waiting, hoping, even cheering us on.

Will we join them?

Ben

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27 thoughts on “Apocalyptic Passivity, Christians, and Tragedy: Where Do We Go After Sandy Hook?

  1. The main discussion that has been started again is gun control. It is a disservice to take away rights of those who obey the laws to create an environment where criminals have the upper hand. The common thread, sadly, is that each shooter of these tragedies has been on some kind of psychotropic drug. If we are going to blame guns and access to guns, we should also look into these drugs and their true effects on people. Praying for the victims and for those who feel the need to commit these crimes.

    1. Thanks for your comments. The first point I made concerned mental health services. If there is a problem with their effectiveness then yes it needs to be addressed. Also, I never said anything about taking anyone’s rights away. Even if every change I suggested came to fruition, law abiding citizens could still own guns and carry concealed weapons.

      1. Indeed, Ben and I was not implying that you said those things, just pointing out that is where the convo is headed in other places. CT has some of the strictest laws regarding weapons. People who break the law are going to do so regardless of what laws are in place.
        On another note, I totally agree with your points about apocalyptic passivity. Am also tired of hearing those phrases.

  2. Disarming the people is the first step towards communism, and I think there are more agendas and misguided meaninigs behind individuals who want to increase their control over our society through the removal of small arms. I think we will never eliminate the evil in our society, as you stated, however, I think it is only common sense to arm more trained professionals and these occurances would not be as devastating.

    1. John Michael, thanks for your comments. I hope you are doing well. I’m all for arming trained professionals and having them strategically located. That’s a great idea.

  3. Problem with more gun laws, especially when looking at this situation, is that it would not have prevented anything!

    The kid tried to get a rifle at a gun store the day before, and was denied because of the waiting period. So he goes and STEALS (key word – criminals just BREAK those laws that hinder law abiding people from getting guns) his mother’s legally owned guns, and kills her and goes on his rampage. You cant stop that.

    More regulation is not going to do a thing but slowly strip away at our 2nd amendment rights. Little by little is how the statist works to take away rights and mold the world to their design.

    That being said I dont know how to solve these kid of problems, but I know more gun laws and bans will not be the solution

    1. I disagree it would have done nothing. If military style weapons were illegal then the mother would not have had 3 or more of them laying around her house. Also, I realize shootings will still happen and people will break laws. However, we can reduce them. The gun restrictions I mentioned have been enacted in multiple other countries with great success. They are proven to work. As for the constitutional right to bear arms, I”m all for it as long as it does not involve military grade weapons. All freedoms have limits, including speech and all the rest. The gun lobby and others have brainwashed America into thinking that does not apply to the 2nd. Thanks for your comments.

  4. I think especially checking out people who want to by guns …a police background check and making them wait for a period of time before being able to buy….It’s all important but buying a gun should be harder to do…Diane

  5. Well I had a reply.. but since the window was closed by a small little tyke.. lol

    You know my feelings that I expressed on twitter so I will not dive back into those. I will reiterate that I do still believe that removing freedoms for the sake of perceived security is a slippery slope, just like the privacy fight. We’re continual prepping younger generations to be OK with less privacy in their lives, less ability to control when they are watched, recorded, listened to, monitored.

    My first main reason to respond here is your assertion that because people do not want to have the political conversation of gun controls/mental health/whatever RIGHT after the crisis, they are some how apathetic or passive. I fully disagree, yes some Americans are apathetic..about everything, but I would say there is great logic to have a processing time. A time of grief, anger, sadness, sickness, and prayer. A time for us to not let our emotions dictate what we “feel” is the best course of action or response that maybe just an overreaction. Like when we go to the store when we haven’t eaten in some time.. Humans have a tendency to buy more items, more of what they don’t need, but feel they do.. Studies show that people are more likely to pay much more for food as well. How much more are we willing to pay, although wrongly at times, to have our immediate pain relived. (Patriot Act anybody?)

    Rahm Emanuel said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Even the Colorado Governor had thought it best to wait before making decisions after the Aurora shooting.

    I just think to say that we should act immediately on something that is much greater than saying, “No Guns” based on emotion of hurt and pain and to start a fight (which it will) on the very day that we should comfort those hurting is irresponsible at best.

    (Side note, I had some citing for you and other examples, but alas.)

    As another point you brought up in your comments, I fully disagree the limited speech part. Yes Justice Oliver Holmes made his famous (though flawed) fire in a theater comment.. Yes he said it in regards to putting in jail Yiddish Socialists who put out fliers (In their own language, not English) during war time opposing the Federal Government and their actions. The whole premise of Limited speech is based upon an agent of the state putting opposition into Jail because they disagree with the Gov’t policies.. and we still use that today. Holmes did make other comments after that would contradict his first..

    Lastly, We don’t know each other.. so just a bit about me. I like conversation and disagreement.. I think it can foster better thinking and ideas. I think relationships are more important than ideology and would never want to hinder any interpersonal sides..

    1. Thanks for taking the time to respond again ha. I certainly have concerns about security and privacy. I am by disposition very conservative. However, on this issue I find the numbers against guns very compelling. If we can do something that even might limit this insane violence I feel we have to try. You’re right about Oliver Wendall Holmes. I am just saying that at some point all freedoms are limited. You cannot say anything you want to anybody at any time. We accept that with other freedoms but not with guns, largely I think because of gun lobby propaganda going back to the 1970’s. Yes, I took enjoy a good political argument and to do take offense in the least. Thanks again.

  6. Ben, thanks for your thoughtful reflections on this. You’ve certainly provoked a lot of thought for me personally and I think much of what you’ve written is very compelling. However, my faith in the value of Christian political activism today is very limited, no matter the issue. Exhibit 1A: Abortion has been legal in this country for 40 years, despite Christians trying every political gambit in the book. I couldn’t help but notice nearly all the “witnesses” (great description of them, by the way) you listed lived/prophesied/advocated in cultures that were much more committed to a Christian worldview than ours currently is. Wilberforce for instance could appeal to Scripture against slavery in a way that was ultimately persuasive to his fellow members of Parliament. Can we do that now? Will our appeal to protect those who can’t protect themselves be heeded in a culture when literally the most defenseless are legally slaughtered? At least our government recognizes what this guy did is a crime. The same cannot be said for the millions of parents in our country who have chosen to “terminate pregnancies”, in the cold clinical language of our time.
    I really don’t want to be cynical. I pray God in His grace keeps guns away from those who would misuse them, and that those who need good mental healthcare get it. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t take political steps where we can on both fronts. But we need to be very careful where we put our hope, and how we spend our time. I think many American Christians were awakened to that reality after this election, and my hope is we more fully put our trust in Jesus for His reign both in this world and in the one to come.
    Thanks for your time – we miss you here at Springdale.

    1. Jeremy! Thanks for taking the time to read and write such a thoughtful response.

      You are right Christian political activism’s potential is very limited. I hope this doesn’t read in a way that indicates I believe differently. Certainly this is not our world and postmodern nihilism makes it very difficult to appeal to common humanity or Scripture. However, this is one issue in which I believe it still might be possible. The unique situation here (and the source of my personal frustration on this issue) is that it is largely evangelical Christians standing in the way of gun reform. It’s heart breaking to see so many believers laying their dependence, security, and identity at the feet of the NRA.

      The impulses of many I have had contact with is simply to cocoon away from the world and wait for Armagedon (ideally while packing heat). What I’m saying is we need to get out of that cocoon and live out the hope of Christ now, here, and tangibly. The political aspect is a small part at times, but by no means the main part. The main part is that because of the gospel we should be leaders in neighbor love, communication, community, and in toning down the fear.

      I think we’re in agreement.

      Thanks again. We deeply miss Springdale as well.

  7. Great, great, great post! I’m disappointed that so many people equate stricter gun laws with the removal of freedom. If we make it illegal to own assault rifles, I don’t view that as a blow to liberty. Why would anyone need an assault weapon? We may as well lament the fact that none of us can legally own a nuclear device.

    And bottom line, you’re right that the stats prove stricter gun laws (and stricter enforcement of those laws) will help reduce the frequency and severity of these kinds of episodes. And they’ll do so without impacting those who want a gun for hunting or self-defense.

    1. Thanks, Nate. I really don’t get it. I guess guns are just deeply imbedded in our psyche or something.

      Also, I didn’t comment much, but thanks for sharing your story. I read all of the posts and very much enjoyed them.

  8. I am thinking out loud here so I might not always and completely agree with what I’m going to say but some thoughts have been rolling through my mind since Sandy Hook.

    1) As children there were times when one person did something wrong and the whole class lost a privilege. If one person put chewing gum on the carpet then the whole class was not allowed to chew gum. This might be a weak metaphor but I’m not concerned with the serious gun-owner who respects their guns, trains their children right and has huge amount of safety around their weapons. Its not everybody. Its the one who is going to ruin it for us all. The one who really shouldn’t own a gun in the first place. The one who leave it hanging out loaded on the coffee table. The one who never teaches the children around the house to respect it. Now the question is should our laws be written to respect the serious and mature gun-owner or to protect us from the one who will ruin it for everybody?

    2) Our right to own guns is predicated on a basic moral education. If we are able to teach persons from the cradle that killing is wrong, that all human life is valuable, that there is a God who intimately cares about our actions, especially how we treat others and that there is an eternity in which your actions here will be judged. In other words, I only trust gun ownership to a society where morality is taught. Now, I know that the above description was never actually America and just idealized version of the truth but as we transition from a society that idealized a Judeo-Christian moral story to a Post-Christian society in which morality is individually determined by value creation, I am less certain that I want guns freely available to the public at large.

    3) Our government extending the liberty of gun-ownership toward its citizenry was also a moral decision. At one time the people believed that humanity was noble, responsible, and able to make the right decision. We needed more to be able to protect ourselves from the government more than we needed to be able to protect ourselves from ourselves. The nobility of humanity was supported by an underlying Judeo-Christian morality as well. As that has eroded the government no longer sees its citizens in the same light. The government has a lesser view of us all. Some of that is derived philosophically but some of it is derived from the fact that we just aren’t living up to our former standards. We have become a people that might no longer deserve the freedoms bestowed upon us by our forefathers.

    With that said I see one of three choices ahead:
    – Learn to deal with the new reality and accept massacres as a part of our way of life or
    – Empower the government to treat us as we deserve and protect us from ourselves by taking away some of our freedoms that we have proven unable to handle responsibly or
    – Become a better people and learn to be the type of society that can thrive in freedom.

    Personally, I think the second is the easiest and probably what is going to happen but I want to do the hard work the third one requires.

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      I agree with your basic assumption that we have largely lost respect for life and community and should work to recover it. However, even if we had all that I don’t think there is any reason to have loopholes in the background check process and military grade weapons freely available. There is simply no reason for it.

  9. There was a time in many societies where civilian gun ownership was generally restricted to farmers. I grew up in the UK and would have probably been confused had I seen an ordinary man in the street sporting a bloody great magnum on his hip.
    Not the US of frikking A of course, where you lot always needed guns, as there were always Injuns to shoot,right? Ye Haw!
    There was a time when you only ever saw firearms in the hands of the military, and maybe in some societies the Police.

    However, it has become abundantly clear that automatic assault weapons are the ‘Must Have’ accessory for the New Millenium.
    The old adage that people need guns to defend themselves is a somewhat silly argument.
    Yeah, follow the money….

    “What’s left to say after one of the darkest single days in American history?”

    Really? You think? Nah, not a chance.
    I can think of a few worse days off the top of my head.
    (Battle of Antietam, 9/11, Waco. And of course this one, August 6th 1945, which must go down as one of the the shittiest day for America.

    1. I agree with most of your post here.

      However, I do think it is ONE (among several) of the darkest days for America. Yes, there have been many more killed on a single day and those events were horrific. However, this was a crime against 7 year old children for no reason whatsoever.

      1. I wonder how many 7 year olds were killed when the bomb fell on Hiroshima? And more pertinently, Nagasaki?
        Besides, more kids are killed every single day in careless motor accidents across he States, as they are in most countries with cars.
        I’ll bet a fair few die because of neglect, or drug abuse too.

        Amazing that it takes a tragedy such as this to force us to turn an even greater blind eye to the other ills of the world….malnutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS etc….

      2. As I said it was one of the worst days. I never said it was worse than Hiroshima or anything else. Also, who said anything about turning a blind eye to anything? Certainly, I did not.

  10. You said it one of the darkest single days in American history. And I reiterate. No it was not. By a long shot.

    I did not say you turned a blind eye. I used the term as a collective as we all tend to focus on such a tragedy – insignificant on a world scale- when greater tragedies are happening all the time all around us, and there is a massive knee jerk reaction to such events but little if anything is done about the thousands of kids that die because of malaria, car accidents, malnutrition etc.

    Maybe we should pray to Jesus to come and sort out all the problems?

    1. You are right there is often a knee jerk reaction that amounts to nothing. That’s unfortunate. This shooting however is part of a pattern which reflects larger societal issues. Furthermore, I 100% agree we need to focus more on larger issues that kill every single day. I think people are focusing on those things. Sure, we could do more but to say no one cares is not at all the case.

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