Pissing Into The Wind

Train up a child in the way he should go:
Advert featuring Proverbs 22, used by the Uvalde massacre gun manufacturer

The time to stop the next shooting is right now”. This past week, I’ve noticed a prophet in the biblical tradition speaking out against American gun idolatry. Beto O’Rourke confronted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at his press conference after Uvalde. . “Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed,” he said. Amidst jeering and shouts for O’Rourke to shut up, Dan Patrick – Texas Lt. Governor, Southern Baptist, outspoken Christian, and politician with an  “A+” rating from the NRA–  stood up to tell O’Rourke, “You’re out of line and an embarrassment.”  Super-Christian and gun-lover Ted Cruz shamed Beto’s behavior as crass, embarrassing; “it was disgusting”, accusing him of a political stunt. O’Rourke was not dissuaded: “Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”

It is the prophet’s duty to proclaim a message from God. It doesn’t always involve fore-telling; but forth-telling. The present is the kairotic moment of the prophet’s message. It is this day, and also for this today, that we are to listen, not to hang on predictions concerning tomorrow. There is an immediacy; an urgency in the prophetic word to respond by retracing our steps towards the Jesus waiting for us in the Gospels. Today, we need more people who speak honestly about our own blind spots – prophets to tweak the conscience of evangelicals and recapture the prophetic mission of the church. “The task of the prophetic imagination,” writes Walter Brueggemann, “is to cut through the royal numbness, to penetrate the self-deception so that the God of endings is confessed as Lord.” [i] That’s exactly the prophet’s calling! It’s not a choice; it’s a divine obligation.

“Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting.” Unlike St. Stephen in Acts 7, Beto wasn’t stoned, but he was escorted out with the mayor screaming he was “a sick son of a bitch”. Likewise, a quick review of biblical prophets discloses that their prophetic utterances did little more than piss off those mired in persistent disobedience. “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:52-3)  Jesus suffered and died on the cross, having exposed the moral hypocrisy of the religious elite – the Pharisees – who appeared on the outside “to people as righteous but on the inside are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matt. 23-28).

A quick glimpse through Google for “white evangelical prophets” returns the glaringly obvious. Most of this soothsaying issues forth from the religious flotsam sitting at Donald Trump’s feet. False witnesses aside, I’ve known a few prophetic voices among evangelicals – most of which were scorned, vilified or cast out of the camp. Jim Wallis. Beth Moore. Shane Claiborne. Tony Campolo. And many others who spoke against guns through the centripetal urgings of the Holy Spirit. Divine Truth was entrusted to human truth-bearers. Like the late Sen. Mark Hatfield, who used his National Prayer Breakfast speech to condemn President Nixon for prolonging the Vietnam War. (And managing to piss off Nixon’s golf buddy, Billy Graham in the process). These modern day evangelical prophets gave voice because God spoke first. The words they spoke were of Someone Else. Confrontation was not something they set out to do, but something they had to do.

I place Beto O’Rourke squarely in that prophetic tradition. Beto spoke truth to power; to those who would rather cradle their AR-15 babies than elementary school children. “Stay cool. Run out the clock.. But don’t worry: this moment will be over soon”, was the advice Republican advisors were giving the wake of Uvalde mass shooting. Now here’s a fresh thought: let’s reduce mass shootings by getting more guns! In other words, do nothing in the shadow of death; then do more of the same. Like the Pharisees, evangelical moral perfectionists persist in their sanctimonious refusal to listen – or act in the slightest against gun idolatry. They are too busy Making America Great Again to bother about making childhood childhood again. And the waiting list of children to be blood-sacrificed on the evangelical altar to Moloch grows each day. Nothing stands in the way of AR-15 bullets– except those moved of the Spirit to speak truth to power. Pray that God raises up more prophets to expose the moral depravity of the religious elite! Bold prophets – who aren’t afraid to “spit” into the wind and proclaim “the time to stop the next shooting is right now”!.

[i] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, p. 45.

My Jesus, My Gun, My Liability.

         While a slim majority of Americans favor tighter gun control, evangelicals form a super-majority of those opposed to stricter gun control laws. Despite 30,000 Americans being killed by gunshot wounds every year – a rate of some 80 people per day. Guns are ubiquitous and gun sales are skyrocketing. Almost half of evangelical Christians own them. Evangelicals are on the front lines to change the legal system to protect the unborn. But they resist legislation to reign-in the equally appalling murder of the post-born. It’s also true that evangelicals like Franklin Graham decry the “sin-sickened” state of America, while lobbying to make it easier for the same morally unfit people to use these weapons.

         We don’t have a gun problem, Mike Huckabee contends, since sin has gotten so bad “we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.” Huckabee’s point is made through a gun company which offers a kid-size assault rifle it proudly says “looks, feels, and operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun”.  Normalizing that kid/assault rifle relationship makes a mockery of the 20 dead six and seven years at Sandy Hook. I suppose praising that depraved life-destroying power is the brilliance behind marketing a kid-sized super-soaker that “Keeps the wow factor with the kids.”

         What he doesn’t admit, the immorality extends to evangelicals like God, Guns, and Grits Huckabee– who takes “a clear and decisive stand for principled issues”, yet sermonizes without accepting any responsibility for the suffering guns cause. Evangelicals have detached themselves from the grim consequences of military hardware designed with the sole purpose of killing multiple human beings. In fact, weak restrictions on gun ownership have become an evangelical article of faith. “You can’t be a Christian if you don’t own a gun,” a parachurch honcho preached to an enthusiastic Texas church.

         Gun manufacturing and gun ownership will never be abolished, but there are rational approaches to regulation that balance responsible gun ownership and public well-being. Americans pay for all sorts of liability insurance to protect them from harm caused through their property. Homeowners, renters, automobile, and toys like boats and motorcycles. Owners of these goods are pooled together based on relative risk.

         If neither Jesus or the government can provide meaningful answers to gun violence, perhaps we should look elsewhere. The only rational approach that seems open to Christians truly troubled by never-ending gun carnage is to encourage market-based solutions to eliminate its free-riding effect on society.  Nothing succeeds better than a good old American knee in the economic balls. I’m suggesting a firearm owner’s liability insurance requirement; a risk-based economic price to be paid like there is for driving a car.

         We all depend on our insurance policies to keep us out of the poorhouse. If for example, a tree on our property drops onto the neighbor’s roof, or our teenage son backs into a Porsche in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. We live by the rules of a free market economy, and have signed onto its risks and benefits. Vehicle liability insurance covers a risk-taking activity which can potentially result in grievous bodily harm. Very few evangelicals would dream of getting behind the wheel without it.

         Insurance companies subsidize the loss, not taxpayers. Nothing in the Second Amendment precludes the right to bear arms from being conditioned by market factors and similar risk distribution. Until now, there has been no risk-based economic price to be paid like there is for driving a car.

         That’s why I applaud the San Jose’s move to oblige gun owners in the city to carry liability insurance. Gun-humpers are already screaming like someone poked a needle in their eye. It may never make it through the courts. At least it serves as a prototype the rest of the nation should emulate. Maybe not yet for evangelicals. At least until their sincerest “hearts and prayers” reach the moral bottom, they repent and work to heal this wound instead of making it worse.