This week scores of people will experience again the grief of missing loved ones, cut down by a deranged young man with multiple deadly weapons, in the high school he shared with his victims. The Parkland, Florida mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17, injured 17, joins the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which wiped out a classroom of precious children, as two of the most horrific moments in American history. The irony that the Parkland slaughter was on Valentine’s Day only increases the suffering. While many will celebrate having and enjoying their loved ones in their lives—the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors will only feel afresh the terrible vacuum in their hearts.
All these years after Sandy Hook—and a full year after Marjory Stoneman—Congress has finally responded with a first step toward curbing the use of firearms to kill, terrorize, and stain the social fabric with blood, sadness and fear. This new bill, H.R. 8, is a proposed federal law requiring universal background checks before the purchase of any deadly firearm. This action paves the way for similar bills enacting a “red flag” law, so that anyone can point to a disturbed person before he/she buys or uses a gun to hurt others.
Of course, legislation is only one way to deal with the curse of gun violence. There must be an awakening of the conscience on the part of spiritual, civic, business, and political leaders. There must be a moral resolve not to allow any more children, women, or men to be mowed down at school, in church, or at concerts. The idea that I get to procure any deadly weapon I want because I enjoy it—or it gives me a feeling of personal security—or it makes me feel powerful—at the expense of children, is untenable and reprehensible. The voices of moral leadership, especially in the pulpit, need to be heard—and their actions need to be seen.
The community I represent, evangelical Christians, boldly proclaim we believe in “the sanctity of every human life.” The president we overwhelmingly support echoes such language from his pulpit. Yet, when it comes down to acting on our convictions, we retreat into self-interest, insisting that we get to enjoy our liberties, even if our doing so puts children in harm’s way. That is not being pro-life or pro-child. And the “most pro-life president” ever, quickly backs away from challenging the National Rifle Association’s wanton demands for unfettered weapon-rights when they threaten to retract their political support for him.
The Bible says, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). The opposite of virtuousness is viciousness. Those who oppose common sense gun policies that reasonably offer means to trim the likelihood of another Parkland massacre, another Sandy Hook slaughter, another Sutherland Springs murder spree . . . and on and on, are on the threshold of being vicious. The Miriam Webster Thesaurus offers these synonyms for vicious: “atrocious, barbaric, brutal, butcherly, cruel, fiendish, heartless, inhumane, sadistic, hard-hearted, merciless, pitiless, ruthless, stonyhearted, unfeeling, bloodthirsty, cutthroat, murderous."
This week as we mark another year of unspeakable tragedy at Parkland, I ask my fellow Americans, especially those who name the Lord of Life and the Prince of Peace as their final authority in all matters of faith and practice, whether they will choose the path of virtuousness or viciousness. This week we would all do well to remember the command of the Lord we claim as our own, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Virtue demands our action.
Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck is an evangelical minister, public speaker, and President of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute. He is also the author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love (HarperCollins, June 2018). Rev. Schenck has more than 35 years in Christian ministry including serving as Senior Advisor for the World Evangelical Alliance, past Chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, and past President of the National Clergy Council. He was a featured subject in the Emmy-winning documentary, The Armor of Light, directed by Abigail E. Disney. Rev. Schenck is also a member of the leadership team for Survivor Sunday, a nationwide day of remembrance for the 30,000 lives lost annually to gun violence sponsored by Prayers & Action.