In spite of our conflicting views as Americans concerning politics and gun legislation, it seems we can all agree on one thing: that gun violence has become one of the great scourges of our generation. In addition to the agony of tragically losing loved ones, the carnage that gun violence leaves behind includes painful memories as well as physical, psychological, and emotional wounds that permanently alter our way of life. Who could imagine that safety in our schools would surpass science and social studies as the most important subject of the day?
Each time a mass shooting occurs, our nation waits to see who's responsible. As much as we loathe the idea of publicizing the profile of mass shooters, the media often reveal their identity, giving us all a momentary "look into their eyes." And their collective profiles reveal an important truth: almost all mass shooters are men.
Fathers Raising Sons
It is God's intent for a young man's father to be the dominant influence in his life. In today's culture, this role is all too often filled by strangers--an idolized athlete or an entertainer. In response to each shooting, we see a growing number of organized efforts to end gun violence. Politicians are pressured to pass gun-control legislation. School officials are pressured to implement better safety plans. Police are pressured to be more diligent in their investigative procedures. But we never put pressure on fathers to raise better sons—sons who are spiritually and morally grounded, and mentally and emotionally stable; sons who value and respect life, and seek no harm to those around them.
To some degree, politicians, school officials, and police are inheriting parental responsibilities. Yet parents still represent the best chance of preventing these tragedies. Especially fathers. Too many boys are being raised by feckless fathers. A feckless father is an irresponsible, uncommitted father who lacks initiative—a father who neglects his responsibility to intentionally raise a decent son. There is a father-absence crisis in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children (1 out of 3) live without their biological father in the home. Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all social ills in America today, including increased risk of committing a criminal act of gun violence.
I'd like to encourage dads to avoid feckless fatherhood by focusing on three areas of mentorship with their sons.
1. Fathers must teach their sons the importance of faith in God.
Our best chance of eliminating gun violence is to reposition ourselves as one nation under God. I say "reposition" because we're drifting away from our Judeo-Christian values as a nation. Even as a pastor, I can say that it is wrong to force people into Christian faith. However, every society is governed by values built on some form of spiritual and moral law. Although we have much room to improve, the Bible has served America well in its efforts to be a nation of righteousness and justice.
The apostle Peter challenges us:
"For this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." 2 Peter 1:5-7
Peter describes faith as the foundation upon which virtue, self-control, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love are built. If the men in our nation possessed these qualities, there would be almost no mass shootings.
2. Fathers must teach their sons the importance of family.
I believe our nation is beginning to reap an undesirable harvest from the ideological seeds we've sown to redefine the traditional family. Fatherless homes are increasing while the number of marriages is decreasing. More and more, single mothers are left with the daunting responsibility of raising sons (I applaud those who do!). Men who carelessly sire children and fail to shape their character throughout life are feckless fathers. When fatherhood fails, societies begin to experience the curse.
3. Fathers must teach their sons the importance of processing their feelings.
The macho image of men being brute fighters who just "suck it up" and deny their emotions is dangerous. We tell our boys, "Don't cry. Be a man!" But when those same boys become men, they are not equipped to adequately manage their emotions. They often grow up as ticking time bombs waiting to explode, and when they do, those around them are damaged by the shrapnel.
"Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." Colossians 3:21
Paul the apostle taught how vital fathers are to the healthy emotional development of their children. According to Scripture, it is the father's responsibility to validate and encourage his sons and daughters, and to build their self-esteem. Because children typically carry their father's last name, a child's identity and values should be defined by his or her father.
Let's use today as an occasion for us men to assess the quality of our relationships with our sons, and consider how we can raise them to positively impact our world, not add to the violence.