The Common Good in View of Newtown
by Bill Borror
"Law; an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community." – Thomas Aquinas
"Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it." – John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.
"Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." Jeremiah 31:15
Yesterday it was my job to preach about joy and the advent of God in the context of the tragedy of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was not the first time I had to make sense of tragedy from my pulpit, and it will not be the last. My thoughts today are with my unknown colleagues who will be conducting funerals, with the parents of children lost sitting in the pews in front of them. I have done that more than once and those visions never leave you. My prayers are not only with grieving families but also with those who must speak for God on these darkest of days.
Christians of late have not been distinguishing themselves on the political front. Too often our theologies, I believe, are made to conform to whatever our natural or chosen political leanings are. I have seen this again and again for example in how various Christian groups and denominational leaders talk about Israeli-Palestinian issues. Simplistic ideologies transcend all political and theological spectra. Not only can we do better, we must do better.
I do not believe people of good will in general and people of faith specifically can remain passive. It is time for "an ordinance of reason for the common good" to be addressed concerning our culture of violence. It is time to no longer tolerate child sacrifices at the alter of libertarianism. As Christians, we believe that the two great commandments lifted up by Christ—to love God and love our neighbor—are absolute—not the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. My Christianity also makes me realistic and practical. I do not believe we can ultimately legislate or medicate ourselves to a perfect society. But we can legislate safety, and we can chose to cultivate different values and appetites.
I saw a statistic the other day that 1 in 3 Americans believe that extreme weather is a sign of the End Times. Unbelievable! I do not remember global warming as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But Jesus once said to his generation, "You can read the weather, but not the signs of the times." How many little angel signs do we need on the campuses of elementary schools, high schools, and universities?
I am not an expert on public policy, merely an informed observer, but I feel that as followers of Christ we must consider these "ordinances of reason for a better common good:"
1. Hand-held weapons of mass destruction must be banned.
I come from a long line of hunters who have all submitted to the laws regulating the size of gun magazines. You do not need 30 rounds of ammo to shoot a deer. Skeet shooting with semi-automatic weapons is not sport. One does not need armor-piercing bullets to hunt turkeys. We should listen to the majority of law enforcement on this issue. The sale and purchase of all other weapons should include background checks and licensing. Of course, people will get around this, and criminals will break whatever laws are passed—that's what they do. But just because people drive under the influence of alcohol does not mean we should legalize it. On the contrary, stricter laws and enforcement have changed behaviors, and for the sake of public safety there is a whole range of weapons that need to be taken off the market.
2. Voluntary boycotting violent entertainment and reassessment of First Amendment protection of the industry.
What if we just stopped buying violent video games for our kids and stopped watching movies and TV shows that glorify or desensitize us to violence? (You still have time to take them back before Christmas if they are hidden away in your closet). I know this is tricky, but I think most reasonable people know the difference between Saving Private Ryan and The Saw franchise. As for free-speech rights protecting a multi-billion dollar industry, it may take litigation to change the video game's equivalency of "crying fire in crowded theater."
3. More Christian community support for individuals and families facing issues around mental health.
First of all, I'd like to point out that the vast majority of problems in this country and in the world come at the hands of those whom society has deemed mentally healthy. Having said that, we need to do all we can to support those caring for family members diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Church communities need not only be sympathetic and informed; we also need to be places of welcome for those whose illness and the stigma associated with it often lead to isolation. This also may not be time to be cutting funding for community mental health agencies.
Number 1 requires my voice and vote; number 2 requires a change of values; and number 3 requires a gospel vision of reaching out "to the least of these." There is no panacea, and I do not presume that my three suggestions would have saved anyone's life in Newtown. But it might have, and we must do all we can to try to prevent future such events. Jesus gave us the keys of the kingdom and told us to "tend my lambs." What if Christ showed up today and asked us to give an account … but he won't today. He is too busy attending memorial services both here and throughout the world, weeping once again for the innocent victims of violence.
Bill Borror is and an adjunct faculty member of Palmer Theological Seminary.