Last week in Uvalde, the unthinkable happened. Nineteen children and two teachers were murdered by an 18-year-old in a fourth-grade classroom. I say unthinkable because it truly is a parent’s worst nightmare to imagine this, but in the United States, mass shootings are common, and they are even common schools. The question for every American is why do we allow this to happen so frequently? What are the forces of death that keep this status quo in place? The bottom line is that our politicians care more about their power than they do our children. Their thoughts and prayers are empty and utterly useless. They are offensive and hypocritical. They use God’s name in vain.
Without action, their words are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Their prayers are dead without actions, just like James says our faith is. Christian faith that is detached from action is fake. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for appearing clean on the outside — uttering their thoughts and prayers — while being dead and dirty on the inside — ignoring the heart of the law.
These politicians are just like that. They do nothing despite the majority of Americans supporting stricter gun laws. In fact, the way our government works, small minorities of people can block the will of the people.
The police are no exception—for as much as they proclaim they are here to serve and protect, when given a chance to be “good guys with guns,” the police stood outside, in the hallways, even after hearing gunshots, and did nothing. In fact, they cuffed and pinned down desperate parents from saving their own kids. The ineptitude of the police, coupled with their cowardice, teaches us something about the need for law enforcement reform (or abolition, if you ask me). Moreover, though, it teaches us something about how dangerous AR-15s, which are the mass shooter’s weapon of choice. The police could have been very well been afraid of the assault rifle that the gunman used. If that’s the case, why are they still legal? What’s the point of armed law enforcement if they are afraid of weapons that civilians can legally obtain?
The evidence around us for police and gun reform is deafening. Nineteen kids are dead because we couldn’t act with enough courage and boldness to change how our society works. We should be ashamed of our country’s inaction, and we should make it a point to not give up until things drastically change. There’s a sickness in our society, an addiction to celebrating violence that must change.
And though many problems lead to mass shootings like this, the most flagrant one is this: the weapons that civilians have access to are just too powerful. They don’t belong in their hands, and we can do the most basic thing by making sure they are banned entirely. The power of the gun lobby stands in the way of this addition to the inability of the Democrats to pass legislation because of outdated and suppressive Senate rules. The sad thing is that these forces are in place despite the death of 19 children. Despite the worst thing happening, we can’t seem to change. The sickness is so deep that even in the worst of circumstances we can’t seem to change.
So what are we left to do? Our elected officials, including the party in power in the executive and legislative branches, are telling us that we need to keep voting for them if we want change. That feels disheartening since we did, and the outcomes haven’t changed. We can continue to protest and engage in activism, too. But I think we must create space for lamentation and grieving.
The doom and despair that America is worthy of our lament. God grieves for us as we disobey and our disobedience results in death and destruction. When Judah was taken over by Palestine, God grieved as well. God’s rage was one. We can grieve and rage along with God, especially when our leaders’ thoughts and prayers amount to nothing but more death. From Isaiah 1:4:
Woe, sinful nation,
people laden with iniquity,
offspring who do evil,
children who act corruptly,
who have forsaken the Lord,
who have despised the Holy One of Israel,
[[who are utterly estranged!]]
From Isaiah 1:7-9:
Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
aliens devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And daughter Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a shelter in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
If the Lord of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.
And finally from Isaiah: 1:16-17:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove your evil deeds
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil;
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow.
There is a path forward for America, just as God lays out in this lamentation Isaiah offers us. We can wash ourselves clean, we can remove our evil deeds, we can learn to go good and cease to do evil, and we can seek justice, and rescue the oppressed. But it starts with action that addresses the issue, not thoughts and prayers.