Scott Baker is a Bible teacher who lives just a mile from The Covenant Christian School, where yesterday’s shooting took place. If the US is to rid itself of this violent scourge, he says, followers of Jesus must obey his words and fight the fear that drives them to buy these deadly weapons
Green Hills, Tennessee isn’t cleverly named. In decades past it was an open landscape of rolling green hills, babbling streams, and lush forests. Its name evokes a sense of peace that bears echoes of Psalm 23. These days it is a cozy suburb of Nashville, packed with family homes and churches.
The university where my wife and I work is here in Green Hills. We decided to rent a house that the university owns so we could be close to work and enroll our children in the private Christian school that is part of the university system. When our twins were born I transitioned to working from home to care for them, and we were delighted to be able to keep our lives centered around three quiet idyllic blocks.
There are few things as quintessentially American as apple pie, the Dallas Cowboys and the possibility of being shot anywhere you go
Yesterday, after hearing an unusual number of sirens rushing by our house, reports on Twitter made me aware that Green Hills had joined the long list of places in America where legally-obtained firearms were used to slaughter children in their school. All less than a mile from my home, work and our kids’ school. And this shooting was not just at a private Christian school, it was at a church that also houses the elementary school.
None of those horrifying details is surprising in America. I’ve lived most of my life in the American south. Since the tragedy of the shooting at Columbine, Colorado, which happened while I was in college, I’ve been aware of and been friends with survivors of shootings at schools, churches, picnics, parties, offices, universities, and everywhere else in American life. There are few things as quintessentially American as apple pie, the Dallas Cowboys and the possibility of being shot anywhere you go.
You might be forgiven for thinking that this presents a challenge for Christians in America, but the reality is that most of America’s gun culture is driven by Christians. There are complicated reasons that explain this, but most of them boil down to the fact that we are more discipled by our national lore than by Jesus of Nazareth. In neighbouring Kentucky, a church last year raffled off an assault rifle at their Easter service as a way to increase attendance. Not only do US Christians not differ from their non-Christian neighbours regarding gun ownership, they typify it.
One of the favourite taunts of those who would continue to trade children’s lives for their right to own guns is to ask: “Which law would have prevented this?” because they know that the problems of federalism and the difficulty of passing gun laws, given the constitutional protection that is interpreted as a blanket right to private gun ownership, creates an environment in which no single action can solve this quandary. I know it can be done because I grew up in a world in which people smoked on airplanes and in restaurants, and now they don’t.
What I do know is the way of Jesus. I teach the scriptures for a living, and one thing I’ve learned about embodying the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and embracing the message of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that the noise of American power and privilege make it very difficult for us to hear what Jesus is saying.
I take it as given from those passages in particular that the call of Christian living is to disadvantage self for the sake of others. But in the American paradigm of power, wealth, and liberty we seem much closer to the rich young ruler going sadly away because of all we have to lose. We are deaf to Jesus’ call to “fear not” (Matthew 10:28), and we cite a dangerous world as justification without regard for the ways in which we participate in making it dangerous.
Christians in America are going to have to voluntarily divest themselves of weapons of war if we’re going to muster the political will to reform our systems and markets that profit from the fear and death they sell. We must see that the fear that drives us to purchase these weapons is far more than a mere stumbling block, about which Jesus warned us. We cannot continue to load our guns as we ask, “and who is my neighbour?”
Psalm 23 still comes to mind as I drive around Green Hills today. I grieve for the families who lost children after sending them to school at a church, feeling keenly the shadow of death. Tomorrow I hope to help my fellow American believers to trust that the Lord is our shepherd and we need not arm ourselves to try to take his place.
Believers around the world, please pray for us in our poverty and fear here in the wealthiest, most powerful country in the history of the world, that we may be led in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.