For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)
Could someone please explain to me when texting during the previews of a movie became a capital offense? It might be slightly inappropriate, but I would even argue that may not necessarily be true. As long as a phone is put away before the movie begins, who really cares? I guarantee you that most of those under 40 don’t really see it as a major problem. And a lot of us who are 50 plus aren’t too worried about it either. But the fact that Chad Oulson was texting during the previews to a movie, apparently texting his young daughter’s baby-sister, so infuriated another movie goer, Curtis Reeves, that Reeves shot Oulson to death. Yes, there was apparently an exchange of words and Oulson may have even thrown some popcorn at Reeves, but again where does any of that come close to being a capital offense with Reeves as judge, jury and executioner.
Gun violence is an epidemic in America. In the small town in which I live, a father was recently arrested for shooting and killing his son over an argument about a football game. When I tell people about my trip to Israel and Jordan a few years back, they ask if I was scared to travel in the Middle East. I answer that question by telling folks that the very day we landed in Jerusalem there was a shooting in the school that is just a quarter mile from the church I serve. A middle school student shot another student as part of a romantic triangle. Fortunately, the student did not die – but at least two young lives have been forever affected by this incident. Any research will quickly show that the number of gun related deaths in America is out of proportion to our western, economic counterparts. (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/gun_violence/resources/the_u_s_compared_to_other_nations.html)
For a powerful visual image about the tally of gun deaths in America, I recommend this site: http://guns.periscopic.com/?year=2013. It illustrates that the 11,419 gun deaths in America in 2013 claimed over 502,000 years of life.
Look, I know that ever since Cain killed Abel people have been killing each other. But the number of guns and the easy access to them in America has made that killing so much easier. You take the gun away from Mr. Reeves and there may have been an argument between him and Mr. Oulson, but it isn’t nearly as likely that someone would have ended up dead. One of the saddest parts of this episode is that Mr. Reeves is a retired police captain and Mr. Oulson was a former Navy officer. Here were two people who had given portions of their life in service to their community and nation, and one ended up dead because he was texting when he wasn’t supposed to and the other guy didn’t like it and had a gun.
We have to do something as a nation. Too many lives are ending way too soon. Too many people who become angry and volatile when things don’t go their way are carrying weapons. We have to do something. I think most everyone is probably in agreement that Mr. Reeves should be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and if found guilty serve the appropriate time in jail. But that doesn’t give Mr. Oulson back his life or his daughter back her daddy. Again, we need to do something as a nation. And I think the church has an important role to play in this conversation.
We believe in the church that human life is of inestimable value, for every life is created in the divine and sacred image, and when life is lost, especially violently and needlessly, the heart of God grieves. In the text above, from Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he states that freedom is a wonderful, but dangerous thing. When freedom becomes more concerned about self than it is about others, it leads to us consuming each other. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that freedom and liberty, the hallmarks of America society, has to be balanced with responsibility. And as people die, school children, movie goers, mall shoppers, America has to act responsibly to create a safer, less violent society.
And now, so you know, I am a gun owner. I own a 16 gauge double barrel shot gun that was handed down to me by my father. I have taken both my children to target shoot so they might learn proper technique and safety in regard to firearms. But this I believe, my right to own a firearm isn’t the first concern for me. The first concern for me, especially as a person of faith, is what can we do as a nation to create a more civil and respectful society. What are the root causes that underlie our societal violence? What can we do to address those issues?
I am asking questions to which I have my own answers and if I could change it all with one great big wand, I would do it in a minute. But I can’t. So people with all different sorts of perspectives have to be part of the conversation. But it has to happen. Something has to be done. Every day, 31 people are dying in America at the end of a gun. Some of them are children in school, some of them are shoppers in malls, and some of them are people who simply went to a movie with their wives and got a text from the baby-sitter. I guess, for me, the right to life trumps everything else and there are a whole lot of folks who have lost that right here in America.
Prayers for our nation.