God, guns, and politics: an unholy Trinity
After Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson, some have pointed the finger at inflammatory political rhetoric.
Many singled out Sarah Palin's now-infamous "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" tweet and her 'Crosshairs' campaign map, which included Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' district, as a sign that some politicians have gone too far in stoking vitriol against their political opponents. (Since the shooting, Palin reportedly emphasized in an email that she "hates violence.") Others reject any connection between the shooter, who does not appear to espouse any coherent ideology, and our current political climate.
What are the ethical and moral implications of incendiary political language?
In 2009, a Kentucky pastor invited his parishioners to bring guns to church to "celebrate" the Fourth of July and the second amendment. He justified this extraordinary request by drawing a parallel between belief in God and belief in guns. "[W]e're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms -- without that this country wouldn't be here."
"Incendiary political language" needs a match to turn from rhetoric to lethal violence; the proliferation of guns in this country is that match. The ethical and moral considerations of, for example, putting certain political candidates in "Crosshairs" on a campaign map, is not complete unless you include the opposition to gun legislation in the mix.
Then, add religious rhetoric about belief in God, connect it to the guns and the shrill anti-government politics, and you have a prescription for lethal violence against public officials.
There is no "God-given" right to handguns and the second amendment is not holy writ. Sending the message that there is something "holy" about gun ownership and that church is a place to celebrate that is dangerous. John Phillips, an Arkansas pastor who was shot twice while leading a service at his former church in 1986, agrees. "A church is designated as a safe haven, it's a place of worship," said Phillips, who was shot by a church member's relative for an unknown reason and still has a bullet lodged in his spine. He was quoted in the article cited above about bringing guns to church. "It is unconscionable to me to think that a church would be a place that you would even want to bring a weapon."
The United States of America is staring down the barrel of a gun, literally and figuratively. Handguns and ammunition proliferate, and strong gun lobbies pour millions of dollars into political campaigns to make sure the guns keep coming. When you combine how easy it is to obtain a handgun under permissive gun legislation with inflamed political rhetoric and authorize the whole unholy mess with talk about how this is connected to belief in God, you are asking for trouble. Trouble, in fact, is what we've got.
Here's what we need to do: responsible religious leaders need to speak out and say, without equivocation, that God and guns don't mix. When one of the disciples uses a weapon to defend Jesus from arrest, Jesus rebukes the disciple. God's own son warns us about what happens to those who live by weapons. What happens is they die by weapons.
In addition, religious leaders need to reject incendiary political rhetoric and also reject connecting handgun ownership with some kind divinely authorized celebration of "freedom."
We are at a pivotal moment in American politics. If we want to continue to be able to have our government officials interact with the public in mutually informative ways, a practice critical to democracy, then we need to break up the unholy trinity of God, guns, and politics. Put away the guns and talk to each other.
Posted by: edbyronadams | January 13, 2011 3:15 PM
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Posted by: fancnanc910 | January 11, 2011 10:09 AM
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