In 1993, Pope John Paul II released his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, or The Gospel of Life. In this letter to the Church, he laments, “We are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’”
This struggle between life and death is nothing new. In his final sermon to the children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, Moses spoke God’s words to his people: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19). The struggle between life and death is as ancient as the human species.
As I watched the news in the wee hours of Monday a week ago it was a visceral reminder of this life and death struggle. John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counter-terrorism of the NYPD, notes that the conversation on gun control has been stuck for a long time, thanks to a powerful gun lobby. Miller thought that when members of Congress start getting shot things would change. But Gabby Giffords was shot and Congressman Scalise was severely wounded, and no change happened. Miller thought when our families are massacred at the mall, then we’ll get serious. But Aurora, Colorado, happened and resulted in nothing. When they massacre our babies in their kindergarten classes then we’ll confront this madness. But Newtown happened and nothing changed. So, says Miller, I guess we know who we are and what’s important to us. If our guns are more important than our elected officials, more important than our families, more important than our children in their schools — if that’s who we are, we need to ask “why?”
It’s because we worship guns! Yes, guns have become our god. The U.S. has more guns per capita (88 guns per 100 people) than any other country in the world. It exceeds even Yemen (54.8 per 100) in terms of gun ownership per person. More than 100,000 people are shot in the U.S. each year
Annually, more than 30,000 people are killed by guns in the U.S. More Americans have been killed by guns since 1968 (1,516,863) than in ALL the U.S.-fought wars EVER (1,396,733). If this were any other kind of public health crisis, we would be crying out for a response, demanding a solution to the problem. Why aren’t we? At the very least, the Christian community should be speaking up, loud and clear, about this culture of death. Are you pro-life? Then you cannot, with integrity, cling to the status quo. Do you fear the erosion of your rights? The Apostle Paul admonishes the Corinthians that God does care when we use our freedom carelessly in a way that leaves another vulnerable. God knows how many are vulnerable because we insist on, demand, an unfettered right. We must decide: Are we a culture of life? Or a culture of death?
The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.