Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
Thoughts and prayers are not useless — but America needs so much more: Westwood
It’s become cliche to ask, but I’m asking in all honesty: In the face of America’s gun violence and the wake of another horrific massacre, what would Jesus do?
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Last Sunday — hours before Stephen Paddock unloaded a torrent of bullets on a country music crowd in Las Vegas, killing 58 and wounding 489 — the priest at a historic southern black Catholic church in New Orleans began his sermon.
He preached about the imperative not just to profess yourself a Christian but to act like one — including politically. To put the needs of others before yourself. To put the needs of the whole community before your own. He was speaking, specifically, about the upcoming mayoral race in a city plagued by racial inequality, poverty, poor education, and gun violence. You must vote, he said, for the greater good over your own.
The imperative applies elsewhere, too.
If thoughts and prayers, for example, were all politicians in America had to offer those fighting against abortion, we’d live in a very different country for women’s reproductive rights.
Instead, Republican lawmakers in particular from state to federal levels base their reputations — and lock in voters — on their efforts to interfere with women’s autonomy over their bodies, in favour of the rights of cells, which potentially become fetuses, which potentially are born as human babies.
In its latest incarnation, anti-abortion activism is packaged as a fight for the human rights of the so-called unborn. It is described as righteous and Christian specifically because it does not simply rely on prayers to bring about what its proponents argue is God’s will. It takes action.
I happen to disagree with the anti-abortion (or pro-life, or pro-birth) fight. But you can’t argue that those who believe in it aren’t doing everything they can to advance their cause.
There is no comparable effort, on the right, to fight for the human rights of gun victims.
And there is no point, though it remains popular, in trying to convince second amendment defenders with data and statistics and graphs that guns make Americans less safe, in a far more terribly mundane way than just mass shootings.
Americans own nearly half of the world’s civilian guns, for example, and face a gun homicide rate 25 that of other wealthy nations, yet an expansive June Pew Research Centre study on guns in America found Republicans in particular believe more guns would make the U.S. less violent.
Instead, for those who support unfettered access to guns, the key point isn’t America’s violence. It’s the primacy of individual rights and freedoms that takes precedence: 74 per cent of all gun owners and 92 per cent of National Rifle Association members say guns are essential to their freedom.
That’s why pointing out the hypocrisy in this position has little effect. One side is arguing for the greater safety of the nation.
The other side is arguing for their individual way of life.
It’s not that I don’t understand how important that is to many Americans. It’s expressed starkly in the Pew Research Centre report, tying Republicans in particular (61 per cent of gun owners), but also those in rural areas (46 per cent of whom own at least one gun) to the second amendment not just as a right, but as a source of identity. Nearly three-quarters of gun owners said they couldn’t imagine living without one, and 49 per cent know only or almost only other people who own guns.
But this rigid defence of that individual need is hard to square with Jesus’s call to protect others. And that, more than the hypocrisy, is what should trouble people of faith. Especially politicians who hold immense power to affect change. For them, talk this week of banning bump stocks, an attachment Stephen Paddock used to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a machine gun, is merely dipping a toe in the waters of action.
So I understand the anger, outrage, cynicism and exasperation expressed by everyone ridiculing the now stock political response of condolences, thoughts and prayers (“We’re here for you,” Donald Trump promised vaguely on Monday.) It sounds canned because it is — a line trotted out now too many times after too many mass shootings.
But that doesn’t mean prayers are useless. For many believers, in Christianity and other faiths, prayers are essential. Decrying them as besides the point is an insult to that faith. It’s an insult to my own.
Then again, I do not only have prayers to offer. And any Christian tormented by all this pain and suffering should be asking themselves what else their faith expects of them. It’s become cliche to ask, but I’m asking in all honesty: In the face of America’s gun violence, what would Jesus do?
So yes, my own thoughts, prayers and tears have been with the victims of this massacre, with the injured, the traumatized, their families and communities. And with people everywhere whose lives are torn by gun violence without national mourning.
And my thoughts and prayers are also with every person fighting for sensible gun control laws, putting at the forefront of their efforts the well-being and safety of all.