How many more? Ultimately we can’t end evil with violence.


I woke up this morning to news of the third mass shooting in less than a week. Dozens of our neighbors, fellow American citizens, have died because of gun violence in less than 7 days.

This doesn’t feel random. Two (maybe all three) of the three shooters wanted to kill as many people as possible. They went in with military style weapons and pseudo military equipment and tactics. This was all premeditated. Two (likely three) all seem to have been motivated by hatred and rage over race and racial mixing. Likely all three will be discovered to have been radicalized by white supremacist rhetoric. All three have been caught up in the corporate work of evil that snaking through society today.

At some point, and I pray that moment happens now, we, the citizens of the United States of America, as a united nation, will have to decide that this isn’t acceptable. It took us nearly a century before we forced a stop to racial violence after the American Civil War. (Nearly 5000 people of African descent were lynched by mobs in America between the 1880’s and the 1960’s.) It’s terrifying to think how many more people will die if this current tidal wave of mass violence last as long.

Guns themselves are morally neutral, but so too are ropes. People are not morally neutral. In Christian teaching, people have a strong tendency to selfish actions and evil behavior. Calvinists call this depravity. I don’t think we pay enough attention to this old idea these days. Modern guns and other weapons give an individual the ability to kill on a scale the early theologians never imagined. If they had foreseen such weapons, they would, I imagine, have told us of our danger and warned us of the consequences these weapons would have.

To this point the loudest voices in our federal government have argued that the solution to the scourge of gun violence in modern society is to make sure that more people are armed and able to respond to violence with more violence. A police officer I spoke with argued that keeping weapons handy is the same as keeping a fire extinguisher handy. But a fire extinguisher cuts off a fires access to fuel. A weapon multiplies and escalates the violence that another weapon creates. Fighting fire with fire (when it happens) assumes that eventually the whole conflagration will grow and run out of fuel. But our Christian tradition teaches that evil begets evil and creates an unending sequence of pain and death.

What should we do? I think at this point, we have to be clear that the slaughter of our neighbors is not an acceptable price to pay in the 21st Century to chase a wrong headed idea that we can finally stop evil by using weapons.

Let’s start with that. A simple admission that more violence isn’t the answer. I get that we use violence and guns to stop shooters. But that’s a solution to the particularity of a violent act, it won’t bring an end to the scourge of the violence now being fueled by easy access to weapons and lit by the fire of racism and white supremacy. There is no simple solution to the epidemic of violence that doesn’t involve work of courageous transformation and a non-violent witness to the power of love to remake the world.

We are in the midst of battles fought in a spiritual war. Let’s use the tools of spiritual transformation – and a frank recognition of the power of the evil we face. This is a spiritual war we are facing. Use the right tools. What we’re presently doing isn’t working.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...