Brad East at Resident Theology has pushed back a bit on the kind of response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy sketched out below, in my last post. You can find Brad's thoughtful post here. Click over and read it, before continuing.
There is a lot that we agree on, which surprises me not at all. But I want to offer some pushback of my own on a couple-three points (for those of you unfamiliar, that's a Southern thing, couple-three.)
Brad describes the main transgression of opening up public dialogue around the contested issue of gun control as "politicizing." However, unlike many, he offers a definition of what he means by the word, and a reason he believes it's bad. Brad writes, "to politicize something is to make it a means to another end." And to take something as raw and horrifying and recent and still-bleeding as this tragedy is, and use it instrumentally to gain some sort of end, is wrong.
I doubt anyone would disagree with that.
Where I diverge, however, is the assumption that calls for gun control are politicizing. They're political, to be sure. But they're not politicized in the way defined above. Responding to the gunning down of innocents with calls for getting rid of guns seems to me to be pretty damn germane, not some kind of prestidigitarian politicizing tricksiness. I'm not concerned about an "issue." I'm not using the deaths of children to further an "agenda." Nor am I crowing, "see? I told you so, we need better gun control." This is my "why, Lord?"--but it is not an abstract theological question, because it is "why have we not acted to prevent this possibility? why have we let this happen, again?"
I have a 6-year-old little girl, that I send to school Monday through Friday. I have a 6-year-old little girl that I want desperately to have some reasonable belief and confidence in the safety of, when I do that. I have a 6-year-old little girl that I want to enter her 1st grade classroom with joy and anticipation, and not anxiety and fear because if it happened to someone else, maybe it will happen again, to her. This isn't passing over the deaths of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and their teachers in pursuit of political points. This is, in fact, about them. This is about the others who might follow. This is about repentance.
Second, I do firmly believe that there is practical action we can take, as a nation and within our communities, to address aspects of a problem that would have been horrifying in the singular but which has become a recurrent pattern. This does not make the mistake of rendering "evil explainable." I don't anticipate that I will ever understand the deeper metaphysical question of why anything like this would ever happen. But if we load all the guilty agency onto one 20-year-old gunman, and ignore the ways in which we have allowed ourselves to be complicit in the conditions that make this event possible--that's rendering evil "explainable" in the worst way, because it forecloses on any action that might make it impossible in the future. We can, at the very least, work toward the modest goal of making it harder for people to kill so, shall we say, efficiently.
Finally, and this is I think a very interesting point, Brad criticizes the facile and ubiquitous opposition of politics and prayer. I find this to be very helpful, and in fact, my unease with a simple opposition is what drove the concluding sentences of my previous post, ending with, "we need politics motivated by our prayers." But to suggest that the only appropriate responses to this tragedy are silence or prayer, and ruling out political (not politicized!) speech is to reinscribe the opposition.
What we need, I think, is all sorts of speech: prayer, outrage, anger, speechlessness. All at once. We need the political and the theological and the personal. And we need, each of us, to take from the confusing babble the piece we need at that moment. Not everyone mourns the same way. Not everyone needs the same thing. Me, I need to wail with Rachel, and refusing to be comforted, get up and go to the gates and make my voice heard: do not let this happen again.