An Attack on the Soul of the Nation

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the young Congresswoman from Arizona, must speak to the soul of this nation. The shooter raised his gun to her head, and then he kept shooting until 14 others were wounded and six people killed, including a district court judge and a 9-year-old girl who was president of her student council. Gabby, as everyone calls her, is one of the most beloved political leaders in the Congress and back in her home state of Arizona. Everyone likes her on both sides of the aisle. One of her colleagues remarked that if there was a list of the most vitriolic politicians in the country, Gabby’s name would be near the very bottom of the list. Gabby is known as one of the warmest, brightest, most open, and best listening members of Congress. She was listening to her constituents Saturday at a shopping center when a young man pointed a gun at her head and shot her at point-blank range.

I was with Gabby just a week ago, as both of our families celebrated the New Year’s holiday at a retreat in South Carolina. I count her as a friend (and there are countless others who feel the same way). She is somebody I always looked forward to seeing again, and she’s a great hugger, especially for a member of Congress. Last week, we talked about her very tough and close election this fall, which she won by only a few thousand votes in one of the most divided states in the nation, where the political rhetoric has become more and more poisonous and personal — much like the rest of the country. Gabby is always engaging, but never polarizing, and was the least likely person to be targeted by an angry and unhinged man. But she was. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a navy pilot and an astronaut, and my boys remember him coming to the retreat’s kids program to tell them what it’s like flying through space. He now sits at her side in a hospital room as Gabby fights for her life. We all hope and pray for her recovery.

This horrible tragedy must now become an important American moment. And, it is our job to make sure it does not just become another quickly forgotten event. As the county sheriff in charge of the criminal scene in Tucson said on Saturday, this must be an occasion for national “soul searching.” Part of the tragedy is that while this shooting has shaken the communities Gabby is a part of — Arizona and Washington, D.C. — violent tragedies like this are far too common in our country and our world. When a shooting would occur in the neighborhood of Columbia Heights, in which I lived for 30 years, we would always look towards bringing the individual or individuals who committed the act to justice. But we never stopped there. We always asked: What is our role in this?

A central calling for Christians is to be peacemakers. Peace, we understand, is not simply the absence of current conflict, but the presence of a just community. In the midst of tragedy and violence, I believe this means every Christian must ask themselves: “How am I responsible?” What more can we do to bring peace to this world as the Prince of Peace has called us to do? What are the situations and environments that allow this kind of hate and violence to grow? How can I not only stop conflict, but also be a part of bringing about a just community that displays the positive presence of peace?

As many have already said, we must honor this tragic event and Gabby’s national service by reflecting deeply on how we speak to and about one another, and how we create environments that help peace grow, or allow violence and hatred to enter. Many of us who would never consider violence of the fist have been guilty of violence in our hearts and with our tongues. We need to be able to relate to others with whom we disagree on important issues without calling them evil. The words we say fall upon the balanced and unbalanced, stable and unstable, the well-grounded and the unhinged, alike.

It can be easy to simply turn the station when violence breaks into our world. It can be even easier to do so when it happens in another community, not ours. But it would be an even greater tragedy now for the violence against Gabrielle Giffords and the others wounded and killed in Arizona to become another passing event — a blip on the social media screen of our lives — rather than something which changes us. Instead of viewing this shooting as something that happened to other people in another place far away, this could be a time to tie us closer to our neighbors across the country. To that end, we are inviting our bloggers and readers to reflect with us all this week on God’s Politics, to offer thoughts, prayers, confessions, and hopes, all aimed toward our national healing. As we continue to pray for Gabby and the families of all those who were so brutally attacked, let the soul searching begin.

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