The recent mass murder of children in a Connecticut school has resulted in at least some redemption, in the form of the current effort by the President to introduce sensible gun laws. Banning assault weapons and imposing universal gun registration would be modest measures to reduce the appalling level of gun violence in our country.
But laws alone won’t solve the problem. If all of them were banned outright, our nation would continue to have more guns than citizens for years to come. Alongside legal change there must be spiritual transformation. Fear leads to gun ownership. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4: 18)
When we know our neighbors, we feel safer. When we love our neighbors, and they love us, we feel more secure. At their best, churches and temples and mosques are means for people to know and love their neighbors more perfectly.
There is no logic in gun ownership as a means of self-protection for the overwhelming majority of citizens. But facts are not persuasive in the debate about gun control. It’s about emotions. Guns make a lot of people feel safer, even though owning them in fact makes them less safe. So to get rid of the guns, we have to help people feel safer by other means.
That’s where religion can help. If you feel cherished by God, you’ll feel safer. If you feel cherished by other people, you’ll feel more secure. Belonging to a faith community helps on both counts. And a faith community that reaches out in its neighborhood, helping people know and trust their neighbors more, can be even more useful in creating a spiritual and emotional culture in which people will be willing to give up their guns.
For religious communities to lobby for passage of the proposed gun laws is a good start, but only the beginning. Faith communities need to do their part in changing the culture of this country. We need to be known to the wider public as communities of people who feel so secure in divine Love that we don’t need or want guns in our households. What would happen if our houses of worship took a “special collection”, and asked our members and our neighbors to turn in their guns and ammunition? What if the guns we collected were then melted down and shaped into crosses, or other redemptive religious symbols, placed in our sanctuaries? My wife is ready to bake one of her sumptuous cheesecakes to give to somebody who will turn their gun in to the police. What if the church people of America started baking their best desserts for the same purpose? Some police departments offer money or vouchers in exchange for weapons turned in by the public. Maybe our faith communities could do something similar, but distinctively different – something that touches and transforms hearts.
Do you have any ideas? Is your faith community taking action? I’d like to know – and to pass your experiences and proposals on to others. I pray that this issue will inspire some holy creativity, so that we can help Perfect Love cast out guns in America.
Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California