I had a sermon written and prepared, about wealth, and responsibility, and charity, and using our riches to build up the kingdom of God.

Then El Paso.

Then eighteen, nineteen, twenty killed; then 26 wounded.

I was ready to speak about our personal riches, our societal riches, and how wealth is to be shared, not hoarded.

Then Dayton, Ohio.

At least nine killed, say the earliest reports. At least 16 wounded.

It was the second American mass shooting in less than 24 hours, and the third in a week. Thirty-second this year.

Waking in the still-dark morning hours, I found I have no words.

Following— which shooting, two years ago? I can’t remember— Bishops United Against Gun Violence issued a statement. They said:

“The heart of our nation has been broken yet again by another mass shooting… The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been devalued by politicians whose prayers seem never to move them to act against their self-interests or the interests of the National Rifle Association. Yet, as Christians, we believe deeply in the power of prayer to console, to sustain and to heal, but also to make evident the work that God is calling us to do. We pray that all who have been touched by this violent act receive God’s healing and solace….

“In the wake of this massacre, we believe God is calling us to understand that we must not simply identify the social and political impediments to ending these lethal spasms of violence in our country. We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and repent and make reparations.” [1]

# # #

In February 2018 — let’s see, that was the high school in Parkland, Florida — Fr. Allan Warren, then rector of the Advent, distributed to the congregation and friends of the parish a piece by Jay Parini, teacher at Middlebury College and author of “The Way of Jesus: Living a Spiritual and Ethical Life.” Fr. Warren said to me at the time, “I wish I had read this Sunday morning from the pulpit.” Sadly, tragically, today provides an opportunity to do just that.

The title: “America’s Cult of Guns.” Some excerpts:

It is safe to say that nobody in the cult of guns listens to Jesus.

We’re reminded of the evil at the heart of this every [time] some demented individual gathers a cache of semiautomatic firearms — or even … just one powerful assault rifle — and goes on a rampage.

Parkland will before long drop down the long list of recent school shootings. There is every reason to believe it will be second or third behind some new tragedy, just another name on a long list: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and so forth. Added to these we have the rampages in Las Vegas, Orlando, and countless other places. None of this will stop unless the cult of guns is curbed.

As a Christian, I’m appalled by the hypocrisy I see among others of my faith, particularly those who are our leaders in government and show eagerness to participate in this cult. They worship false idols in the form of weapons, and turn their back on the teachings of Jesus, who did not equivocate when it came to violence. It is safe to say that nobody in the cult of guns listens to Jesus.

Guns are a religion now. And too many of our fellow citizens -including evangelical Christians, of all people — will continue to heedlessly worship at this altar, despite the dead children, the dead teachers, the dead concertgoers and the innocent bystanders who must sacrifice their lives for others’ overriding faith in their weapons.

They will [continue], unless you do something.

They are in something like a cult, and like all cults, difficult to break from, to stop or influence. It’s an American thing, religious – yes — in scope, fundamentalist in its fanaticism and fervor, without precise parallel anywhere else in the world.

This won’t be easy; the cult has a lot of money behind it. The money pours in from the “devout”: small-time contributions to the NRA that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars each year. This money is used, in our skewed version of democracy, to influence politicians, who are only too happy to be bought.

But cults are not subject to reason. They have their fiery preachers, their arcane lore, their faith in Fox News hosts who peddle phony stories, their “churches” — gun shows — and deeply ingrained mythologies. These are all supported strongly by the NRA and the weapons manufacturers.

Hollywood doesn’t help, and never has: The American taste for violence is notorious, and we spread this ghastly predisposition around the world.

What would help? You. Elections. Sensible laws.

But this is going to require mental and spiritual toughness, a genuine resolve to end the killing and persuade those trapped in the cult of guns that it’s in everyone’s best interest for them to step out of that darkness. [2]

I close with these words from the Bishops: “Two years after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that took the life of [six-year-old] Ben Wheeler, an active young member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, his father, David, asked parents to look at their children and then ask themselves, ‘Am I doing everything I can to keep them safe? Because the answer to that question, if we all answer honestly, clearly is no.’

“In memory of Ben and all of God’s children lost to senseless gun violence, may God give us grace and fortitude in our witness so that we can, at last, answer yes.”

For the love of God, Yes.

[1] Bishops Against Gun Violence — an ad hoc group of over 80 Episcopal bishops. http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/

[2] For an updated version of his piece (Friday, May 31, 2019) see https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/opinions/americas-cult-of-guns-parini/index.html

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