Thoughts and prayers are not enough.
In the aftermath of the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shooting, several prominent Republican leaders expressed their sympathy with the victims by offering prayers to victims and their families. But it appears the nation has become weary of platitudes in the face of ever-increasing deaths from gun violence. The New York Daily News’ provocative headline “God Isn’t Fixing This” is the publication’s most retweeted of 2015, according to USA Today.
As a Unitarian Universalist pastor, I believe that it is long past time we got up off our knees and got to work. We need to ensure that our families are better protected by sensible gun safety laws.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned Christians against the theology of “cheap grace.” By this he meant forgiveness without repentance and grace without discipleship. He was tired of hearing Christians declare that Jesus had forgiven them and there was nothing they needed to do to show remorse. And he was sickened by those who praised God for their own salvation without caring about the welfare of others in the world.
Today I see cheap grace every time a politician offers a rote response to a mass shooting, tweeting prayers rather than taking action to end the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. It is not enough to say “I’ll pray for the families and victims.”
In fact, I would say that offering prayers while continuing to block legislation that would create sane gun laws in the US is the definition of sin. It is obscene to say that you’ll pray for a family while pocketing money from the very organizations that ensure weapons of war and unlimited ammunition are available to virtually any member of society that wants them.
These days, cheap grace seems to be the main religion on Capitol Hill.
What the US needs are politicians who embrace a different kind of grace: a grace that is costly, that requires action and sacrifice, and that may even involve a dip in the approvals ratings. It requires us to not be content with the fact that this time we were spared, and that this time no one we know and love has been killed. We should not say, There but for the grace of God go I, but rather There, because of the grace of God, I must go.
This is a grace that is born of prayer—in which the devout ask for the courage to take action, and to acknowledge that even one more death because of our lax gun laws is too many. Enough lives have been sacrificed. Enough families have been forever devastated.
This kind of grace isn’t attached to a particular religion or a god. Rather, it is available to all people whose hearts break with each new tragedy, and who dare to believe that we can do better as a nation. It is this grace that gives me hope that, if enough people can acknowledge the truth of the New York Daily News headline, we will acknowledge that we have to fix this problem ourselves.
I’m no wide-eyed Panglossian who thinks we can eradicate gun violence in our land. I do know, however, that we can reduce deaths by enacting legislation that would make it harder to buy weapons of war and excessive ammunition.
We could follow Australia’s lead, for example, as Slate’s Will Oremus and others have suggested. Following a horrific mass shooting in 1996 that left 35 people dead, Australian lawmakers took only 12 days to make sweeping changes to gun laws. These included a buyback of over half a million semi-automatic weapons, registering individual guns with their owners, eliminating private gun sales, implementing background checks and requiring prospective gun owners to supply a valid reason for purchasing each weapon. In the decade following, murders dropped by 59% and suicides fell by 65%. Most importantly, there hasn’t been a single mass shooting in Australia since then.
I’m tired of the cheap grace that substitutes prayer for action. I want more from our leaders. I want to know the lives of Americans mean something to them.