By Carter McNeese
Last Wednesday a man opened fire at a baseball field here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, wounding four people including the house majority whip.
On Friday, a jury acquitted a law enforcement officer in the death of Philando Castile, a man who had committed no crime and was, by all accounts, doing all that he could to comply with the officer’s requests.
These two, horrific events, are inexorably linked. They are two sides of the same coin of American violence.
On Wednesday, after news broke that the shooter in Virginia had been a volunteer on his presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders released a statement condemning the shooting, saying that violence, especially political violence, “runs against our most deeply held American values.”
With all due respect to Senator Sanders, no sentiment could be further from the truth.
When I was a child my parents taught me that your values were not what you said you believed in, but what you actually did. Values that are not enacted are pointless exercises in lovely rhetoric. This echoes James admonition that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
What good is it to mourn and cry and gnash our teeth, to claim that violence “runs against our most deeply held American values,” but then to do nothing about the violence that surrounds us?
The history of this country, including the political history, is bathed in blood. Our founding dates to a bloody war of rebellion, the genocide of the native people of this continent, including at the hands of our local, state, and federal governments, and the brutal and dehumanizing enslavement of Africans and their children.
We are currently witnessing fights all around the South about the placement of monuments glorifying men who took up arms against their government, many of them breaking oaths in the process, to protect their “rights” to keep those self-same people enslaved.
Since 1789, when George Washington took office, four Presidents have been assassinated, and many more have had attempts made on their lives. In that same time, only one British Prime Minister has been assassinated.
The Tony award winning musical Hamilton ends with the death of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr in a dispute that was, at its core, about a rivalry born of politics.
Countless black men, women, and children have died, and continue to die, at the hands of white supremacists, each an act of political terror and violence.
At its core, the conflict that gave rise to the Great American Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona was between Democrats and Republicans and residual sectional animosity rooted in the Civil War.
As of my writing, there have been 307 shootings in the U.S. in the last 72 hours. There have been 166 mass shootings since 1 January 2017. Fourteen of those have been in the last week. Five of the 166 have been in Virginia, all except the one in Alexandria within an hour’s drive of where I live, and one of those last Thursday.
America has a violence problem. We always have. This nation is bathed in blood, baptized in blood, swimming in blood.
I do not know what the answer is, if there is a panacea. I am pretty sure there is not one. I do know, however, that until we start telling the truth, until we own up to our culture of violence, until we are honest about who we actually are, there will be more bodies on baseball diamonds, more fathers gunned down in front of their daughters, more death.
It is time to get serious. It is time to admit that we have a problem and that guns, either fewer of them or more of them, are not the answer.
After the very first murder, fratricide no less, Cain, as way of defense, asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to that question is yes, I am responsible for my brother and sister.
Let us honor this responsibility, showing our values, even our very faith, through our actions.
Let us end the violence.
 Defined as a shooting in which at least 4 individuals are shot
Carter is a rising third year student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and Associate Pastor for Children and Youth at Second Baptist Church in Petersburg, Va. Married to Audrey, he is a Christian of the Baptist variety, a Geek, , and a music nut; he also strongly believes in the Oxford comma. You can find more thoughts from Carter at cartermcneese.com.
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