This post is by T, a contributor to the comments and a sometimes blogger at this site — and he opens the whole issue of guns from a different angle.
Jesus on Murder
Steven Zeitchik : [Django Unchained] has a fair amount of gun violence and can be a bit flippant about it. Does that give you pause in the wake of what happened in Connecticut?
Samuel L. Jackson: I don’t think movies or video games have anything to do with it. I don’t think [stopping gun violence] is about more gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere, and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren’t taught the value of life.” [emphasis added]
Much has been said and needs to be said about the recent killings of kindergarteners and their teachers in Connecticut. For all the discussion and thinking that has been done so far (and much of it good), I don’t think that enough voice or hearing has been given to what Jesus taught about murder. Obviously, Jesus didn’t talk about gun control laws or the 2nd Amendment or even the American culture that celebrates guns and violence, though I don’t think he celebrates what we celebrate or trusts what we trust in that regard. For my part, I tend to agree that American Christians need to reform our own attitudes about guns and gun regulation, and I even agree that more aggressive regulation may help curb intentional and accidental gun violence in the very long term. But I’m not committing myself to seeing any of those things happening in the wake of this tragedy. The question that came into my mind when I first heard about what happened is the same question that has lingered, and it wasn’t about how someone obtained the guns involved. Rather the question that hit me right away and has stayed was simple and horrifying, namely:
“How does someone not see the simple holiness of a kindergartener? How does a person get to the place where they can shoot not one, but several 6 and 7 year olds?”
This is the question that stays with me in the wake of the shooting. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s the question, of the many that a tragedy like this spurs, that Jesus actually did answer with some specificity.
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” Matthew 5:21-22
Ironically, it was the selection above from an interview with Samuel Jackson that hit a nerve with me and sent me back to Jesus asking my question again. Of course, what Jackson’s quote only hints at, Jesus explicitly names: murder doesn’t begin with murder. It begins with ideas, with words. It begins with insults, with sarcasm, with snark, with shaming and ridicule, with a verbal devaluing of the person. I’m not disagreeing with Jackson (or Jesus) by saying that I think that the murderer of these children was taught to value life; he was just taught to value it very, very wrongly. And I’m not blaming this kid’s parents or classmates or whatever. We all suffer pain and all decide what to do with it, for good or ill. I’m actually just trying to let Jesus answer my question, which is as much or more about the future as the past. Because what we have in common as we look at something like this is “How do we prevent this from happening again, to whatever degree we can?” That’s what the gun discussion is about. I also happen to think it’s what Jesus’ teaching on murder is about. For those of us who call him “Lord” that should give us great pause to listen, and some encouragement to have the help.
I can’t help but notice that the people who do these inexplicable mass murders often kill themselves. Whatever else that says, to me it confirms that they truly did come to grossly devalue not only their victims’ lives, but also their own. When I think about how someone sinks to the level of actual murder, I have to think that the kind of talking that Jesus warns so strongly against was a central and necessary part of tearing down a person who could do such things. Again, I’m not trying to absolve or blame here—indeed, I think we have ultimate responsibility, not so much for the messages we hear, but for which ones we accept and nurture and build ourselves upon, and clearly any murderer repeats and builds upon some hateful things. Just as we can “cling to” the gospel and bear its fruit, we can do that with other teachings as well.
But I want to hear again Jesus’ teaching on murder: ““You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell.” I hear Jesus saying this: “Don’t try to only prevent or stop murder. That’s like trying to stop a freight train that’s moving at full speed with a heavy load. Stop it at the station. Stop your biting, mean words. Stop devaluing each other. That’s what fuels the fire of killing. Murder is born not with the hand, but with the tongue. You breed murder with your rude and vicious words to each other.”
Let me be clear and say that I’m glad not very many will escalate the devaluing and meanness that is so common into physical murder. Most of us will just give tit for tat. We’ll just Insult for insult. Most of us will merely reap divorces, estrangement from family and friends, and a background noise of woundedness and shame. But in so doing we will continue to maintain a garden in which violence and murder will continue to bloom.
As Christ’s church we are called to believe this seeming stretch of a connection between insult (which we routinely accept and sometimes proudly practice) and murder (which we roundly condemn and mourn). Further, we are called to model and live a different Way. We are called to bless even those who curse us. We are called to cultivate a fruit different from murder. Rather, we are to cultivate reconciliation, forgiveness, patience, gentleness and love. As we look at this most recent tragedy and rightly ask what we can do to move in the opposite direction, we need to hear and heed the warning of Jesus: murder begins with anger getting control of the tongue.