A long time ago, when I was a teenager, I was taken to a banquet to raise money for a crisis pregnancy center.
It was one of those galas where you pay a high cover price to get in, and they serve you a dinner and dessert, and then you listen to a sermon telling you why you should pony up even more money. I suppose everybody goes to such a banquet, for one cause or another, at some point in their lives.
The dinner was chicken with lemon and capers. The sermon was not given by one of our own Catholic priests, but by a local Lutheran pastor. He began with a joke, as one does, chiding the other clerics present for not wearing their clerical blacks. He told a story of the time he’d been pulled over for speeding, and the officer saw his clerical blacks and laughed, and said “Forgive me, Father, but you have sinned!” and the preacher said “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!” and he got out of the speeding ticket he justly earned. We laughed.
Then he preached a sermon about a Lutheran pastor like him, who had been arrested in Germany for hiding his Jewish neighbors during the Shoah, and how the pastor had been brought to trial and told all those terrible Nazis that he couldn’t obey the law, “because God is my Fuhrer!” and he was martyred by the Nazis for the love of his neighbor. And so we must do, when our laws are unjust. And we all applauded, and then we got dessert, a layer cake with raspberries.
The pastor yielded the stage to a young girl who gave her testimony, prompted by a cheerful pregnancy center volunteer. She told us the story of how she had felt desperate after her boyfriend left her, and she was going to go to the abortion clinic, but a follow-up call from the pregnancy center made her pause, and now the baby was alive and well. Her name was Sophia. We all applauded for Sophia.
After the girl gave her testimony, the preacher went and got Sophia– a plump six-month-old in a lace ruffled dress, with a matching headband over her wispy hair. He carried her sitting up in his arms, which were held out stiff in front of him, almost like a Catholic priest carrying the Monstrance.
We all applauded for the baby, who looked confused.
Then he gave us another sermon, the hard sell this time. He informed us that the crisis pregnancy center was saving babies like that every day with our charitable donations.
“Who among us would not sacrifice everything including our lives, to save the life of tiny Sophia?”
And we all applauded, vehemently this time, and the grown-ups wrote out generous checks for the rescue of tiny Sophia. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t have done that.
I think of that evening whenever there’s another school shooting.
There have been so many school shootings, between then and now.
Today, apparently, it was in Tennessee, at a Christian school. Three innocent children dead. Three adults are dead. The shooter is also dead. Seven human beings who would have been alive are dead, because of a shooting. By the time you read this, the death toll may be higher. If the shooter had rushed the doors of the school carrying a knife or a baseball bat, maybe one or two people would be dead, but maybe not. Because she had a gun, six were killed before the police killed her.
There have been at least 376 school shootings since Columbine, in the United States. There will have been more by the time you read this.
About twelve children die and 32 are injured every day in the United States, from gun violence. There’s a good chance that a child will have been shot in America in the time it took for you to read this post.
The number one cause of death for children, I mean children outside the womb, in America, is gun violence. Gun violence is the fifth leading cause of death for children in Canada and eighth or far lower in other developed countries.
The difference between America and all those other countries, is our lax gun laws. That’s what we have that they don’t.
I wonder if the Christian school which was the target of today’s shooting had preachers like the one I saw at that banquet.
I wonder if they tell that story about the German preacher, and encourage their congregation to save lives despite what the laws of their country say, because “God is my Fuhrer.”
I wonder what we would do, if I paraded twelve dead children and thirty two live bleeding injured children across a stage at a gala, and asked you what sacrifice you would be willing to make so that all of these children might be alive and healthy like Baby Sophia.
No, put away your checkbook. I’m not running a crisis pregnancy center. What you have to do, is vote for politicians who promise to pass tough anti-gun legislation so we can be like other countries where this doesn’t happen. And refuse to vote for politicians who accept money from the National Rifle Association. And protest the NRA, loudly, whenever you get the chance. And make calls and sign petitions and write emails and letters, and make your voice loud on social media and in every other way you have, explaining to your representatives WHY they’ve lost your vote. Explain it to them every time they lose an election, because losing is the only language they understand if they understand anything at all– and I’m not certain they do.
And when somebody who thinks that their constitutional right to have a shiny toy that kills people, a toy that in completely different and far more dangerous than any gun available to the Founding Fathers who wrote the constitution, is more important than the lives of children calls you a snowflake– well, maybe don’t say “God is my Fuhrer.” But say God’s commandment “thou shalt not murder” is more important to you than a human law which can be amended. Their right to turn their home into a fortress and their right to pretend they’re able to overthrow a tyrannical government, is not more important than a child’s right to life. They will simply have to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of a child’s life, as they ask pregnant women to do.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. It’s not how American Christianity works. It ought to be, but it’s not. American Christianity, by and large, have decided that guns are their Fuhrer.
That’s not at all what the words “pro-life” mean. It ought to be, but it’s not.
America has decided we don’t care about our children. We care about guns.
Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.