Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, an initiative lead by the Washington National Cathedral and bringing together communities and congregations across the country and across the religious spectrum, happens this weekend. And who could argue against preventing gun violence, right?
As I wrote earlier today in my live discussion regarding the 7-year-old boy suspended from school, needlessly so in my view, for “brandishing” a pistol-shaped pastry: “any meaningful conversation about this topic must assume that all reasonable people want to see gun violence reduced -- from those who support the NRA, to those who believe that only the very narrowest understanding of the second amendment can be tolerated in contemporary society.”
I hope that is the spirit in which this very special Sabbath will be observed. I hope that this is not simply an opportunity for a group of people already committed to a specific set of policies to claim that “God is on our side” or that those who don’t agree with us, are simply not understanding the truth of their tradition.
I write “I” because as far as I can tell, I personally agree not only with the spirit of GVPS, but with the laws for which its leaders advocate. That said, no tradition as infinitely rich and complex as Judaism, Christianity or Islam, which seem to be the focus of this event, can be reduced to a single conclusion on these issues.
In fact, the very verse which is most commonly quoted in the context of supporting this initiative, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16), is itself interpreted in classical rabbinic tradition, to justify some forms of violent self-defense! Which is the correct interpretation of the verse, the call for gun-control, or the call to rise up and kill one who seeks to kill you? I believe the answer is “both.”
Especially those who are more theologically liberal, as the leadership of this initiative appears to be, should be the first to appreciate that our respective traditions are not univocal or easily reduced to single policy prescriptions. And for those who are more theologically conservative, we dare not reduce the infinite gift of an infinite God to a finite understanding that always confirms that which we already believe.
In other words, Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath will be at its best when it stirs people to cross political boundaries and open their hearts to think bigger than they currently do about the terrible and terribly complex issue of gun violence in America.
Whatever one thinks about the best ways to curb gun violence in our country, we should use this Sabbath to bring more people than we currently talk with into that conversation. We need to create alliances where none currently exist, and that likely means imagining new responses that we don’t yet entertain.
As I wrote in concluding today’s live Q and A, “Personally I am a supporter of stronger AND smarter gun laws. Any argument that places the reason for any complex issue – especially gun violence -- in one place only is playing a very dangerous game.”
“Simple answers to complex questions are seductive, especially when the question is as scary as gun violence. They promise to make the problem go away. Unfortunately, simple answers to complex questions are also almost always wrong. I really hope that everyone from those who imagine that we need no legislation regarding weapons, to those who defend the absurdity of punishing a little boy for “brandishing” a pastry -- however it is shaped -- bear that in mind.”
Wishing us all both a peaceful Sabbath and a Sabbath that empowers us to increase the peace.