This past Saturday, May 6th, at 3:30 p.m., at the Allen (TX) Premium Outlet Mall, a thirty-three-year-old man wearing tactical gear exited his silver vehicle and began firing his AR-15-style rifle at everyone in sight. At the time of this writing, facts about the victims are still being discovered, however, there has been the identification of a Korean American family, an Indian female, and a White male, ranging in age from five to sixty-one.
As a thirty-three-year-old male resident of Allen, TX, I have struggled to process the sheer devastation of this tragedy. I have a wife and two small kids. We shopped at this exact mall a little over a month ago. As I type these words into my keyboard, I feel the weight extending to my fingertips. I have had an unusual desire to allow this event to hit me as hard as possible. There is something about grief and lament that can bring clarity, even penetrating the ever-present fog.
The gunman and I were each born in 1989. What life experiences pushed him to make such an inhumane decision? Could my life have ended in a similar way under the same history, experiences, and circumstances?
Jesus was around the same age when he sacrificed his life for others instead of killing. If Jesus showed us the ultimate way of being human, then the cross is where our humanity is found most clearly. The opposite of humanity—as in the case of the Allen gunman—is his life ending by taking others with him.
The overwhelming majority of people in the United States would never even contemplate a crime so unthinkable as what the Allen gunman did, but they also wouldn’t contemplate a sacrifice so unthinkable as what Jesus did on the cross.
So, I have to ask: do we look more like Jesus or more like the gunman?
Christians should be continually sanctified by Jesus. We should be continually assessing our actions and beliefs to make sure they are aligning with our God. In the case of gun violence in the United States, there are clear political reasons to find common ground solutions, but my plea is to a different kind of politics, i.e. kingdom politics.
My plea is not conservative or liberal, it is Cruciform. It’s a way of life where killing machines aren’t welcome; where prayers are effective; where love of enemies is as important as loving neighbors. People who are citizens of this kingdom would rid themselves of violence in all forms, which includes demonization of the “other.”
Perhaps conservatives are closer to kingdom operation in their belief in the power of prayer.
Perhaps liberals are closer to kingdom operation in their belief in ridding the country of the sale of military-grade weapons.
Perhaps neither are close to the kingdom in how they love their enemy.
If the incarnation of Jesus is God’s evidence of divine humanity, we are not “buying in” to his character if we continue to make enemies. In fact, the greater desire we have for maintaining enemies, the more we are like the Allen gunman than to our Galilean Savior.
In Jesus’s day, the Jews were turning the phrase, “love your neighbors,” to also mean “hate your enemies.” They indeed loved their neighbors well, but that love made them hate Romans, and even sometimes other sects of Jews that were not like them. Jesus changed everything when He taught us to “love your enemies.”
In his Sermon on the Mount commentary, Scot McKnight, wrote, “Many of us love our neighbors in such a way that it is at the same time a powerful damnation of others, and we do this damnation in the socially acceptable form of exclusion, denunciation, and libel.”
If we take this teaching seriously, we are all in our sins. Who prays blessings for enemies? How unreasonable! Who rids guns as forms of protection? How impractical! In a world where we have no enemies (the kingdom of God), who are we to shoot? Who are we to hate?
The Lord’s prayer might need to enter back into our everyday liturgy. When we pray “on earth as it is in heaven,” do we mean it? Or do we mean to convince God that this earth is too doomed to begin to make it look like heaven?
Remember Simon the Zealot? How did that guy end up as one of Jesus’s disciples? Simon was so passionate about God that he was trained to kill those he believed to be God’s enemies. What he soon found out was that God didn’t have any. Jesus stayed with him, loved him, spent time with him, and turned him into a kingdom witness of nonviolence. Somehow, Simon and Matthew the Tax Collector (traitor to the Jews), found common ground as fellow disciples.
Perhaps, there are future mass shootings that can be avoided if we learn how to love our enemies well. There are Simon’s getting radicalized now, desperate for someone to help change their path and save their potential victims. Our inability to befriend the “other” will only continue our pattern. Additionally, our idolization of killing machines will only bring more deaths, not less.
This is not to say that national, state, and local laws can not change the future for the better. But for the Christian, our #1 priority is living into the reality of Christ’s kingdom now, which we can do with or without improved laws.
When Jesus rebukes Peter by saying “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” He is not warning Peter of his future demise. After all, would death by sword really have been worse than Peter’s eventual upside-down crucifixion at the order of Nero? No, Jesus is saying that if you allow an idol of violence to overtake you, you are letting the power of death win. The powers of death do not win by killing our bodies, they win when we give into their powers. If we believe that Jesus defeated death by dying with a commitment to nonviolence, we join Him by taking up our own cross.
We cannot carry both a cross and a gun. They are contrary instruments with contrary meanings.
This is not expressed more clearly than in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may prove yourselves to be sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a)
There is a really big “so that” in the middle of the verse. This text is not about “works salvation,” but about a promise of a reward. When we learn to love our enemies, our reward is who we emulate in the here and now, Jesus Christ our King.
Image credit: Pamela Reynoso