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Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Post-Easter Thought on the Gun Violence Debate

The passage we read for church this Sunday was taken from John 20 and as my pastor read this familiar Scripture describing Thomas' doubting of Jesus' resurrection, something I hadn't seen before struck me. In the passage Jesus appears to all of the disciples except Thomas, who, true to his nature, doubts that he arose at all. Thomas wants to touch the nail holes in Jesus' hands and put his hand in Jesus' side. Luckily for Thomas, Jesus reappears and graciously and patiently allows Thomas to touch him and see for himself the truth of his physical resurrection. In itself, this is a powerful reminder that Jesus is far more patient than his Church often is when it comes to dealing with the natural doubts of disciples.

But what struck me when I heard the passage read aloud is the time between Jesus' appearances. It was "a week later" after Jesus first appeared that Jesus reappeared and made the truth known to Thomas. I was struck because imagine this scene: the disciples see Jesus alive and well and then tell Thomas of this amazing new reality and Thomas' reaction is not to believe his brothers, but to doubt them and demand that he see for himself before he places his trust in the resurrection. What do you think the disciples are thinking and feeling when they hear Thomas' demand? These are people that Thomas has lived among, come to know intimately, experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows with; they all have seen Jesus and know he has overcome death. He was crucified and now he is alive, he is the Christ. But Thomas not only doubts Jesus' resurrection, he doubts the witness and testimony of these, probably his closest friends in the world.

Now, the text says absolutely nothing about what happened within the span of that week. The text is focused on Jesus' actions during his post-Easter time on earth. But wouldn't you love to know what exactly happened during that week, at least in terms of group dynamics? Were the disciples frustrated with Thomas for not believing them? Did Thomas think they were too easily fooled, willing themselves into believing anything just to make themselves feel better? Was there anger? Did Thomas threaten to walk out on them for being foolish? Did they threaten to kick Thomas out for once again doubting, for demanding to know in his own way and refusing to believe them? Did the two sides become entrenched, which is what so often happens when two sides both assume they are right and justified in their righteousness?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. No one does, for again, the text says nothing of what happened during that weeks' time. But yet, the only thing we do know is that the disciples failed to convince Thomas that Jesus has arisen because the next week Jesus appears again to the group with Thomas present. Thomas still has not come to believe in Jesus' resurrection for he is amazed to see Jesus. And we also can say with reasonable certainty that Thomas and the disciples have not reached the point of throwing each other out the window because they are all gathered together with the doors shut tight! Lastly, we can also say that the disciples were indeed right - Jesus had risen, thanks be to God! It's not that Thomas was wrong. He just had not yet come to the realization that the disciples themselves had.

So, how in the world can this speak to the current debate on guns about to happen in the Senate this week and next? I see a couple of ways. One is that there is a certain level of entrenchment on this issue. It was recently reported that 13 Republican Senators, led by Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX) are intending to filibuster any bill seeking to prevent gun violence. You could say they are like Thomas, doubting the veracity that through banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines and through instituting universal background checks will gun violence tragedies like the one in Newtown, CT be stopped.

Secondly, just as the disciples were right in their knowledge that indeed Jesus had arisen, so are we who believe that banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and instituting universal background checks on all gun sales will dramatically reduce mass gun shootings. We are right and history bears us out. When a much softer assault weapons ban was in place between 1994-2004 the number of these mass shootings was far lower than it is now. We know we are right because in other societies when these measures are in place, they do not experience these kinds of tragedies at all. But being right, unfortunately, has little to do with enacting good policies. If being right was all that was needed, there never would have been an Iraq War, minimum wage would be far higher than it is, and Obamacare would be far more reaching and would not have been controversial in its creation.

One possibility for Thomas' doubting is that he knew deep down the disciples were right, but he was frustrated he did not get to see, like everyone else, the resurrected Jesus. Maybe he hoped for another visitation. Again, we do not know for sure. But we do know that another visitation - the divine intervention of Jesus into human history - is what it took for Thomas to come to believe. The word of the disciples was not enough. Maybe the other disciples quit arguing with him early on into the week out of sheer frustration and just silently (and perhaps not so silently) prayed for another visit from Jesus the risen Christ.

It took divine intervention for Thomas to believe. And I believe that is what it will take with the gun issue as well - a visitation from Jesus. Now, hear me out. I am NOT saying that we should give up advocating, give up making calls, give up emailing or sending in clergy letters like United Methodists are doing throughout the United States, urging Senators to vote for S. 649 and S. 150. God forbid we quit! We absolutely must continue to call and email, continue to recruit clergy to send in their clergy letters, and strongly urge others to do the same! But I am saying that with those who are so entrenched with doubt, or with fear of the gun lobby, or with whatever reason they cling to that prevents common sense legislation that will reduce gun violence, we must also pray that they receive a visit from the risen Christ. We must pray for divine intervention.

And like the disciples, we will spend the week, or month, or year, or however long it takes, being faithful to Jesus, lovingly inviting the Thomas' in our life to join us, no matter if they are named Senator Paul or Senator Cruz, or Senator Rubio, etc. We will lovingly invite them to join us in manifesting the Kingdom of God on earth, a Kingdom where there are no assault weapons, no high capacity magazines, and where there is love, compassion and accountability. We are faithful in what we do, we witness to what we know is right - and we are indeed right - and we invite even those entrenched on the other side from ours to join us in experiencing Kingdom life in its fullest. We wait hoping. We wait expectantly knowing Jesus will visit them and us. Come Lord Jesus come. And let us be working while we want.

To call your both of your Senators and urge them to support universal background checks (S. 649) and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines (S. 150), please call 1-888-427-0484, ask for your Senator's office and then here is a sample script: "Hi, my name is                        and as a United Methodist and someone who believes in ending gun violence, I urge Senator                              to support S. 150 (Assault Weapons Ban) and S. 649 (Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act)." 
And don't forget to call BOTH of your Senators!