By Patrick Anderson, editor
During the early decades of the 20th century, on those occasions my grandfather had to travel away from home for work, my grandmother slept with a butcher knife under her pillow. She said she did that because of “the meanness going on” in the north Jacksonville, Florida, neighborhood where they lived. I remember that piece of family lore today as it seems we are buried under an avalanche of violent meanness in every aspect of our lives. It is not a new phenomenon.
Violence has been a continuous element in human existence since the dawning of time. Early in the recorded Genesis narrative, first brothers, Cain and Abel, faced off in a field and Cain killed Abel, spilling his blood on the ground. From that seminal event the Bible recounts unimaginable violence throughout, the slaughter of the people and animals of Jericho being but one example.
The history of America is written in blood.
Today, we are faced with a staggering level of violence. The video of five Memphis police officers kicking and beating a defenseless man to death demonstrates a level of depravity and disregard for human life that is impossible to un-see. The fact that the five officers are black and the victim, Tyre Nichols, was likewise black only heightens the realization that police violence, while endemic to the American criminal justice system, is not limited to white on black animus. Violence is so prevalent in the sordid history of American policing that its stain, like that of Abel’s, calls out from the ground.
Mass shootings (defined as shootings in which 4 or more people are shot in a single shooting spree) are so prevalent that we can hardly overcome the initial anguished feelings of one before news of another hits us full on. Numbers can be numbing, but the fact that as of today (January 28) the year 2023 has already seen 49 mass shootings, bringing the 10-year total to 5,184, sends shivers up my spine.
Guns are inanimate objects, but the one thing all mass shootings have in common is guns. Approximately 393 million guns are privately owned in America, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, or 120 guns per 100 households, but about half of those guns are owned by about 3% of the population. The prevalence of guns made available in so many households leads to tragic access by children, as seen in the case of a 6-year-old boy who took a family gun to school and shot his teacher in Newport News, Virginia this year. The Center for Disease Control reports a total of 45,222 people died from gun shots in 2020, the latest year full data is available; about half were suicides. Guns are a factor.
The ethical concern here, however, is the meanness, as my grandmother would say. There is an element of evil in the human experience which, coupled with the ready access to weapons of death, creates a perfect storm of violence. No area of American life is immune from the tragic fact that death can be introduced without notice. Mass shootings have happened in movie houses, churches, nightclubs, outdoor concerts, private parties, grocery stores, Walmart, elementary schools, universities….
Guns and violence are so entwined in America that some claim that the problem (mass shooting killings) can be prevented or solved by a more heavily armed populace. In 2017, in the wake of the mass killing of 26 worshippers in a Texas church, Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas told a Fox & Friends panel that a shooter would not get off more than a shot or two in his church before being shot by an armed member of the church. “I’d say a quarter to a half of our members are concealed carry, they have guns and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. They bring them into the church with them….look, if somebody tries that in our church, they might one shot off or two shots off, and that’s the last thing they’ll ever do in this life.”
To begin this issue of the journal you will see an excellent address by George Mason on Wisdom, a topic we sorely need to read and heed.
Also, the piece by Kathy Bladock about the life and work of David Fearon, who as a 21-year-old seminarian, 60 years ago, challenged the RSV translators on the word ‘homosexual’ is one of the most remarkable stories I have seen. His own long ministry and life is inspiring. After many years, Bible translators have finally begun to address mistranslation of passages in Corinthians that has resulted untold suffering, bigotry, and erroneous theology for decades.
Two articles about the January 6 Insurrection add insights to the events of the day and to the influence of White Christian Nationalism which undergirded the terrible events.
Baylor professor John White’s article on Christian Conformity to Sports Ethics is timely and interesting. Marion Aldridge’s review of Daniel Vestal’s new memoir detailing his journey as pastor and denominational leader will interest everyone who has lived through the life of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
With those facts as a backdrop, this issue of Christian Ethics Today, sheds light on several arenas of violence, namely American policing, Christian nationalism, and conflict around and among Christian churches.