PRACTICING COURAGE, TWO: CALLING US ALL TO ACTION: “FOR IT IS IMPORTANT THAT AWAKE PEOPLE BE AWAKE"
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
Prayers for the children, the teachers, and the parents of Uvalde
"For it is important for awake people be awake" is from William Stafford, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other" from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford.
The photo of the Buddha is by Scott Aho.
by John Cahall with Catherine Spietsma-Adler*
Soon after Uvalde, Catherine told me this story. She said that she was walking down a path toward a beach. And she saw an Asian woman standing by the path. As Catherine approached, she saw a snail on the path. The woman was standing there, protecting the snail from walkers until it crossed over the path. Catherine realized that this was a very small thing that the woman was doing; she could not protect this snail after it went on. But she was doing what she could in that moment. And Catherine, in tears said, “I cannot save those children; I just have to do what I can.”
*Catherine Sprietsma-Adler practices psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Seattle and Ashland, Oregon, She is my beloved mentor.
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Catherine brought this photo essay in Time magazine to my attention:
'Hope Gives You the Strength to Act.' Portraits of Russians Risking Everything to Support Ukraine’
PHOTOGRAPHS AND INTERVIEWS BY MARY GELMAN | WORDS BY TARA LAW
APRIL 27, 2022 7:00 AM EDT
From the photographic essay: “Elena was sentenced to five days’ imprisonment for wearing a green ribbon, a symbol of peace, in her hair. ‘I can talk only about this war. Other topics are pointless to me. To be apolitical now is a crime.’” (italics added)
And so I ask, is it any less of a crime to be apolitical about gun violence in the US?
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When I first considered blogging a couple of years ago, I had multiple goals in mind. One was to reach out across what I saw as a divide between myself and some of my family members in Ohio. As I have gotten older, and my parents have been gone, I have gotten much more concerned about my relationship with my brothers and their families. I also was passionately concerned about what was happening in our country in the years 2016-2020, and was eager to share my passion, but I did not know how to do that without alienating some of my family who are more conservative. And also, with the younger generations, not wanting to intrude into the lives of those relatives whom I had not had the opportunity to get to know very well.
But I am a progressive Christian pastor who had been passionate about religion (in one form or another) and politics my whole life. This has been a huge part of who I am. Finally, just this year, inspired by Rachel Held Evans and Brené Brown, I created my website and began a blog. For the first two blog posts, since my earliest readers would include my family, and I wanted to build bridges with them, not walls between us, I expressed my political concerns on the Peace and Justice page only.
But, as I began to prepare the third blog post, suddenly I had a new challenge. I was dismayed about how the polarization in our country is preventing us from moving forward to address global warming and so many other life and death issues, as we struggle to make this a country more truly democratic and inclusive. How can I not speak up more? And Catherine quoted the above line from William Stafford, “FOR IT IS IMPORTANT THAT AWAKE PEOPLE BE AWAKE.”
As a progressive Christian pastor, and even before, my whole life, I have been both religious and political; they are inseparable. My education at a progressive Christian seminary reinforced that understanding. The question that I struggled with as I began to write my third blog post was how shall I do this? How political shall I be?
And then the tragic and racist mass shooting at the Buffalo TOPS Market took place, by a disturbed young man who had fallen victim to the Great Replacement Theory being pushed by white supremacists. I realized that I could not continue blogging the way that I did the first two blog posts. I did not know what I was going to do, but I knew that I could not, at this time, continue that way.
And then there was Uvalde. I was so saddened and distraught at this horror and infuriated with those who have been blocking our federal and state governments from doing virtually anything to prevent these horrific shootings from happening. I was approaching my 81st birthday. I knew that I do not have a lot of years left in this life. I could not any longer hold my words. And so, this time, my thoughts on what is happening in our country will not be confined to my peace and justice page. I am going to write about those who have been blocking our federal and state governments from doing virtually anything to prevent these horrific shootings from happening. Some people will be offended by what I write. It is not my purpose to offend. I cannot hold my words just because someone will be offended. We have to do something; we cannot say, “Nothing can be done,” or I can’t do anything;” It is not up to someone else; it is up to us. Or else tell me, as Catherine asked yesterday, “Give me the names of which children are okay to fire upon with a semi-automatic rifle?”
Again, from the TIME Magazine photo essay quoted above:
“Elena was sentenced to five days’ imprisonment for wearing a green ribbon, a symbol of peace, in her hair. ‘I can talk only about this war. Other topics are pointless to me. To be apolitical now is a crime.’” (italics added).
And again, I ask, is it any less of a crime to be apolitical about gun violence in the US?
I want to start with a rhetorical question: How is it today that we, in this country, have accepted what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Charleston AME Church, the Orlando night club, the Las Vegas County Music Festival, Sutherland Springs, Texas Baptist Church, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Pittsburgh synagogue, El Paso, Dayton, Midland-Odessa, the New York City subway attack, the Buffalo TOPS food supermarket, and now in Uvalde (to name just a few of the mass shootings since 2009)? How is it today that we, in this country, have accepted that these horrific shootings happened and do not demand of our leaders that something major be done, like reinstituting the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, or requiring universal background checks to purchase any gun? These measures would not stop the majority of gun homicides, which are with handguns, but studies show that they would reduce the deaths from mass shootings.
How is it that the US Senate has been incapable from 1994 until this past week of passing even minor legislation to curb gun violence of any kind? Now Congress has just passed the first significant federal gun control legislation in 28 years. It does not include a reinstitution of the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines; nor does it include universal background checks. But it is the first defeat for the gun lobby in 28 years. That is good, but also the very same day, the US Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 ruling on a suit brought by two gun owners and a New York affiliate of the NRA, overthrew gun control laws in New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey as well as the District of Columbia, opening up the possibility that the court may overturn gun control laws in other states. This, in spite of the fact that a Pew Research poll in 2021 showed that: 63% of Americans favor banning assault style weapons, 64% favor banning high capacity magazines, and 81% favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/09/13/key-facts-about-americans-and-guns/
This in spite of the fact that, as theOnion newspaper headlined on 5/25/22 "No Way To Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens." Multiple research studies show that, compared to all other leading industrialized nations, the number of guns and the number of gun-related homicides in the US are completely off the chart. For example, Vox in October of 2017 published 16 charts comparing gun ownership and gun violence in the US with other nations. See in particular chart 6: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/america-mass-shooting-gun-violence-statistics-charts. Also see, chart 5, “states with more guns have more gun deaths”, and 3, the location of the 2,500 mass shootings (four or more people shot) since Sandy Hook. Other similar charts: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41488081AND: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-us-gun-violence-world-comparison/.
Some will say; it is not about guns; it is about mental health. And yes, we should do more to address mental health. And some of that is in the new legislation. But other countries have mental health problems also, but do not have mass shootings on anything like the scale that we do here in the US. Why is the US different? One reason is clearly simply the number of guns and their availability. And the idolatrous place that guns and the 2nd amendment (a concept unique to the US, Mexico, and Guatemala) have in US culture. For two hundred years the 2nd amendment was interpreted by the courts in the US as not including individual gun ownership. It was a sad day in American history when, in a 5 to 4 decision in 2008, the court changed that interpretation. We are paying the price.
Therefore why does the government not act? The government cannot act because of the Republican MINORITY in the senate. The Republican minority, because of the filibuster rule, even as a minority, has been able to block virtually all gun control legislation in the US Senate.
And now they have taken over the Supreme Court. In 2016, The Republican, then majority, in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, blocked Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, ten months before the end of Obama's term, saying the nomination should be made by the next president. But, in October of 2019, only four months before the end of Trump’s term, McConnell had a very different ethic, pushing Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination through before Biden’s inauguration. Thus Trump, who lost the popular vote in 2016 by three million votes, was able to put into place three Supreme Court Justices, creating a 6 to 3 radically conservative supermajority on the Court.
What is the power base behind the Republican minority in Congress and the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court? I want us to look hard at that power base. And in the process of looking at that power base, we are going to find an UNHOLY ALLIANCE.
So here are some of those whom the base includes (all who see themselves as Republicans may not see themselves in these groups):
Traditional Republicans still supporting the party even though, beginning with the Tea Party movement in 2009, and much more drastically after the advent of Donald Trump, the party has moved far more to the right than previously.
Those who have the belief that undeserving groups are getting ahead while their particular group is being left behind, [see https://theconversation.com/hijacking-anxiety-how-trump-weaponised-social-alienation-into-racialised-economics-147366 (which draws upon the book Identity Crisis by Sides, Tesler, and Vavreck), who are in denial of the effect on them of the obscenely increased wealth gap in the US and of the policies that support that wealth gap, and instead, when they are feeling unsettled and unsupported, see the increased diversity of our society as the cause.
Those who know that Republican fiscal policies favor big corporations and the wealthiest members of our society over those less wealthy or over environmental concerns, but place a greater value on corporate wealth and their own personal wealth than on the human needs of the 99%. As well as many who live in a fantasy of disproven trickledown economics and the self-made man, in denial that they themselves are on the losing end of these policies, who vote against their own self-interest.
Those who think that “immigration” is the biggest problems we face, in spite of all the evidence that immigrants are one of the great strengths of our society and always have been. And those who believe in the right wing conspiracy theory called the Great Replacement Theory (also known as the white genocide conspiracy theory), that there is a conspiracy to replace white Americans with immigrants.
Those who are in denial of global warming or in denial that global warming is being triggered by human activity.
White supremacists as well as those who deny that white supremacy and systemic racism are a major factor in American society and always has been.
Those Trumpists who refer to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as the “radical democrat left” when, in fact, today’s progressive movement is not dissimilar to Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the most radical movement in American politics today is the Trump wing dominating the Republican Party.
Those who have turned the term “woke,” meaning concern about social inequalities like racism, into a pejorative and who scapegoat the “liberal elites” by which they mean urban, perhaps more educated people, when the “elites” that they really need to be concerned about are the corporate elites and their allies (mostly but not only in the Republican Party).
Those who, beyond all reason, religious faith, and integrity, depend upon Fox News for “information.”
Those who want to return to a 1950’s fantasy life of “good family values” which meant being white, Christian, married, and straight.
Those who believe that expanding LGBTQ+ rights to be equal to their own rights is taking something away from them. Or that LGBTQ+ persons are in some way less deserving of having the same rights that others enjoy.
Those who still believe, once more against all evidence, and even against the rulings of Republican state officials and Republican appointed judges, that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, that President Biden did not win the election, and that the deadly January 6 attack on the capital in an effort to overturn the 2020 election was “a legitimate peaceful demonstration.”
Those who idolize guns and a perverse interpretation of the 2nd amendment that would have horrified the founding fathers.
And lastly, but so importantly, the power base of the Republican Party includes a great many, but by no means all, of white evangelical Christians.
And a great many, but by no means all, of those who identify as pro-life.
From my point of view as a Christian pastor, these last two groups are unlike all the rest, because they see themselves as people of faith, and I see them as forming AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE with the Republican Party.
Because of this power base, INCLUDING THIS UNHOLY ALLIANCE:
Trump, whom a survey of the American Political Science Association concluded was the worst president in American history, was elected president (though losing the popular vote) and, by a pathological disregard for the truth and an encouragement of the most hateful and divisive aspects in our people and our culture, did incalculable damage to the social fabric of our nation, from which it is not clear how long it will take us to recover.
Addressing global warming, the most critical issue of our time, was set back by four years, and is still being held hostage by the Republican Senate minority and by the radically conservative activist majority on the Supreme Court.
LGBTQ+ rights were under endless assault by the Trump administration for four years and are still under assault in several Republican led states.
We now have a Supreme Court with a radically conservative supermajority, and three of the six of those justices were given lifetime appointments by Donald Trump, who had lost the 2016 popular vote by nearly three million votes.
And we are in danger of having this radically conservative and very activist Supreme Court deciding to rule in favor of state legislatures being able to overrule election results. We also are in danger of the Court reversing marriage equality, setting back environmental and business regulations, setting back gun control, and undermining even more than they have already the life and death efforts to combat global warming.
The US Senate, undemocratic by its very nature because of its over- representation of the smaller states, is being dominated by a Republican minority with no goal other than staying in power.
Again, both significant gun control and meaningful action on addressing global warming are being held hostage by this combination of the Republican senate minority and the radically conservative and theocratic supermajority on the Supreme Court.
AGAIN, WHY AM I WRITING ABOUT AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE?
Because the base of the Republican Party, the base that holds it in power, includes a great many, but by no means all, of white evangelical Christians, and a great many, but by no means all, of those who identify as pro-life.
Who have allied themselves with the Trump Republican Party, at such an unholy cost. At the sacrifice of their own Judeo-Christian values of caring for the poor, the immigrant, and those marginalized. Where do they see their Christian values in Donald Trump or in the Trump faction which dominates the Republican Party?
Again, this is a great many, but by no means all, of white evangelical Christians, and a great many, but by no means all, of those who identify as pro-life, who have allied themselves with the Trump Republican Party, at the sacrifice of their own Judeo-Christian values, in many cases solely for the goal of ending abortion, which goal they describe as being “pro-life.” But this is a tragically narrow use of the term “pro-life.”
There are people of good faith (religious or not) who are sincerely and passionately concerned about preserving life from the moment of conception, and believe that all or most abortions should be illegal. To most of them, this is a matter of their religious faith, and they are fighting to make their religious belief the law of the land. I might question their respect for the separation of church and state, but none of what I am saying is meant to be a criticism of their sincere faith.
And there are people of good faith (religious or not) equally sincere, who are passionately concerned that a woman have control over her own body, and that all or most abortions should be legal, that this is an ethical decision (sometimes a very hard decision) that should be made by a woman with the advice of her doctor.
Polls, including polls of people of faith, show that most Americans are somewhere in between these two poles. See https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/05/06/americas-abortion-quandary/. But polls have consistently shown that a large majority of Americans supported Roe v Wade. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2022/07/06/majority-of-public-disapproves-of-supreme-courts-decision-to-overturn-roe-v-wade/
The polarization of our country about abortion is tragic and democracy-threatening. People of faith are divided and the radically conservative Supreme Court supermajority is in opposition to the will of the majority of Americans who are either supportive of reproductive rights or are ambivalent about abortion, but did not want Roe v Wade to be overturned.
If those who have poured so much energy and time into trying to pass laws to save lives of the unborn (or to take away women's right to control their own bodies, depending upon your point of view) could put just a fraction of that energy and time into changing the gun culture in our country, would that not be pro-life?
Catherine asked, "Why are we so willing to lock into our beliefs? How do we get so locked in that we abandon all our other beliefs, that our sense of right and wrong and faith in the good, our sense of compassion, all get aborted?”
Pope Frances has warned about one issue politics. IF WE WANT TO BE TRULY PRO-LIFE, IT NEEDS TO BE ABOUT SO MUCH MORE THAN ABORTION. FOR EXAMPLE, ARE NOT ALL THESE BELOW BEING PRO-LIFE?
Universal maternity leave
Providing child care for all parents who cannot afford to pay it for themselves, which includes single mothers.
Addressing food insecurity, including especially among children and single mothers
Raising the minimum wage to a livable level for all, which includes single mothers
Compassion for the young woman about to start her education who is not ready to have a child. Compassion for the mother who already has children and a life that is all that she can handle.
Universal health care, by whatever method, such as expanding social security
Being supportive of LGBTQ+ parents, including for adoption of children
Ending capital punishment which is inhumane and is disproportionately is imposed upon people of color.
Ending the level of mass incarceration in the US which exceeds all other nations
Universally available government subsidized drug treatment
Giving mental health treatment the same priority as other health issues
More programs to help youth in the inner city
A whole lot less money spent on the defense budget and more on people programs.
Reforming police departments
Compassion and support for refugees who are fleeing war or violence and poverty at great risk to their own lives. (See the biblical quotes about immigrants on my Peace and Justice page).
Compassion for women and men enlisted to fight in wars that never bring peace
Actively working in your community and/or faith community to change the culture of gun idolatry, to pass gun control laws, ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines, mandate universal background checks, and raise the age for the purchase of any gun to twenty-one. According to a Quinnipiac University national poll released on June 8, 2022, Americans support “raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun to 21 years old nationwide” by 74% - 24% (italics and bold added). According to the Quinnipiac poll, even the majority of Republicans favor this. See https://poll.qu.edu/poll-release?releaseid=3848.
Supporting the various organizations like Everytown and others who are working to advocate in the political arena for gun control.
Supporting organizations which are working for a lot more mental health treatment, especially for young people. And supporting organizations which are working to identify and help youth who are in trouble. Combating the ideologies like white supremacy and the Great Replacement Theory that feed hatred.
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In spite of the legislation that congress just passed, the Republicans in the US Senate continue to be extremely resistant to passing major gun control measures. Why? They need the Trump base in order to survive in office. And, “According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in political campaigns, nearly 99 percent of the $1 million in NRA contributions to congressional candidates in 2016 went to Republicans.” https://www.governing.com/archive/tns-nra-campaign-contributions.html
VOTE!!! Vote for US senators and representatives and for state legislators who will push for action to reduce gun violence! And there is one more thing: There may be only one force in this country strong enough to overcome the Republican intransigence. It is an Evangelical Christianity committed to the goal of reducing gun violence.
Sisters and brothers of faith, I am not asking you to stop being pro-life. I am asking you to free yourselves from this unholy alliance and become truly pro-life.
Nineteen innocent children and two teachers were shot to death in their classroom in Uvalde. We cannot just sit back and let someone else speak up.
There is no one but us.
“There is no one but us.... there never has been.”**
** Annie Dillard, “There is No One But Us,” from Holy the Firm.