When We Make Guns the King: A Warning about Arming Teachers
March 11, 2018
Leah D. Schade / EcoPreacher
Commentary: Will the NRA-backed plan to arm school teachers truly protect students? Or will it be like pouring gasoline on an already out-of-control fire? The answer seemed to come almost immediately when -- the very next day -- a teacher in a Georgia high school barricaded himself in a classroom and fired his gun, sending terrified students into lock-down. The decision indicates a a troubling ideological acceptance of "the myth of redemptive violence" -- devotion to violence for the sake of curbing violence.
When We Make Guns the King:
A Warning about Arming Teachers
Leah D. Schade / EcoPreacher
(March 1, 2018) -- "And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day."
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."
-- 1 Samuel 8:18-20 (NRSV)
The people were warned.
Be careful what you wish for -- the consequences may be more than you can bear. But they longed for someone to rule over them, to give them a sense of safety and security. They wanted protection. They wanted power. And they were willing to sacrifice everything they held dear in order to secure that sense of power. Even if it meant sacrificing their own children.
I thought of this passage when I learned that Pike County School District in Kentucky voted to permit their teachers to carry concealed guns. Prompted by school shootings in Florida, and -- closer to home -- Marshal County High School, the board voted unanimously to arm their teachers.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the district superintendent Reed Adkins stated: "You hope you're making the right decision for kids, but I know right now something's got to be done. We may be criticized, but at the end of the day I'll take criticism to protect my students."
But will this action truly protect students? Or will it be like pouring gasoline on an already out-of-control fire?
The answer seemed to come almost immediately when the very next day a teacher in a Georgia high school barricaded himself in a classroom and fired his gun, sending terrified students into lock-down. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But the situation highlights just one of the many problems with arming teachers.
What if one of them goes rogue, and has access to a gun? There are too many variables and risks when putting guns in schools. The potential for mistakes, students stealing guns, or guns used as discipline are far too high.
At a deeper level, the decision by Pike County School District indicates a more troubling ideology about the myth of redemptive violence.
This is a term developed by theologians such as William Stringfellow, Rene' Girard, and most recently, Walter Wink. Consider these words from Wink's book, Engaging the Power: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992):
"Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees and absolute obedience to death.
"Its followers are not aware, however, that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety. Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least."
Such devotion to violence for the sake of curbing violence was evident in the superintendents words: "To know whether or not you can take a round or give a round, you'll never know until you're there," said Adkins. "It's not going to be perfect, but it'll be much better than where we sit today."
No, Mr. Adkins, it will not be much better. It will be worse.
The problem with arming teachers as a means to protect children is that it is touted as a viable "downstream solution." It's not. This is not like using controlled fire to combat a wildfire. When more guns are present, more deaths and injuries occur. Full stop.
What's needed are "upstream" and "midstream" solutions.
Instead of trying to stop armed gunmen, we need to stop allowing them to have guns in the first place. That's why raising the age limit for gun purchases, banning assault weapons, and having universal background checks are necessary. Those are examples of "midstream" solutions.
But to really get at the source of gun violence, we also need to implement "upstream" solutions. This means re-evaluating our worship of the 2nd Amendment. It means confronting our idolatry of guns. It means we need to have serious conversations about our society's lust for violence, and our inability to see how destructive this addiction is.
"Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts . . . This myth of redemptive violence undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism, and foreign policy," Wink observes. He likens this myth to a serpent lying coiled at the root of the system of domination that has characterized human existence since well before ancient Babylon (which was founded on the myth of redemptive violence) ruled supreme.
But awareness of this seductive serpent is sorely missing from the discussion about school safety in Pike County.
"This decision is not easy, deciding to put weapons in a school that you're trying to keep weapons out of," said Pike County School Board Chairman Justin Maynard. "I don't know that it stops (school shootings), I think it ultimately minimizes it."
But as soon as one child is shot, this theory will be proved wrong. There are other ways to keep our children safe. Arming teachers is not one of them.
Those calling for the arming of teachers -- or any action that will put more guns into the equation -- are like the people of Israel crying out for something, anything, that they think will save them. But imagine reading the scripture from 1 Samuel another way:
"And in that day you will cry out because of your GUNS, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day." But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! but we are determined to have GUNS over us, 20so that we also may be like other nations, and that our GUNS may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."
Samuel warned the people what would happen if they got their wish.
The king will take your money, and the best of everything you have and give it to his cronies. Similarly, the NRA takes the money from its members, from gun sales, and perhaps even from foreign powers and distributes it to politicians in order to protect its own power.
But even worse, Samuel warns, is that the king will use your children as human shields, sacrificed for the sake of his own power. So it is with the GUN. We have pledged allegiance to violence, and our children pay the price with their lives.
"You yourselves will become his slaves," Samuel predicts (v. 17). Indeed, our nation is a slave to violence, the gun industry, and the NRA.
So it's time to turn away from this self-imposed slavery and free ourselves from the myth of redemptive violence. We must fundamentally rethink our relationship to guns and our obsession with killing.
The Bible's alternative message of laying down arms and doing the hard work of peace is one worth heeding. Indeed, the upstream work of peace is the only way to truly get at the source and address the downstream problems of violence and guns in America.
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).
Worshiping the Gun God is Killing Us:
A Reflection on the Sutherland Springs Massacre
Leah D. Schade / EcoPreacher @ Patheos.com
(November 7, 2017) -- "This could have been my church."
How many people whispered this to themselves, their spouses, their friends, after seeing the news of the gun-murder rampage at Sutherland Springs, Texas?
As Christians, we must to say: This is my church. The same way we should have said after Sandy Hook: This is my school and these are our children.
After Las Vegas: This is the concert I attended, and these are my fellow citizens.
The Pathological Cycle
After every gun massacre we should have been protesting in the offices of our legislators, at the offices of the NRA, at every gun-and-pawn-shop, at the entrance of every gun show. But instead, we do exactly what the GunGod wants us to do: cower, toss off trite "thoughts and prayers," and buy more guns. Feed the beast at any cost. It is a pathological cycle, and it is literally killing us.
We worship the GunGod in this country.
Worship may be defined as anything to which human beings devote their sacrifice, allegiance, finances, time and heart. Thus, the gun is an almighty god to which we bow in the United States.
"America: Land of the Gun." Image by Alan Cleaver. Some rights reserved. flickr.com
The Religion of the Gun
The gun has been imbued with the divine qualities of omnipresence and omnipotence. The gun has become so ubiquitous, it appears everywhere. Guns permeate our television shows, movies, video games, and toy store aisles. Gun shows are like old-fashioned church tent-revivals touting a religion that will "save" its adherents.
The gun industry is a billion-dollar machine that spreads a gospel of salvation, profiting mightily by convincing the public to own as many guns as they do Bibles, if not more. The NRA is the royal priesthood to which all politicians must defer and pledge their allegiance. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, "the right to bear arms," has been twisted to become a psychotic dogma that demands sacrifice.
"Call a Thing What It Is"
Martin Luther encouraged people to "call a thing what it is." So from a theological standpoint, we must take the mask off the gun to reveal it for what it truly is: evil. And I say this as a former hunter who used to go into the woods every fall and spring to kill animals with a shotgun or rifle. But as a parent, and as a citizen who has watched one too many sacrifices at the altar of the firearm, I have had to renounce the gun for myself and my children.
I don't have the political or financial clout to take on the NRA priesthood or the politicians beholden to the organization's campaign donations. I don't have the cultural clout or societal standing to organize mass protests and topple the idol of the gun. All I have is my writing, my broken heart, my anger, and Internet access. And prayer.
As I spent yet another night-after-a-gun-massacre in a restless mix of prayer and nightmare, I awoke convinced that I needed to speak out on this issue about guns yet again from a theological and biblical perspective. [See "On the 8th Day, God Created Guns: A Reading from the Gun Bible," and "315 Today -- A Poem about Gun Violence."]
The Sacrifice that the GunGod Requires
We have been fooled by the satanic gun-worshiping priesthood into believing that the only way to appease the angry and demanding GunGod is by accepting that our children and fellow citizens must be sacrificed. We unquestioningly engage in the ritual practice of collecting more and more guns and giving unfettered access to all who would devote their money and their heart to the GunGod.
To question the doctrine of the NRA is to be accused of heresy in the form of being "unpatriotic." But, in fact, the more guns we produce and sell, the more people -- including children -- will die from guns. How is it patriotic to be content with gun-massacres of one's fellow citizens for the sake of misplaced faith in a murderous deity?
This GunGod cares nothing about our children, and convinces us to justify this lack of care by repeating the bogus mantra: "Guns don't kill people; people kill people."
Let's Be Very Clear: GUNS KILL PEOPLE!
I have held a gun. I have fired it. When I was a hunter, I used it to kill, to take the life of another being. There is something about the gun that imbues the holder with a sense of almost god-like power over another -- the power to give and take life. If I do not pull the trigger, I have spared your life. If I pull it, I can take your life instantly.
Some may argue that any weapon can give that sense of power. But let's face it – few of the mass killings that have happened in our country were committed with swords, knives or cross bows. It was guns, plain and simple. Guns kill people. That's why they were invented, and that's what they are designed to do.
The Final Solution
But we have allowed ourselves to become convinced that the sacrifice of our citizens -- including children -- is simply the price that must be paid to the GunGod. The GunGod is the only one who will provide. "The gun is my shepherd, I shall not want," [from Jeff Hood's provocative gun-hermeneutic of scripture, Apostasy: Guns, God, and Sutherland.]
The gun is the answer to all of our fears, the release for all of our anger. Is the teenager's music too loud? Shoot him.
Is he wearing a hoodie that makes you feel threatened? Shoot him.
Are you angry at the politician? At the ones who have mistreated you? The women who have spurned you? The family member or neighbor or motorist who piss you off? The answer is the gun, always the gun. It is the final solution.
It is past time for clergy, theologians, and people of faith to take a united stand against this idolatry of the gun, tear down the altars, and protect our citizens. That would be the Christian thing to do. That would be the patriotic thing to do.
To learn more about how you can help end gun violence, check out these links:
Everytown for Gun Safety
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence
God Before Guns
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).
Read Leah's other pieces about gun violence:
* Preventing Gun Deaths -- Tell Me Just ONE Thing You Will Do
* On the 8th Day, God Created Guns: A Reading from the Gun Bible
* 315 Today -- A Poem about Gun Violence
Leah has served as an anti-fracking and climate activist, community organizer, and advocate for environmental justice issues. She is a trained workshop leader for Lutherans Restoring Creation, a grassroots movement helping congregations learn how to "go green."
Leah's current research and book project titled, "Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red/Blue Divide," draws on the concept of conversational preaching and suggests using this approach in tandem with a process known as "deliberative dialogue" in order to enter the Purple Zone within the red-state-blue-state divide.
Visit https://www.thepurplezone.net/ to learn more.
Leah is also a professional harpist and her CD, Shall We Gather, is available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ldschade.
You can follow Leah on Twitter at @LeahSchade, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LeahDSchade/. To contact Leah directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.