Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm Tired

I’m tired.

I’m tired of figuring out what to say in a sermon, in a Friday message to the congregation, or in a prayer after yet another incident of mass murder in our country. I’m tired of praying for the families, friends, and neighbors of those who were killed or injured. And I’m tired of parsing whether the latest mass murder was “terrorism” or “anti-abortion zealotry” or “workplace violence.” And I’m tired of interviews with friends and neighbors of the murderers who say that they were quiet, regular people, perhaps a little odd but “no one could have expected this.” We have to expect this as long as guns and ammunitions are so easily available.

I’m also tired of having to defend my words when I say what I just said about the easy availability of guns. I have friends, members of this congregation and of my previous congregation, and colleagues who I very much respect, who are gun owners and members of the NRA. And I’ve said before that I fully support the right of law abiding citizens with the proper training and who use proper safeguards to possess guns for personal protection, hunting, target practice, what have you.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution has been understood by the Supreme Court to protect the individual citizen’s right to own guns. I happen to believe that this is an incorrect reading of the Second Amendment but unless the Supreme Court reverses its understanding that is the law of the land. But the fact that a person possesses a certain constitutional right does not mean that said right cannot be regulated to protect society as a whole. The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion, but it doesn’t mean that followers of Santeria can sacrifice animals anywhere they want or that Christian Scientists have the right to withhold medical treatment from their minor children. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech but it doesn’t mean that I can libel others with impunity or shout “fire” in a crowded theater. My exercise of my rights can be regulated by society in such a way that it does not endanger the wellbeing of others.

In the 21st chapter of Deuteronomy we read of a very strange ceremony:

1 If, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess, a body is found lying in open country, and it is not known who struck the person down,2 then your elders and your judges shall come out to measure the distances to the towns that are near the body. 3 The elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked, one that has not pulled in the yoke; 4 the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to a wadi with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the wadi. 5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord, and by their decision all cases of dispute and assault shall be settled. 6 All the elders of that town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi, 7 and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor were we witnesses to it. 8 Absolve, O Lord, your people Israel, whom you redeemed; do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain in the midst of your people Israel.” Then they will be absolved of bloodguilt. 9 So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, because you must do what is right in the sight of the Lord.

The Mishnah comments on this ceremony:

MISHNAH SOTAH 9:6 The elders of that town wash their hands in water at the place where the neck of the heifer was broken, and say [Deuteronomy 21], “Our hands did not shed this blood, our eyes did not see.” Could it possibly even enter our minds that that the elders of a Court were shedders of blood? Rather, [understand this to mean] “He did not come into our hands, that we should have let him go without food, and we did not see him, that we should leave him without an escort!”

In other words, leaders have more than just a responsibility to personally refrain from bloodshed. They have a responsibility to create a society where blood is not shed. If they fail to do so, they share in the guilt for those who are killed by violence. When Congress can’t even pass a law that requires additional checks before someone on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist can purchase a gun, something is horribly wrong.

I’m tired of this, and I hope you are tired of it too.