Today marks the 69th anniversary of the execution of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian and resister who spoke out against the rise of Nazism in Germany and acted up to jam the gears of facism. Bonhoeffer was both reasonable and fearless; and his life (and death) will forever challenge people of conscience to assume responsibility in seasons of moral crisis. Plenty of Christians in Germany chose to do little or nothing in those terrible days of the mid-20th century. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others believed that faith required courageous resistance, even flawed resistance, rather than inaction and silence. While their plot to assassinate Hitler was ultimately unsuccessful, and may have come too late anyway, it serves for many of us as a provocative sign of discipleship. Faith struggling for authenticity in the real world. “The ultimate test of a moral society," wrote Bonhoeffer, "is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
In that spirit then, I want to call out the remarks of Wayne LaPierre in Indianapolis today. Speaking to the true believers of his National Rifle Association (NRA), LaPierre has once again championed a vision of this country that is fearful, divided and violent. Like others before him (and, frankly, like the Nazis in the 30s), LaPierre is happy to foment fear, distrust, even racial contempt, because all of this animates his righteous ranks in their defense of everything they love. Which seems to be their weapons and their rage.
Here are LaPierre's words today (4/25/14):
"We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers [sic], haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own."
WAYNE LAPIERRE'S WORLD
This is the same Wayne LaPierre who is incapable of serious reflection, thoughtful reflection on massacres in Connecticut, Colorado, Texas. This is the same Wayne LaPierre whose faithful followers enacted a law in Georgia this week--making sure that Georgians bring their dangerous guns to church on Sunday and school on Monday and all those other dangerous places they frequent during the week. Wayne's World is a world of 'us and them,' a world of good guys with nasty guns and bad guys lurking around every corner hoping to do awful things. "The only thing protecting you from a very bad man with a gun," he said famously after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, "is a good man with a gun." This is his vision--in toto--of American democracy: nothing about trust, civic engagement, responsibility for one another, negotiation and compromise. "In the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers..." And you'd better well have a loaded weapon cocked and ready to fire. Or you're done for.
I want to say this, and to say it out of the deepest current of my faith tradition. Fear does not make us wise. And guns do not make us safe. Quite the opposite, I believe. The kind of fear that Wayne LaPierre is sowing--something akin to the kind of fear Hitler and his Nazis were sowing in the 30s--is antithetical to the flourishing of democracy and creativity in a pluralistic civilization. It presupposes a kind of sinister spirit in the human heart. And it encourages violence, despair and mindless reactivity instead of negotiation, understanding and collaborative problem-solving.
Again and again, the Hebrew prophets diagnose their nation's ills in terms of fear and distrust; and every time they equate fear and distrust to faithlessness. Never in the gospels does Jesus say: "Grab a sword, you fools! There may be idiots hiding around that bluff." Instead, he nurtures courage and kindness and insists on self-sacrifice and compassion. "Love your enemies," he says, "and pray for those who persecute you." Where does it say that Christians are called to protect their turf at all costs? Faith sees Christ in every other. Faith builds a world big enough and decent enough for all.
"Perfect love," wrote one mystic in the years after Jesus' death, "casts out fear." And "if you hate the brother you can see and the sister you can touch, how can you possibly love the God you can't see, can't touch?" But Wayne LaPierre is happy to promote hate--not only as a political platform, but as a spiritual and communal strategy. It sells guns, I guess, for his sponsors. Who cares, in the end, for those first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut?
Again, his words today:
"This election is going to be a bare-knuckled street fight. They're going after every House and Senate seat, governor's chair and statehouse they can get their hands on -- laying the groundwork to put a Clinton back in the White House. They intend to finish the job, to fulfill their commitment -- their dream -- of fundamentally transforming America into an America you won't recognize. But mark my words: The NRA will not go quietly into the night. We will fight."
I want us to hear what Wayne LaPierre's saying today. "The NRA will not go quietly into the night," he says. "We will fight." I want us to recognize what the governor of Georgia signed into law this week. War is a coping skill for these men. Hatred is natural law. Shooting one another is a lifestyle. And they will fight for it. He says so in just so many words. Hillary Clinton is a brave person simply for entertaining a run for the presidency in 2016. Wayne LaPierre is giving his strange blessing to all kinds of armed-and-angry bigots. And people of faith have to speak now. Like Bonhoeffer, we have to say NO MORE.
Because the Gospel says something very different, radically different. And it's a message that ought to agitate and organize Christians of just about every denomination and temperament. We ought to be profoundly skeptical of the NRA and its legion of doom. We ought to speak, from the heart of Jesus' own teaching, to Wayne LaPierre's dangerous, anti-democratic rhetoric. Enough!
The Gospel says: Love one another. Lay aside your weapons, your angry words, your bigoted inheritance. Risk a future of compassion, collaboration and democratic effort. Wayne LaPierre may be the loudest bully on the block right now, but volume doesn't make wisdom, and hate doesn't make community. On behalf of all those kids and teachers who died in Connecticut, and all those movie-goers who died in Colorado, and all the other teens who've been shot to death in Chicago and Boston and Atlanta JUST THIS YEAR, let's rise up with love and fight back with compassion and organization and legislation.
Decades ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” In the spirit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer--may God bless his memory and soul--let's rise up, an Easter People, to say NO MORE! Let's jam the gears of all this fear mongering--with love, with creativity, with courage. Wayne LaPierre does not speak for me. And he doesn't speak for my kids and their future.
(A LINK TO HIS SPEECH: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/25/wayne-lapierre-nra-_n_5214959.html)