America needs more than thoughts and prayers as a collective national response to “routine mass murder,” a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leader said after weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, claimed both lives and national headlines.
Stephen Reeves, associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy at the CBF national headquarters in Decatur, Georgia, said in a blog Aug. 6 that the latest victims and their families are indeed in his thoughts and prayers, but he has heard the phrase so often that sounds dismissive and trite.
“Sadly, it seems to be the extent of our collective response to yet another mass shooting,” Reeves said.
While the El Paso shooting exposes the danger of white supremacist ideologies and racially motivated hate, Reeves said, the unknown motive of the Ohio shooter spotlights “just how efficiently lethal” the high-powered, high-capacity, semi-automatic rifle used in the attack can be.
“When a shooter kills nine and wounds 27 in 30 seconds, the type of weapon and amount of ammunition it can hold matters,” Reeves said. “The good guys with guns showed up with lethal force in less than a minute, but incomprehensible damage was already done.”
“‘America is exceptional, alright. An outlier in our willingness to accept mass casualties and uniquely unwilling, ill-equipped and unable to end the carnage.’”
Reeves said other countries with lower rates of mass shootings have the same violent video games, violent movies and mental illness as the United States, but they don’t have “millions and millions of guns and easy access to semi-automatic military-style rifles.”
“Few countries have as many committed, self-professed, church-going Christians as the U.S., yet no country has even a fraction of the mass shootings we do,” he said. “America is exceptional, alright. An outlier in our willingness to accept mass casualties and uniquely unwilling, ill-equipped and unable to end the carnage.”
As a gun owner from Texas who enjoys bird hunting, Reeves said he is familiar with and sympathetic to the feelings of gun owners toward their firearms.
“But how many deaths are needed before we consider pro-gun policies a public safety failure?” he asked “There is a wide gulf between taking away all guns and reasonable measures supported by the majority of citizens like universal background checks and more limits on powerful military-style rifles. For those who refuse to believe guns are part of the problem, what will it take for you to reconsider? If no evidence will change your mind, have you made an idol of the gun?”
Rob Schenck, an ordained evangelical minister and president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, said in an Aug. 5 opinion article in The Hill that it is “morally negligent” to continue to ignore the mounting gun threat to human life.
“In the United States, at any time, at any place, anyone might become a victim of a bullet sprayed from a machine-gun-like weapon,” said Schenck, an original signer of an evangelical Christian pledge to take action on gun violence issued after last year’s deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “That is not just unacceptable, it is outrageous, untenable, supremely immoral and should be illegal before people are killed and maimed, not simply afterward.”
While gun control and Christian nationalism often appear as separate talking points, they are intertwined.
A 2018 paper by three sociologists found Christian nationalism to be “a key determinant of American opposition to stricter gun control.”
“Americans who desire that religion, specifically Christianity, be officially promoted in the public sphere are deeply opposed to federal gun control laws,” said professors from Clemson, Indiana University and the University of Oklahoma.
For that reason, authors Andrew Whitehead, Landon Schnabel and Samuel Perry argued, appeals to logic, reason and public safety “will likely not be the right approach to convince a subset of Americans — for whom guns are a God-given right tied to a cultural style tied to deeply held senses of morality, identity, and perceived threat — of the value of gun control legislation.”