The root of our manifest inability to #ActToEndGunViolence is something spiritual.
But by this assertion I do not mean what I think people mean when they say things like “we don’t have a gun problem, but a sin problem” or “the problem is not the tool, but the heart” (as I heard someone protest in a recent after-sermon talkback session with guest proclaimer Bill Leonard at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte) or “the solution is spiritual, not political” (a dichotomy that is ultimately a form of Gnosticism, an ancient Christian heresy, in the proper sense of that term, that denied goodness and redeemability to any aspect of the material, including the socio-economic-political order).
Rather, we – including both the church and the civil order in the United States – are unable to #ActToEndGunViolence because the narrative in light of which we live is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence” rather than the story of the triumph of Jesus’ nonviolent resistance to evil.
“There are so many cherished chapters of the American story that are inseparable from the Myth of Redemptive Violence.”
The “Myth of Redemptive Violence” was coined and popularized by the late New Testament scholar Walter Wink. In Engaging the Powers (1992), Wink wrote: “The distinctive feature of this myth is the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. This myth is the original religion of the status quo, the first articulation of ‘might makes right.’ It is the basic ideology of the Domination System.”
By and large, the American church’s telling of the Jesus story has been so conformed to the Myth of Redemptive Violence that it is now little more than a retelling of that myth using (and abusing) Christian language and symbols.
We as the American church will be unable to #ActToEndGunViolence until we are converted away from the Myth of Redemptive Violence by the Story of the Lamb whose nonviolent, suffering resistance to evil overcomes the violence of the world that causes the world to suffer. And we as the American church will be unable to seek this conversion of others in our society until we ourselves are thus converted.
This requires much of us, not least of which is coming to grips with the inseparability of the American story from the Myth of Redemptive Violence, including our treatment of the indigenous peoples to whom the land we currently occupy belonged; the American Revolution itself; all the wars we have fought (and fought by proxy); our enslavement of people; and the “law and order” by which we have sought to maintain ethnic, gender and economic hierarchies. There are so many cherished chapters of the American story that are inseparable from the Myth of Redemptive Violence.
Coming to grips with all this will mean the loss of what, for many, has heretofore made sense of the world, a loss that may seem unbearable. But we must bear this loss if we as the church, and we as citizens of the civil order, are to be converted.
The root of our manifest inability to #ActToEndGunViolence is in fact something profoundly spiritual.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of opinion articles by our columnists and regular opinion contributors, along with several unsolicited submissions, written in the aftermath of mass shootings on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, and Aug. 4 in Dayton, Ohio.
Also on this topic:
Daniel Bagby | Letter to the editor