Saturday, December 22, 2012

What If the Newtown Shooter Had Been Black, Muslim, or Latino?

Katelin Hansen writes of the Newtown shooting and other recent mass murders:
There is a double standard that exists around the explanation of such events. It would not take very many mass shootings in which the perpetrators were black, Muslim, or Latino before we would hear comments about “violent cultures” and the ‘moral bankruptcy‘ of an entire group.
Think that race should have nothing to do with it? Maybe not. Yet when the perpetrator isn’t white, race is routinely injected into the narrative. And no matter how many white male mass-shooter we’ve had, we still live in a society that fervently fears Black men.

This is the danger of maintaining cultural white male default. We are blind to the ugly aspects of a culture that is perpetually considered ‘normal.’ If these shooters were black men, there would be a collective shaking-of-heads at their ‘inherit violent nature‘. If Latina women were committing mass shootings at a similar rate, the media would certainly be asking what the cause of it might be. But after the Newton shootings, we will see no law enforcement policy changes that will increase the racial profiling of white men.

It is a chilling aspect of white privilege to be able “to kill, maim, commit wanton acts of violence, and to be anti-social (as well as pathological) without having your actions reflect on your own racial group” (Chauncey DeVega). Time and again, the white men who commit these mass shooting are framed as “lone wolves” and “outliers,” with little examination or reflection on a broader cultural responsibility.
Hard as Hansen's assertions may be for people in the white community to take, she raises important points. White Americans, by and large, expect "those people" to behave violently while viewing the spate of mass murders perpetrated by young white men as aberrations.

I'm not suggesting that all young white men are murderers or wannabes. My own son is a young white man presently studying to become a Lutheran pastor.

But I am suggesting that the profiles of mass killers bear chilling similarities suggesting that they are drinking from the same cultural waters, are falling through the same mental health system cracks, and are imbibing the same lionization of the violent misuse of firearms and the US Constitution's second amendment.

However government deals with these matters with policy, the Church, it seems to me, is bound to address their spiritual dimensions in several ways:

First, we must find ways in which we can reach out to loners. One of the things I noted in the first parish I served was that in that rural community in northwest Ohio, there were fewer people who were marginalized. People who in other locations would have been seen as "weridos" were simply accepted members of their families and churches.

You see, the people in that highly Lutheran area thought that, just as the grace of God given in Christ could accept them as they were in order to help them to become what they could be as children of God, it was important to extend similar opportunities for grace and significance to others.

It worked. There seemed to be far fewer mental health issues than I have observed in the other settings in which I have done ministry: small town Michigan, suburban Cincinnati, small town southeast Ohio.

Abraham Lincoln was once criticized for being charitable to his enemies. But Lincoln asked, "Haven't by befriending them destroyed my enemies." A community that finds ways to incorporate and love and, when necessary, find treatment for "loners" will erase their loner status, making resentful, antisocial, violent behavior less likely.

Second, we white Christians must accept that the culture of violence has infected the young people who come to our predominantly white churches. We need to offer them wholesome, life-affirming activities that spread the love God has given to the world in Jesus Christ. This, actually, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work as a pastor.

Third, we who proclaim the gospel must be honest in showing that the problem of sin is common to all human beings and it was this very problem, which threatens us with eternal death, which Jesus came to destroy through His death and resurrection and our faith in Him. All have fallen short of God's intentions for human being. Christ is God's way to wholeness and a lifelong process toward renewing purity.

Fourth, we need to be in constant prayer that God will bring an end to this scourge of violence that afflicts America, in all our communities.

Therefore, fifth, we must empower our church members to spread the good news that sin and death need not have the final word over our lives. "All who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved," the Bible promises. "For God so loved the world," Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, "that He gave His only Son [Jesus], so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16). Christ comes to transform those who surrender to Him from enemies of God to friends of God. No Christian ever feels alone. "I am with you always, even to the close of the age," Jesus promises believers in Matthew 28:20.

Who knows what goes on in the minds of potential mass killers? One suspects a kind nihilism, a belief that nothing matters. Or a belief in their own rights to act as kinds of supermen who can play the role of a cruel god, deciding who gets to live. Or maybe they believe that, in the end, nothing matters but making a splash.

Whatever the case may be, it's difficult to refute Hansen's observation that the bulk of these mass killers are coming from the white community.

Consequently, those of we Christians in congregations composed of largely white populations have a role to speak God's truth in love. Who knows, it may be that for a time just such as this, we have been called to reach out to the young white people in our communities and assure them that as children of God for whom Jesus Christ came to die and rise, their lives do matter, they have value and needn't prove it in violent and antisocial ways.

Beyond that, churches should work closely with the mental health community and parents in helping to identify young people who need the extra doses of Godly TLC our churches can provide and in helping those young people get the counseling that qualified mental health professionals can offer.

[Thanks to Geoff Talbot of Seven Sentences for linking to Hansen's blog post over on Twitter.]

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