In the aftermath of another school campus mass murder by a deranged individual, there were a myriad of reactions as people tried to come to grips with why this continues to happen. Many of the reactions are expected -- especially those speaking of the need for greater controls over the acquisition of guns. One reaction I don’t understand is why clergy are not calling for more religion instead of more gun control.
By now you know that (to their credit) the FBI stated they did not act on a tip received on the Parkland, Fla., murderer that could have potentially prevented the killing of 17 innocents – mostly children. Plainly said, they screwed up. But I applaud them for admitting their failure which rarely happens with government authorities.
There is a feeling that we must do something. Many who do not understand the first thing about guns or gun ownership think the only way to resolve this is to limit the ownership of long guns, which they like to characterize as “assault weapons.” This is despite the fact that long guns are a small percentage of guns used in murders. I have delineated all this in prior columns. (Please do not assume I am minimizing this loss of life in any way or form.)
I presume that is because it is easier to look at the tool of murder instead of the cause of the action by the individual. Some of you are sick of hearing how things were not like this when those of us of an older generation were growing up. A recent study by the University of Chicago showed that there was actually a greater percentage of households owning guns in the good ol’ days (their study started in 1972). It is thus not an issue of people owning guns; it is the people.
If you argue that guns were different then, soak in this fact; gun ownership in America went up 50% from 1993 through 2013. Homicides went down 50% during that time. Half of that time there was a so-called “assault weapon” ban and half not. A study by the government determined there was no benefit from the banning of certain long guns.
One thing we know was much more prevalent in the past was religious worship. Those who pooh-pooh religion because they have found enlightenment somewhere else will almost never admit that the lack of religious observance is a large part of the problem. The people who you would expect to make claims that religion is the answer are those who have chosen to devote their lives to bringing people to their faith and clergy, whatever faith that may be.
I have not done a complete study, but we have gotten to know these mass murderers pretty well. Almost none, if any, attend religious services regularly. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass murder, there was a prayer vigil at the National Cathedral. Rabbi Jack Moline stated, “It is not mental health, age, wealth, educational opportunity or employment; it is guns.” There is no mention there of the fact the Rabbi thought this might have been avoided if the killer was sitting in a synagogue every Friday night.
A Rabbi from my own synagogue wrote to our congregation in the aftermath of the mass murder in Parkland. He stated “And I think about how we have failed, miserably, as a society to regulate firearms sensibly. In time, most of us will move on with our lives. Most of us will sleep through the night instead of being kept up, agitated by the soul-crushing fact that our nation is a horrifying outlier in the developed world in terms of gun violence.“ Not once in his piece to our congregation did he advocate for greater religious observance. Not once did he express the need for greater commitment to religion as a guiding light for moral conduct.
But why pick on the Jews? Just about every religious denomination is guilty. There was a myriad of religious leaders after Las Vegas and Parkland calling for gun control and never mentioned the lack of religion in the killer’s life. Never beckoning them or anyone to their calling.Then the clergy wonder why there are dwindling numbers in their pews. Could it be they should focus more on saving souls than espousing their public policy remedies? Could it be if they did more soul saving we would not need those public policy remedies?
If the clergy cannot use these times to advocate for greater observance, then when would they and who would? For example, the Episcopal church has lost 30% of its membership in the U.S. since 1980. Though not a huge denomination it has been a mainstay of America from our early years. In just 35 years its membership has crumbled. The reason may be that the leaders of the church spend far too much time advocating for social issues instead of saving souls. They think if they give too much religion to their congregants they will not be perceived as in touch with the modern churchgoer. But this could be said about almost any denomination in America.
There are many factors that have caused this decay in our moral structure. The disintegration of the family structure, community involvement, and schools that don’t teach children right from wrong.
Religious leaders unwilling to advocate for their own cause instead focusing on social issues certainly tops the list. In honor of our greatest American religious leader, Billy Graham, we can bet he would be focused on saving people not public policy debate.