A Holy Week and some holy words
When Jesus was entering Jerusalem amid cries of celebration from his followers, Luke tells us some of the Pharisees (religious leaders) said, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Pope Francis, in his Palm Sunday homily this Holy Week, told the world’s young people to keep on shouting about abolishing assault weapons and our idolizing of guns. At the end of the homily, he said: “Young people, the joy that Jesus awakens in you is a source of anger and irritation to some, since a joyful young person is hard to manipulate… The temptation to silence young people has always existed. The Pharisees themselves rebuke Jesus and ask him to silence them. There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible … to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing … Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s ‘Hosanna!’ so as not to fall into Friday’s ‘Crucify him!’ It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out? Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.”
Last week, one of my former church members who is now a pastor himself and father of three children ranging from middle school to college, asked for my comments on an article he is sending to his congregation asking: “Are AR-15s OK for Christians?” In this pastoral epistle, prompted by the latest in our peculiarly American string of mass murders via assault weapons, he quotes Jesus to Peter on the night of his arrest: “Put your sword back in its place … for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” He also quotes John Wesley, the founder of Methodism: “Do no harm … Avoid evil of every kind.” And St. Paul: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And he quotes a Parkland, Florida, physician who treated the AR-15 victims: “These wounds are worse than any other, including common handguns. They tear through organs and leave exit holes the size of an orange.”
In view of all this, my young clergy friend asks his members: Should any Christian other than one in the military or law enforcement own an assault weapon even though they are extremely popular and relatively cheap as weapons of mass destruction go? He confidently answers no, then recognizes that many of his members will disagree, some vehemently, and gives them permission. But he also challenges them to make sure their decision is faithful to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
I responded to my mentee that I agree with what he’s saying but have not been so brave nor articulate as he. And I shared with him that a good friend and church leader had told me with a straight face that here in Beaufort County some use AR-15s for bear hunting!
These words from the Pope and a North Carolina Conference United Methodist Pastor, along with the massive crowds joining the “March for Our Lives” this past Saturday, give me great hope that the day is coming soon when it will be harder to buy an assault weapon in America than it is to get a driver’s license. It was that way for a decade — 1994 to 2004 — and such deaths notably declined. God willing, and people speaking out and voting, it can happen again.
Rev. Charles Michael Smith, is a retired United Methodist Minister who lives in Washington.