Forsaking personal liberty for my neighbor

Published 3:26 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Years ago, after several mass shootings left the nation reeling, I asked for meetings with my congressional representatives and both Senators from New Mexico. I was exhausted from offering angry prayers to a God who seemed rather inactive at that moment.  In case anyone has never told you it’s okay to be angry with God and question everything, I want to tell you that it’s not just okay but necessary when the horror of the world doesn’t line up with a vision of a world operating under divine command. Just read Habakkuk. Or even think about the name ‘Israel’, which means, ‘The One who wrestles with God.”

But wrestling with God only gets us so far. We must, in the words of St. Paul, do battle against the powers and principalities of darkness.  Christians, however, don’t agree on what exactly those powers and principalities are.  Some Christians have a robust sense of the supernatural, and so those powers are the powers of the Evil One.  That’s not me.  I stopped believing in invisible devils and demons because I didn’t need them anymore to make sense of why the world can be so horrifying.  I only needed to look at the naked greed, war-mongering, and addiction to power exemplified by so many in the human family to figure out what I believe lies behind the ‘powers and principalities’ of the world. Satan seems positively harmless when compared to politicians who would look the parent of a dead child in the face and say, “The AR-15 still has a rightful place in society.”

The politicians didn’t meet with me, but they did send members of their staff.  I knew from the outset that a meeting with congressional aides would accomplish very little. That didn’t stop me from speaking my mind, from confronting power with the truth.  Within Christianity is the call for all followers of Jesus to lay down self-interest when it conflicts with the common good.  The whole of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 speaks of this new law of love. St. Paul, in a discourse from 1 Corinthians about eating practices that caused division within the Church, said, “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”

Underneath his words is a revolutionary principle: if my liberty causes another to be harmed, then I forsake my liberty for the health and well-being of my neighbor. If St. Paul was willing to set aside his right to food for the sake of his neighbor, what do you think he would have to say about the way so many of us cling to our right to bear arms while the proliferation of guns continues to wreak havoc across the county. Did you know that guns are the leading cause of child morality in the United States of America?

I shared this principle with the congressional aides.  I’ll never forget the follow-up question they posed: “Are you willing to give up your right to bear arms if it meant reducing gun violence in the country?” The mere fact that the question was posed betrays the perverted idolization of words like freedom and liberty.

Until we are willing to set aside such tightly held convictions about ‘our god-given right to bear arms’, I fear we will see this cycle play out over and over again.  I don’t want that future for my son. I don’t think you want that for my son, or for any children who just want to play tag on the playground without having to worry about ducking for cover.  Please don’t let this tragedy fall out of your consciousness when it inevitably falls out of the news cycle.  Look at the faces of the dead, and commit to ensuring a better world for those who made it out.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington