Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. – Matthew 10:16. Earlier this week while our nation celebrated the beginning of the second term for African American President Barack H. Obama, we also remembered the life, legacy and labor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tragically, Dr. King’s life was cut short in 1968 by a gun.
And gun violence has become more epidemic since King’s death.
Since Dr. King’s death, more than 1.3 million American lives have been snuffed out, including the lives of approximately 148,000 children and teens, by guns. That is 7,400 classrooms of 20 children each.
So, if we want to honor the lives of great men like Dr. King, Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, all killed by guns, we have to stand up and do whatever is required for as long as needed to break the political grip of gun enthusiasts and groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their allies who seek to add more guns to the approximately 300 million in circulation and continue production and sales of assault weapons and high-volume ammunition magazines that should not be in the hands of civilians.
Now, to those who comment that the problem of gun violence is political, I agree. The political issues of gun violence involve funding for school security, access to mental health services and the social conditions and popular culture that breed violence. But I add that the problem of gun violence is also spiritual.
Cultures of disrespect and disharmony have blossomed, while cultures of love, harmony and coexistence have lost ground. The religious ethic of love, taught and practiced in all of our religious traditions, is losing its voice. Hope, also advocated by all of the major religious traditions, seems to be waning.
Dr. Mirian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund said, “The day after Dr. King was shot, I went into riot-torn Washington, D.C., neighborhoods and schools urging children not to loot, get arrested and ruin their futures. A young black boy about 12 looked me squarely in the eyes and said, ‘Lady, what future? I ain’t got no future. I ain’t got nothing to lose.’ I shook my head.”
That’s a response by a young person in a country that is militarily powerful, materially rich but spiritually poor. But gun violence has to end. That’s what our president said while addressing Newtown’s mourners. But he also said, “We can take this one step further: they will end.”
For Christians, who proclaim the imminent reign of the Prince of Peace, the question isn’t whether anything will ever be done about gun violence. It’s what we’re going to do now to bring forth that reality. Terrifying tragedies, tremendous troubles and troubles caused by gun violence must and can end. People of faith must pray for the end of violence caused by guns but also bring revival of the basic faith tenet: the capacity and strength to love.
There has to be the development of tender heart through love. The Christian Scriptures teach that the heart that loves is honest, humble, diligent, helpful, open and compassionate. The tender heart is not afraid to experience the joy of true friendship nor too self-centered to share another’s joy and sorrow. The tender heart learns to love without qualification of class, culture, condition or color.
Dr. King spoke often about what happens when one person is guided by the knowledge of God’s enormous love and a concomitant righteous anger. This world, this country, our community would be so much better socially, economically and spiritually if we adopted King’s suggestion to develop tough minds and tender hearts.
For when we have the strength to love and our minds are toughened and our hearts made tender, social burdens become lighter to bear, physical differences become insignificant, friendships become stronger, political differences are erased, words become sweeter, relationships become meaningful, all lives are richer, hopes get brighter, dreams become realities, conflicts are reduced, bad attitudes get altered for the better, good deeds become more plenteous, commitments run deeper – and gun violence ceases to exist. Love allows us to become harmless as doves. We pray for a harmless society.
Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at: wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net.