Tuesday, June 21, 2016

After Orlando: A Call to Action

As Unitarian Universalists we believe that our world is one world — that we are one no matter who you love, the color of your skin, or your beliefs. And so, it is with this in mind that we pause today and grieve, name our shock, and our outrage.

I can’t help but think, How dare we leave here today thinking we have done something? Yes, this sanctuary is a place where we cry, where we pray, where we seek comfort.  None of these is enough.

This sanctuary is also where justice, equity, and compassion are born and celebrated. If we are to honor our living tradition we must look beyond grief, our silence related to our concern for safety, and these four walls and demand change.  What will you begin to do differently tomorrow?  Will you join others in waking up lawmakers, make demands, and work to get responsive people in elected positions?

A colleague posted these words on Thursday: “Hearts can change minds.  Only hearts.  Not reason, not rationale, not rhetoric, not data, not statistics, not evidence, not logic, not polls, not opinion, not elections, not ranting, not debate, not wishing, not whining, not war, not fear, not promises, not begging nor bargaining nor even eloquence. Hearts. Only hearts can change minds.” Beautifully stated and perhaps partly true.

But those words have been rubbing me the wrong way since Thursday.  They are not enough for me. I’m not praying away gun violence anymore.  I’m not wearing a t-shirt in a crowd and waving a pride flag to change minds anymore.  I’m not watching videos that tell us enough is enough anymore. 

I wonder how many of our prayer requests are within our own power to answer? Yet we ask the divine to do what we can do ourselves. And then we wonder why our praying gets no response. The divine isn’t honored by prayers that are within the realm of human possibility.

Don’t get me wrong.  We should pray, meditate, cast spells, or whatever form prayer may take in your religious life. But we can no longer be so passive as to expect results because it is our work to do.  We can only change, laws, change elected official, change our strategies from passivity to action. There comes a moment when praying becomes a form of spiritual procrastination. It’s time to stop praying and start acting.  Instead of praying about our problems, why don’t we take real action to fix the most pressing problems in America?

A Huffington Post writer asks, “Is praying about hunger really going to provide a feast for a family with two kids who are food insecure? Is praying about your health really going to make you any healthier and take off those extra pounds? Is praying about your finances going to put a million dollars in your bank account?”  Is praying going to bring back the 49 people you see pictured before us today? It’s time to look inside ourselves and band together as human beings to end the misery that visits so many. It’s time to stop praying and start taking steps to reduce human suffering.

If Columbine wasn't it, or Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Sandy Hook, or Charleston didn’t do it – I wonder if 49 more coffins will finally push us and politicians from their incredible tolerance for such tragedies and into the realm of action. As cries from the Orlando tragedy can still be heard, now more than ever is the time for sensible, non-ideological reform, and regulation of guns in America. 

The answer is not a liberal one, nor a conservative one, but a moderate approach that addresses accessibility of guns, ease of obtaining permits, and lack of enforcement of existing gun laws in this country. While a few politicians, most recently in response to the latest mass murder tragedy of Orlando have responded with fairly sensible solutions; the vast majority of our leaders have put forth ideas that are futile, laughable at best, or rooted deep in ideology. Even more disturbing are calls of inaction; "Don't do anything, things like Orlando can't be avoided." This very much embodies America's problem with gun violence, widespread acceptance to the fact that America is a naturally violent culture and no law can prevent murders with firearms. Not only is this notion not true, but feeds into avoidance of gun control legislation by politicians.

The culprit for our country's firearm death rate is sheer gun accessibility.  We need to regulate guns like we do cars. Cars and guns are very similar. Both have their uses, but when used irresponsibly have the potential to compromise our safety. The population of guns and cars in this country are roughly the same, but when have there been powerful lobbying groups trying to prevent car regulations, which at one point probably saved your life (i.e. seatbelts)? No one likes going to the DMV or taking part in the long difficult process of obtaining a driving license, but who likes to crash because another driver wasn't capable or responsible?

Guns should be treated the same way. Guns should not be treated like a God-given right, but rather a privilege that is acquired only by doing the necessary steps. Among the "necessary steps" used to regulate cars that should be transposed for guns include: strict licensing, renewal of licenses, and entry into a central database, which if combined will help assure better enforcement and reduced ease of accessibility.

Gun control in the United States is one of the most complex and divisive issues we face. Any mention of it results in a fiery battle of ideological beliefs and with good reason; no other country has anywhere close to as many firearms as we do. This makes gun control difficult, extremely difficult, but it is essential to realize that it is not an incurable terminal disease. Simply "taking a side" or taking "the liberal or conservative" point of view will only prolong the pathetic divisiveness that plagues any attempt at solving this very real issue. We need laws that address our country's severe issue of accessibility, the excessive ease of obtaining permits, and lackluster enforcement of gun laws. Issues with gun control could be significantly minimized through a combination of adopting car-like regulations and implementing liability insurance for gun owners.

Mass shootings aren't the only manifestation of lax gun control; cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, New Orleans, and Memphis have dozens of gun murders each year. These all but go unnoticed by the media, but in reality we all have to face the grim truth that families have to grieve, every day from gun violence. Only when politicians decide to lead, and people advocate, will Orlando serve as the end of an era.  May it be so

Text of a homily entitled Pray for Orlando: A Call to Action, by the Rev CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, June 19, 2016.

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