Blood on the altar of personal protection

Horace McMillon serves as the tent making pastor of Open Door Mennonite Church of Jackson, Mississippi. He and Monique, his bride of 21 years have two teenage children. Prior to their move to Jackson, Horace served as associate pastor of the Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois. He is the author of “No Mo’Broke: Seven Keys to Success from a Christian Perspective.” Horace earned a Master of Arts degree from Chicago Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from Oval Bible College.

In the span of eight days…

My daughter’s godmother was at the concert in Vegas when the shooting started. As she ran, the person running beside her was struck. She stopped to help, offering some of her clothing as a bandage. She was terrified of being killed herself. At one point as she looked down and saw the blood on her body, she was unsure if it was hers or that of her neighbor. Later back at the hotel she washed someone else’s blood out of her hair. And now, she is seeking counseling to process the anxiety that she now carries.

A 21-year-old women who had grown up attending the congregation I pastor lost her life in an act of senseless gun violence. Her boyfriend had just picked her up from her work. He stopped at a gas station to fill the tank of the car. There he encountered some folks with whom he had had a previous dispute. Shooting broke out. She died on the scene in the crossfire having had no part in the dispute or the shooting. I remember her as a little girl. I anointed her head when her parents dedicated to the Lord years ago.

A former colleague of mine, a man I had eaten lunch with on any number of occasions had some kind of mental break. Neighbors reported him firing a gun into the air and then into a vehicle. He had a five-hour standoff with the police, at points holding the gun to his own head. The police were able to take him alive when the robot they sent to look in the window showed that he had passed out. From previous conversations he and I had had, I knew he was a big believer in having guns in the home  for self-defense. I told him it was a really bad bet statistically. I said something tragic was far more likely to happen to him or his family with than it was that he would successfully defend himself from a home invasion. He didn’t believe the data applied to him.

In the aftermath of the Vegas massacre, there were again calls that we as a nation consider doing something beyond thoughts and prayers. There were calls to seriously revisit our gun laws. I realized then that as a nation, we were not having a policy discussion. If it were a mere matter of policy, we could look at actuarial tables, data from other countries, our previous experience with the now long-expired Brady Bill and make better policy. No, it’s not about policy. In America, the gun reform discussion is a religious discussion. In fact, a friend and former colleague who is also a pastor, argued that the second amendment as currently interpreted and applied “is our God given right.”

In the U.S., we have placed our faith in the false idol of personal protection.

We have placed our faith in our ability to keep ourselves safe from our neighbors who would harm us, from our government who might oppress us. We as a society believe that the gun writ large — including semiautomatics, automatics, high capacity clips and bumper stocks — is the guarantor of our wellbeing. These are faith-based beliefs, not open to empirical critique. The bloodshed and loss of life in our collective wisdom is tragic. But we say it is the necessary cost of freedom. It is more blood sacrificed on the altar of the God of personal protection.

Choose you this day who you will serve. — Joshua 24:15