I was sickened reading the news coming out of Boulder, Colorado. This just after the violence perpetrated against Asian Americans last week in Atlanta; where we now know the shooter purchased his gun the same day. Today, we are each faced with a decision, one of choosing cynicism & status quo over crying out & change. Of doubling down, or breaking the cycle. We can rehearse arguments, entrench ourselves in tribes, or we can resolve to grieve.
Reclaiming Our Theology of Grief
It takes a sort of determination these days for Americans to sit in the ruins of violence—and just grieve. Together behind our screens, we have been shown a wider view of our shared capacity for violence. The digital tools we’ve fashioned for ourselves now drown us in this stream of awareness. And so our knowing triggers our coping. We watch, we scroll. We become disembodied, performative grievers. We grope around in the mists of political arguments to avoid grieving in a torrent of pain. Where did we learn to cope like this?
If our grief is performative, our politics will be too. Yet our politics is always downstream of our culture. And to this point, it’s clear that white majority culture American Christianity has proven insufficient to instill the Biblical corporate practices of grief and lament into the fabric of American society. It has given us a way of grieving that amounts to performative optics, but little else. Not so with the Black church, which points Christians to rich practices of corporate lament that fuel resolve for change. This rich heritage has come at a cost, forged by generations of injustice. We must look to Black, Korean, Hispanic, and other minority Christians to teach the white American church how to lament.
Yet White American Christianity lacks this heritage. And its pervasive influence on our culture has instead taught us the “importance” of optics to keeping the brand afloat. Sorrow doesn’t sell in a gospel shaped more by consumer preference than the Cross. White American Christianity lacks a theology of grief because, unlike the gospel it sells, grief isn’t something you can consume. Instead, grief is something that consumes you.
“Indeed, my life is consumed with grief and my years with groaning” writes the Psalmist. (Psalm 31:10) Grief is profoundly Christian. One that is rooted to place, and people. One that rejects the urge to utter “Atlanta” and “Boulder” in the same breath. Not because they are totally unrelated, but because both demand our grief. Christian grief resolves to sit in pain, patiently. It is willing to separate each terrible day from the one before. Willing to offer victims and their families the dignity of individual honor by sharing individual pain. Its patience is shown by its presence, proximity, and empathy. In this way, a Christian way of grieving is patient.
But it is also strong. Christian grief is the path to reform, to resurrection. It is the grief of Christ. The Christ who, in John 11, patiently wept with mourners at the tomb of Lazarus. And yet saw his human grief give way to indignation. Grieving patiently gave way to strength that could bring about the solution. The spirit of the Messiah, feeling the loss of his friend, taking in the sight of the mourners, pushed away tears to declare himself to be “the resurrection and the life.” Grieving is the Christian path to reforming, to resurrection.
Repenting Of Christian Gun Culture
It’s time American Christians hop off the continuous carousel of “thoughts and prayers”. It’s time to reject another rehearsal of performative optics in the face of pervasive violence. Prayer is a furnace that not only clarifies Jesus’ heart, but grants us courage. Not as American citizens, but first as Kingdom citizens. This means denouncing and dismantling the gun culture within American Churches tied to Christian Nationalism.
We ought to join our fellow American citizens as “We the People” in meaningful debates to advance legislation on gun control. But we the people of God are not trapped in political binaries. Nor are Christians trapped in a moral world that treats communities as mutually exclusive from individuals. One way grieving Christians can by moved to action is by confronting the celebration of gun culture within our own communities influenced by Christian Nationalism.
There’s a massive theological problem in a Christian Nationalist ethic that labels masks as a “sign of fear” but labels carrying a gun to church as an act of Christian faith. While few faculty lounge evangelicals would claim this argument as their own, we cannot ignore the pervasiveness of this argument within the common spaces of white American evangelicals. And it’s hard to ignore the silence of leaders who refuse to shake up the political sensibilities of the stakeholders with a prophetic word against Christian Nationalism. Which, as a syncretist theological ethic, celebrates gun culture as sacrosanct.
The question to be heard in Christian spaces is whether the way of Jesus is compatible with escalatory deterrence. We know Jesus locates the greatest problem of the human spirit within itself. Forgiveness of sin yields the fruit of righteousness. But are forgiven American Christians forging a truly “Christian” peace if it means using a bigger stick than your neighbor? Who makes “Christian” peace, Jesus Christ or Ronald Reagan? Refusing to denounce and dismantle the Christian Nationalism culture of “peace making” as escalation allows the church to conform itself to secular culture, not the culture of Heaven.
If we measure these two approaches to peacemaking by the Cross of Christ, the obvious answer is that white Christian gun culture looks more to Ronald Reagan than Jesus Christ for our peacemaking. Christian Nationalism strains Jesus’ simple words, “Put down your sword” through the eye of Cold War civil religion to make them mean something Jesus never meant. The politics of gun control have their place. But until Christians properly stand in grief with the grieving, until we repent of our performative grief, and our political captivity to secular forms of making peace, there will be a vacuum in American society which only the body of Jesus I believe is empowered to fill. He alone leads us to grieve with patience, and with strength to bring solutions by way of repentance.