Not Washed in the Blood of the Lamb: Another Bloodbath Against the Vulnerable
Mary Jo Iozzio
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the [Land];
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O, be washed in the blood of the [Land]!
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the [Land]?
Are your garments spotless?
Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the [Land]?
“Are You Washed in the Blood,” with apologies to Elisha A. Hoffman, USA (1839-1929; 1878)
On February 14, 2018, U.S. and global observers recoiled again at yet another mass shooting in one of our schools (from daycare centers to kindergartens to universities), movie houses, concert venues, dance clubs, fast food establishments, churches, and other commons of this “Land.” Students quickly engaged social media at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, FL, to broadcast the terror going on in the school, even as some Broward County Sheriff’s deputies held positions outside and joined Coral Springs’ police who entered to locate and apprehend the shooter, former MSDHS student Nikolas Cruz. Total carnage from this rampage is 17 dead, 16 wounded, and, perhaps lost at the moment to these gruesome statistics, is the immediate witness trauma today and the post traumatic stress of the near-experience of death or material wounds from this violence that will—not may—be experienced by the students, faculty and staff at MSDHS.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” as part of the potential call to Militia service in the early days of the republic. However, the nation today supports through taxation a professional military, and state and local law enforcement that meet the potential of the Amendment’s “necessary … security of a free State.” Contrary to the rights’ rhetoric of the gun lobbies, no civilian today needs the kinds of arms readily available for public consumption —like the semi-automatic weapons used in MSDHS, Pulse Night Club (Orlando, FL), 49th Street Elementary (Los Angeles), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA), Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, CT), Harvest Music Festival (Las Vegas), First Baptist Church (Sutherland Springs, TX), Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Charleston, SC), and other sites of mass shootings where the vulnerable are washed in the blood of the Land—for this potential call.
Regrettably, questions on the prevention of harm seem not to have penetrated the collective consciousness of the nation in matters of this right to bear arms. Consider that out of the U.S. population of 327, 251 million about 30% –98 million—own 310 million guns. A fraction of these 98 million –only 14 million—use their guns for hunting. U.S. residential firearm possession surpasses all other countries, a reality that reveals a far greater likelihood for anyone of us to encounter deliberate or accidental gun violence (on average: 7 of the 96 daily gun deaths are children and teens, 50 women are victims of intimate partner murder per month, and guns are the weapon of choice for 13,000+ of the 17,000+ homicides per year). As Tobias Winright has instructed (following the traditions of Augustine, Aquinas, John XXIII’s Encyclical Pacem in terris, the Catechism, and the USCCB) and national polling data confirms that 52%-70% of Americans support stricter gun laws, while we have a right to defend ourselves and vulnerable others, we have also a corresponding duty to defend life pro-actively and thereby reduce harm through social action for the preventive measures of gun control: Have we not yet been sufficiently washed in the blood of this Land?
Another path to a reduction of harm from gun violence rests in a rejection of indifference toward our neighbors and a more committed intentionality toward their care and investment in the common good. Here I take the common good in a sense broader than the material goods of food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, safety, and similar goods —to which all should have ready access. Instead I consider the intangible common goods of family, community affiliations (of recreation, employment, politics, governance, church, and the like), and friendships to be as important as more tangible goods. These goods may very well be the goods lacking in the experiences of those seemingly disenfranchised and certainly isolated from relationships that matter. Rob Myers, a student housing professional based in Orlando, FL, locates one of the primary causes of mass shooting in a lack of a sense of belonging. This “sense of belonging” holds the center position in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (from those physiological to self-actualizing). Myers writes, “loneliness is what causes these shooters to lash out.” Loneliness is surely the personal experience of others’ indifference and lack of recognition that the shooter (or I or you) matters. Indeed, the world appears and may very well be hostile to those who are desperately, that is, “without hope” lonely. However, only others can relieve the loneliness that another experiences by offering deliberate care for and about them … because they matter as much as any.
Each of us matters, really, if we take to heart Jesus’ principal criterion of the blessed and its manifestations in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to care. Moreover, the standard makes plain the preferential concern for those who are likely lonely, … and maybe hungry, thirsty, foreign/strange, naked, sick, imprisoned such that whatever we do or don’t do for these others, we have done or failed to do for him (MT 25:31-46). So, we are challenged by imperatives to do more than think and talk and dream and sing and pray (check out C. W. Gillette "If We Just Talk", 2017). We are challenged to be the disciples that Christ will recognize not by the blood-washed remission of our sin but by shedding autonomy’s indifference for the blood- and tear-soaked neighbor in our midst. And we are challenged to reject the blood sport of the Land, as easy access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons has turned too many to hopeless vengeance against those who are vulnerable. If we do nothing to prevent the next bloodbath –sadly, all the signs of these times indicate it’s only a matter of when and where the next will unfold—then the sin of our individual and collective indifference indicts us and the blood-soaked Land –or is it the Lamb—weeps while we bury our dead.