Perhaps a little perspective is in order.
In the 36 years between 1865 and 1901, three presidents (Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley) were all assassinated while in office. It has been nearly a half century since this nation’s last presidential assassination, that of John F. Kennedy 1963. There have been many other credible attempts on Presidents in these last 50 years, most notably the shooting of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Successful attempts on the life of the President are, thankfully, very rare.
Congressional members facing deadly violence are also strikingly rare. Democrat Leo Ryan of San Francisco was leading an investigation of the American Religious Cult led by Jim Jones in Guyana when his delegation was ambushed. The Congressman and four others were killed in the attack. Democratic Congressman and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and Louisiana Senator Huey Long was assassinated in 1935.
According to the Congressional Archives, in the entire history of the United States, 60 members of Congress have died for reasons other than natural causes, but this includes suicides, automobile and airplane accidents, and duels as well as assassinations.
Deadly violence directed at the Nation’s elected leaders is nothing new to our history. Yet, thankfully, it remains relatively rare.
Yet, I can’t get past Sarah Palin and her now infamous “Crosshairs” map (which, let us not forget, explicitly named Gabrielle Giffords) and her violence-laden rhetoric to behavior such as calling to reload rather than retreat. Likewise, I remember with great disgust when so-called “Joe the Plumber” came to Carlsbad last spring and suggested the best solution to the immigration problem was to start shooting. In both cases, audience reaction to these politically charged expressions of deadly violence were met with thunderous applause, cheers, and shouts of presumptive victory.
I am also struck—although not surprised—by published intentions by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the funerals of 9-year-old Christina Green and Judge John Roll. According to their website, the shooter was sent to carry out God’s will and impose divine judgment on America for her sins and they, as a congregation, are thankful to God for the violence and bloodshed. I think, quite seriously, if Sarah Palin’s remarks are not enough to provoke potentially violent outrage, certainly the actions and rhetoric of these people are!
So …. Now what?
As a Christian, my first recourse is Scripture. I am reminded that Jesus Christ says in a beautiful parable that before we try to remove the speck from another’s eye, we must first remove the log from our own (Matthew 7:1-5).
I do not like the violence. I personally abhor rhetoric that uses images of crosshairs, invokes the language of warfare, or champion’s the Name of God in ways that provoke angry, retaliatory, and emotionally charged (let alone violent) responses. Yet, as I name that which I do not like, I am reminded that it is also a challenge in my own spirit to not be lowered to the point of vehement anger in my own spirit. To put it bluntly, it is pretty hard for me to not feel unrelenting feelings of outright hate toward Sarah Palin or Fred Phelps. (You could add Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and even institutions like Fox News to that list … but out of concern for my blood pressure I’ll stop there.)
Ephesians 4:25-29 reads: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
Ouch! Do I detect a log in my own eye?
In the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of ink spilled, blogs published, sermons preached, and sound bites broadcast on what we are supposed to do now that this tragic moment in our history has reared its ugly head. There will be lots of finger-pointing and angry response. There will be calls for peace and calls for retribution … and everything in between.
The times call, more than anything else, for prayerful, careful, and faithful discernment. Not only do I believe in the power of prayer and the fact that God honors and answers prayer, but I believe in times like this, prayer is the only means we have to navigate the treacherous waters, contend with the logs in our own eyes, and then see clearly to seek “only what is useful for building up.”
Let this tragic event and all the emotionally-charged, politically-motivated, and media-driven chaos dominating the days, drive us all into heart-felt, and faithful prayer. I am inspired by the call of my Disciples of Christ General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins who calls herself and all of us to pray:
- Prayers of praise to God who intends that life would be good and who walks closely with us when it is not;
- Prayers of confession of our own tendency to vilify our enemies and to fear those we do not understand;
- Prayers of petition for healing for those wounded in the attack, for the families and friends of those who have died, for the family of the man who shot them – and for him;
- Prayers for our leaders – spiritual and political – that they will have clear minds and pure hearts, leading the way in cleansing our national political dialogue of hatred, disrespect, and personal attack.
So ... now what?
It is time to pray!