March 4, 2018
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
During the 1995 memorial service following the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the late great evangelist Billy Graham said, “The spirit of this city and nation will not be defeated. Our deeply rooted faith sustains us.” We characteristically turn to faith during times of crisis. It is what we do in Oklahoma.
In fact, a measure recently passed out of committee at the state legislature proposes the nation’s motto “In God We Trust” be posted in every classroom. At a time when our nation is experiencing tragedies with devastating frequency, why aren’t we turning to God to help shape our response to injustice and vulnerability?
Unfortunately, we often fail to seek God’s wisdom and guidance in preventing and responding to these tragedies. We place our trust in wisdom of a worldlier sort. Since the most recent school massacre in Parkland, Fla., there have been many anguished and angry cries calling for greater security in our schools, even to the point of arming teachers.
Many have called for more strict limits on guns or the elimination of certain types of weapons. Others have opposed these proposals just as strenuously. Legislators appear to be hamstrung. How can we address and curb this rising tide of violence and provide a safe environment for learning?
It seems we are at an impasse. We are paralyzed by various competing values and allegiances. One of the most cherished American freedoms is the right to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. What the founders intended by this freedom has been debated for more than 200 years.
On the other hand, the First Commandment of the Decalogue is clear, “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods beside me.” Many things can become false gods for us by demanding our allegiance and submission in ways that are idolatrous. These could be wealth or pleasure or power.
It is not within my competence to write public policy. But as a pastor, I have an obligation to call people of faith to an examination of conscience. In this matter of school safety, has our faith in God been eclipsed by a naïve faith in our ability to defend our children by arming ourselves to the teeth?
Make no mistake, I am a proponent of the Second Amendment. I enjoy the freedoms that the Constitution guarantees. But, we can make idols of many good things simply by valuing them too much and substituting them for trust in God and the allegiance that is due to Him and Him alone.
As people of faith, we are swift to offer prayer to the victims of violence, especially innocent children. And, we should. But, we are called to more. We also are called to act. What action are we called to?
To begin with, we are called to repent. We must begin by acknowledging our own blindness and sinfulness. We are called to turn to the Lord and seek his wisdom and guidance. God’s ways are not our ways. History shows us that the Lord will open a new way forward to those who seek him and put their trust in him.
“In God we trust.” May it be so.