Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You cannot serve two masters - the NRA, gun owners and corporate interests

Jesus said: "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." - Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24

This teaching of Jesus is about divided loyalties, especially when those loyalties lie at cross-purposes with each other. Serving "wealth" is to serve the self to the exclusion of others. Serving God is about serving others. You can't have it both ways.

But in the wake of yet another mass shooting, this one at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando targeting the LGBTQ community, it seems long past time to unmask the divided loyalties at cross-purposes with each other going on within the National Rifle Association.

First a disclaimer

I am not a gun owner. I can think of a few limited circumstances under which I would be, but they don't apply to my context. I'm not a sport shooter. I have engaged in this activity in my past, but frankly, I never really found it that appealing. It's just not my thing.

My sister is a gun owner and a member of the National Rifle Association. She and her husband own several guns, including an AR-15. She is a registered nurse with a Masters degree in Nursing (my Masters is in Divinity). She and her husband are truly responsible gun owners who know their weapons, secure them properly and are all in favor of reasonable gun legislation which would close the loopholes of current laws. We've had some heated but reasonable discussions about requiring licensing of gun owners, passing physical and mental health screenings, requiring periodic training, and liability insurance - we're in agreement on all of those things.

Finally, while my sister and I are on differing sides of owning guns, our father is a survivor of an accidental shooting when he was a teenager. His friend took down his father's supposedly unloaded service revolver to show it to my dad and it fired hitting our dad in the leg. This was an accident caused by a gun owner's irresponsibility in storing his weapon.

Now an observation

The National Rifle Association claims to be the voice of responsible gun owners and to be promoting the safe use of firearms. This is partially true. They have sponsored educational programs on proper use and security of firearms. As Business Inside pointed out in 2013:
"In its early days, the National Rifle Association was a grassroots social club that prided itself on independence from corporate influence" ("How the Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions of Dollars to the NRA", Walter Hickey, Business Insider, January 16, 2013) 
But no more. The NRA has made millions of dollars through their corporate sponsorship programs. In addition, millions of dollars are funneled in by the likes of Crimson Trace (which makes laser sights) who donates 10% of their sales to the NRA, Sturm & Ruger who donates $1 to the NRA for every gun they sell, and Taurus who buys a membership for anyone who buys their guns. The NRA makes an approximate 7-10% of their revenues from advertising for gun manufacturers. According to A-Mark Foundation, 50.5% of the revenue funding the NRA comes directly from their memberships - which means 49.5% comes from the corporate interests of gun and gun related manufacturers.

And this is where Jesus' teaching comes in. No one can serve two masters. The interests of public safety with respect to responsible gun use are at cross-purposes with the corporate profit motives of those who sell guns and gun-related equipment. Corporations will always seek to sell their products with a minimum amount of regulatory interference so they can make the most money - that's the profit motive. Gun regulations, even reasonable ones, threaten to reduce the sale of guns and are a direct threat to corporate profits. The NRA is trying to serve two masters and corporate interests are winning its soul!

It is long past time for the responsible gun owning members of the National Rifle Association to take back their organization from the corporate interests who have hijacked it in service to money. The American people, whether gun owning or not, have had enough! Our people are dying because we are putting selfishness and greed ahead of reason and civility.

Come on responsible gun owners! We are on your side here - let's work together to save lives and protect rights. These are not mutually exclusive goals.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Another day, another shooting ...

How long, O LORD? will you forget me for ever? *
how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day? *
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God; *
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," *
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

(Psalm 13:1-4)

How long indeed? I write again today in the aftermath of another senseless shooting - 9 college students dead plus the shooter. Roseburg, Oregon this time - a small town not unlike where I live. There have been 74 mass shootings at schools since December 14, 2012 when Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT killing 20 children and 6 adults. Mass shootings have become so routine, I am beginning to forget all the places - Aurora CO, Isla Vista CA, Santee CA, Blacksburg VA, Fort Hood TX, Carson City NV, Seal Beach CA, Charleston SC ... and the list goes on.

We have turned into a country which is worshiping a new Baal - guns, the NRA and the 2nd Amendment. And not the 2nd Amendment as originally intended by our Founding Fathers, but a radical distortion of the original intent which has made it easy for guns to get into the hands of violent and/or mentally fragile people. This is idolatry and part of what Presiding Bishop elect Michael Curry calls the "Unholy Trinity" - poverty, racism and guns.

Our Bible study group at Grace Church is working through the Book of Revelation. Why? Because the regulars in our Bible study group said they found Revelation to be the most frightening book in the Bible. We are reading this together and learning that far from frightening, Revelation is a book of great promise and hope. It is also an indictment against the empires of this world. In John of Patmos' case, this was Rome (which he disguises by calling it Babylon). Revelation says that the powers of this world which corrupt and destroy God's people and creation are doomed and the reign of the Lamb of God has the last word. Our allegiance as Christians, therefore, is not to any power of this world, but to Christ alone.

I am a Christian first. My allegiance to country falls behind that. At times, my faith supports what the government by the people does. At other times, I stand in opposition to the United States of America. I believe my faith calls me to respect the dignity of every human being - part of that is respecting the right of others to live in peace without fear of gun violence destroying their lives. The unfettered and poorly regulated access to guns must stop.

I know I will offend the NRA apologists and those who support the more recent distortions of the 2nd Amendment with my words. If my words offend you, I ask why you are not offended by dead bodies bleeding on a church floor, a theater floor, or a classroom floor? How many children are you willing to stand by and see slaughtered to protect unfettered access to firearms? How many police officers do you want to see shot because they are outgunned on our own streets by inconsistent gun regulations?

Christians cannot bow down to worship this Baal anymore and silence is complicity. As a priest, I deal with the aftermath of violence - I and my fellow clergy are tired of picking up the fragments of what's left when the bullets stop flying. If our prayers do not lead us to action, they are empty and vain. Reasonable, consistent gun regulations including background checks and the ability to remove firearms from those who have proven by their actions to be mentally unstable or violent is no threat to responsible gun ownership. We don't need more prayers and sympathy - we need legislation and we need it now.

Friday, July 3, 2015

How long, O Lord? How long?

It hasn't been a very quiet week in the news, both secular and sacred. SCOTUS cleared the way for same-sex marriages to be recognized in all 50 states thus upholding the 14th Amendment's guarantee to equal protection under the law for our sisters and brothers in SS relationships. Now the Episcopal Church followed suit at their triennial General Convention with opening up the marriage rites for SS couples and removing gender specific language. A robust parental leave policy was passed by our General Convention bringing justice to families having children. Money was allocated to new church starts and advocacy for women serving the church. I celebrate and give thanks for all these developments. But as an ordained woman, there is, in the words of Jesus, "one thing lacking." We still, as a Church, bow to the conscience clause.

While this is a bit of "insider baseball" to the Episcopal Church, it has serious ramifications for ordained women. We have ordained women for almost 40 years and, when women's ordination was originally approved in 1976, a "conscience clause" was put in place allowing bishops who did not agree with women's ordination to refuse to:
  • Ordain women
  • Allow congregations under their jurisdiction to call a woman priest
This allowed the Episcopal Church to be the "big tent" it historically has been in accommodating disagreement and holding the tension.

In 1997, the "conscience clause" was technically repealed. Technically. Bishops could no longer refuse ordination to women just because they were ... women. Technically. They also could not prevent a church from calling a woman priest to serve them. Technically. But there are ways around this letter of the law. Like still refusing to ordain women but directing them to a "friendly diocese" or a "friendly bishop." Like not promoting qualified women for calls to churches and not hiring them for diocesan positions even though they are eminently qualified.

Those who oppose women's ordination to the priesthood base their foundational argument on two points. First, a woman cannot stand "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ) at the altar due to their chromosomal make up. The counter argument is that Christ is not the same as the human Jesus of Nazareth (who we affirm as the human embodiment of the Christ of God). Christ consciousness is not limited by biological limitations. It is found in Spirit and in Truth ... and among women and men.

The second point is that Jesus never called women as disciples - he only called 12 men. Well, that's true. But if we step out of gender for a moment and apply that argument in a different way, its foolishness becomes evident. Jesus never called any Asian, Black, Latino or ... wait for it ... White men either! Jesus called Palestinian Jews as his inner circle. If we apply the logic based on ethnicity, then most of our House of Bishops should immediately resign. Clearly, that's not going to happen and it sounds utterly racist and ridiculous. So if it is bigoted to apply the logic based on race, why is it acceptable to apply it to gender or sexual orientation?

I hope one day we can truly repeal the "conscience clause" once and for all. Getting off on technicalities isn't edifying the Body of Christ. It's time ... 40 years is long enough ... too long actually.