relinquish voluntarily

I’ve been thinking about kids and guns, because there are kids killing people with guns in the news. All the time. White boy kids, specifically. Kyle Rittenhouse, whose mom dropped him off in Kenosha with an assault rifle in order for him to kill two people. Ethan Crumbley, whose parents helped him buy a handgun and then ignored his blatant pleas for help before he killed four other kids. These kids are on my mind.

Mostly, I’ve been angry at the parents of these children. Teenagers are *children.* They should not have unsupervised access to deadly weapons. They should not be dropped off in the streets alone, left to defend themselves. They should not be ignored when they scream for help. They should not be raised in situations where adults in charge endorse violence, stoke rage, teach hatred and then abandon their children when the children emulate them.

There’s a racial lens here, too, that I’m trying to at least be aware of in myself: I am formed to see these white boys as children even as I am formed to see Black teenage boys as adults. I know that is true. I know it is evil. I am working – not to insist that these white boys ARE adults and should be treated as such – but to extend my outrage and care to Black boys, Black children, too, especially the Black boys who are detained, injured, shot and killed because other white people like me are incapable of recognizing that they are *children.*

I’m not a parent. I’m not an expert on gun control or public policy. I’m just a participant observer, over here noticing that we are explicitly raising kids to kill people and giving them open access to the means of doing it. For years, The Hunger Games has felt like a terrifyingly prescient fable; now it just feels like present-day reporting.

Youths take part in a National School Walkout anti-gun march in New York City, New York, U.S., April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A 1978 Church of the Brethren statement on “Violence and the Use of Firearms” calls people who follow the Prince of Peace to “relinquish voluntarily our own handguns.” There are all kinds of caveats to this contribution to the discourse: statements are flimsy snapshots of a moment in time and have no binding power; 1978 was so long ago that assault weapons weren’t even considered part of the conversation; nobody, not even people who still claim to be part of the Brethren movement, actually cares what a 45 year old statement says.

But one piece of the moral calculus that this document reasserts for me is that while policy change and legal protections are vastly important as backstops and boundaries for what we, as a society allow and endorse, my morality is not defined by any set of laws governing any nation.

That is to say, being law-abiding has nothing to do with being a good, moral, compassionate, faithful person. In this season of life in America, it’s abundantly clear to me that choosing right and good and life-giving ways forward have little to nothing to do with whether or not I obey or break the rule of law. Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges, an outcome that was legally valid and morally repugnant. The Supreme Court is allowing states to impose tyrannical laws on the bodies of people who become pregnant, opening up wide swaths of potential compassionate, healing, pastoral behavior subject to prosecution.

Time for us to double down on our convictions, to talk amongst ourselves about what IS good and right, what SHOULD be guiding our choices, what kind of people we are called to be. Time to remind one another that Christianity has nothing to do with asserting individual rights in an empire, but with finding ways to live together in mutual care and protection here among society’s ruins.

I wish the parents of Kyle Rittenhouse and Ethan Crumbley had better sense. I wish they had a fuller picture of what “survival” meant, of how we are all interconnected and bound to one another, how violence is rarely productive and always disastrous. I wish those families had been part of communities that shared practices of mutual care and compassion and insisted on extending that kind of grace to everyone they encountered. I wish the possibility of “voluntarily relinquishing deadly weapons” was something that made sense to them in their moral understanding of the world.

A friend reminded me yesterday that the answer to the world’s crumbling is not to sit back and wring our hands, but to join in where people are already building and creating joyful, generative, peaceful alternatives. To put our hands to the plows and insist that another way is possible, that things DO NOT have to be this way. For me, that commitment has begun to look like divesting from systems that are not actively working toward mercy and justice and reorienting my time and energy into spaces that are closer to home, whose work is clearly bringing people together, meeting needs, and pushing communities toward mutual care.

What does it look like for you?

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