by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Director of Lay Training, Leeds Diocese
Currently doing the social media rounds, this poem manages to grasp in very simple terms the horror the ‘developed West’ feels at the recent shooting in yet another American High School. This time Florida has been the target, but there is no rhyme or reason as to when or where the next shooting might take place. In the past, copycat incidents have swiftly followed such brutal acts of wanton slaughter. We dare to hope; please God, not this time.
Watching news coverage of parents running towards their still-living children, sobbing with relief, can only be juxtaposed with the unseen, unheard chasm of grief from those having to grasp that their beloved daughters and sons, who left home that morning with a snark or a smile, were never to be warm in their arms again.
Still, the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution continues to be used to ratify an individual’s right to keep and bear firearms in a piece of legislation dating back to 1791: ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ Although the Amendment is still regularly scrutinized by the US judiciary as state after state finds due cause to reverse banns on this or that weapon, it is only ever to release further opportunity to ‘bear arms’ never to revisit the crystal clear connection between cause and effect, and the impact that those rights have against the rights of US citizens to live without fear of mass murder, or being able to send their children to school or college without fear that an unstable teenager has weapons beyond their capacity be it emotional, psychological or biological, acute or chronic.
All other civilized governments have prioritised the risk to life over the freedom to defend oneself using firearms; when will the Second Amendment be overruled by a Twenty-Eighth Amendment? It is prima facie that when legislation is drawn up to protect one right that does not give it the power to override any other part of the legislation. The Equality Act 2010 gives seven protected characteristics two of which are faith and sexuality – one cannot and does not trump the other in the sense that one can only exercise one’s faith or inclusivity providing it does not infringe on the other’s human rights. For America, constitutionally The Declaration states ‘that all [men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ – inherent rights that are divinely sanctioned for each individual, not within the ken of the state to either endow or withhold.
Such freedom is indeed the divine gift to us all, the right to behave and decide as we please. To choose life. To choose love. To choose the greater good even if we ourselves don’t quite get what we want. The theologian Matthew Fox puts it like this, in every day in every way we should ask ourselves, ‘do you create or do you destroy?’ because every word or deed is either one movement or the other. There is no neutral, innocuous act.
It strikes me in the week that St Valentine was remembered on the same day as people had their foreheads Ashed to mark the beginning of the Lenten season of repentance that we have lost our sense of the life-and-death nature of sin and the acts that rupture relationships as each child at the springtime of their life was senselessly torn from parents who wanted only their best. We have mistaken the divine gift of freedom and the freedom to love others with the toxicity of need; wanting our needs met, wanting our way, wanting love, wanting that trophy on the wall, wanting to annihilate others in our own anger that our needs have not been met as we would have wished them to be; wanting to be loved and wanting to control who does that loving and how.
St Valentine was martyred for refusing to deny his love for God; his was not a romantic life or death just as Jesus offers up His life beginning with a solitary forty day fast in a desert that forces Him to face up to the call upon His life which will lead Him to crucifixion – a kenotic outpouring of love that will liberate millions generation after generation continuing on today and no doubt, long into our future. Love is not always the easy path that says yes to what we want. For those parents whose children have been senselessly murdered the depth of their love will now become the depth of their despair as they will walk through the barren desert of grief seeking the strength to transform the chaos of these events into new, liberating life. They will need to make a conscious decision to choose life again. To choose love. To choose to create. To find a way to manifest liberation for all those for whom these events have been eternally life-changing. A Twenty-Eighth Amendment, perhaps, that reminds us all of the divine right of teenagers to study for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.