Black and Brown Americans live with the existential terror that they will be shot by a criminally motivated police officer. After the night of terror in Dallas, good police officers find themselves anxious about being targeted by disturbed snipers with semi-automatic rifles. Americans live with the persistent fear of terrorism and the threat that a mass shooting will prematurely end life for them or someone close. The culture of violence seen in urban neighborhoods, reported in news narrative, and paraded by entertainment media showing precious lives ended by gun shots serves as evidence that a major and challenging public health threat is at hand. The death toll is climbing and the context of mass shootings makes us speechless witnesses to the criminal behavior of the disturbed: churches, schools, nightclubs, restaurants, malls, courtrooms, post offices, train stations, bus stops, police station, and public streets. Our public squares—for so long an imagined space for debating public policies, democratic ideals, human values, and the meaning of the common good—have become places to dodge bullets.
Life together is crumbling into a heap of insecurity, fear, and a more narrowed sense of freedom. Those who fashion crosses to violently end the lives of ethically innocent human beings, who use murder to communicate their cause, and ferociously cast upon the face of the earth the burning fires of hell, will not prevail against the good men, women, and children of a society committed to rebirthing and cultivating a culture of peace.
The dream of finding the right medicine to treat the public health crisis produced by a culture of violence and its servants is not an impossible one to achieve. The culture of peace will issue forth the moment we renew a commitment to build life together on the basis of the luxurious diversity of American society, compassion for the helpless, care for shared creation, deepened understanding of the meaning of the common good, and passionate pursuit of a different gun policy.
Christians regularly pray a petition that says, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as in heaven. I will repeat this prayer and live to help make it so, since in that space no shots will be fired, no tears shed, no hearts broken with grief, no strangers or enemies present for hate.
Harold J Recinos, Professor of Church and Society, Perkins School of Theology at SMU, author of two collections of poetry, Voices on the Corner (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and Long Way Home (Floricanto and Berkeley Press, 2016).