On the Need for Thoughtful, Informed and Constructive Dialogue

For the past two days, the nation has been united in mourning the tragic events in a Connecticut elementary school.  Sadly, if Facebook is any indication, the nation has also been divided over how we should respond to such tragedies.

I have seen post after post–often voiced in caustic, belligerant language–primarily related to the issue of reforming gun control.  What is clear to me is that a solution will never be reached this way.

While we all mourn this tragedy, and recognize the growing number of violent incidents related to guns, there is little (if any) constructive dialogue because far too many seek to characterize those with whom they disagree in the most negative manner possible.

From my vantage point, what is needed is civil conversation that avoids inflammatory rhetoric based on un-nuanced, un-informed perspectives that are not aimed at addressing the issue but inflaming one’s base (that is, those who already agree with your perspective).

Guns and gun control is an issue, and reforming how (and what types of) guns are bought and sold has to be a part of the solution.  But guns and gun control is not the only issue.  It is a contributing factor, but gun control reform alone will not be enough.

Mental health care is an issue, and reforming how we identify and care for those who exhibit destructive behaviors has to be a part of the solution.  But reforming the mental health care process is not the only issue.  It is a contributing factor, but mental health care reform alone will not be enough.

School security is an issue, and reforming who is allowed on a school campus (and how they are granted access) has to be a part of the solution.  But reforming school security is not the only issue.  It is a contributing factor, but school security reform alone will not be enough.

There are many other related issues about which the same could be stated.  This is why we need thoughtful, informed and constructive dialogue aimed at workable, comprehensive reform.

The issue is complex, multi-faceted and will require civil conversation.  So, please, stop using inflammatory rhetoric to promote your presuppositions, because this only appeals to those who already agree with you.

For those who have chosen to turn this tragedy into a platform for suggesting that the removal of forced prayer and Bible reading in the schools has caused such violence, please talk to a school teacher sometime and ask them how often they speak to their students about treating each other well.  My wife is a full time tutor at a local, public elementary school, and almost every day there is a lesson about being kind to one another, about caring for each other, about treating each other well.  Morality and ethics is being taught in the schools, as it always has, and just because it is not attached to a particular religious tradition, children are being taught that violence is wrong and that treating one another well is right.

Furthermore, from a historical perspective, much violence has been done in the name of religion, so arguing that the removal of coerced religious expressions from schools (e.g. teacher-led prayers and scripture reading) is the source of the Connecticut shootings is untenable.

Finally, for those who have posted comments on Facebook or Twitter to the effect that God was not present in this school since God has been excluded from schools because coerced prayer and scripture reading have been removed, please know that I do not say this lightly, but such theological assertions are terribly misguided.  If the divinity you worship is so petty as to allow such horrific violence to be enacted upon innocent children simply because Judeo-Christian prayer and Judeo-Christian scripture reading are no longer forced on students (many of whom are from non-Judeo-Christian faith traditions), I cannot help but wonder how you find such a deity worthy of your devotion.

When the teachers and administration at the school tried to stop the gunman, God was both present and at work.  When the teachers and administration hid children from the gunman, God was both present and at work.  When first responders and police officers rushed to the school to make the area safe again, God was both present and at work.  When community members continue to gather to offer their support and consolation to grieving families, God is both present and at work.  God is manifest in (and as) the goodness of human persons seeking to save lives and to soothe the wounds caused by this tragedy.

So, if the divinity you worship is not present because the divinity you worship is equated with coerced Judeo-Christian prayer and coerced Judeo-Christian scripture readings in public schools, then (and I do not say this lightly) I do not believe I worship the same divine presence as you do, because the divine presence I long and look for and seek to make manifest through my actions is made manifest in acts of goodness and kindness and compassion and grace and healing and loving and sharing and blessing, not in forcing religious acts upon those who do not wish to participate in them.

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