In early August, I happened across these words from the late Warren Groff:
“We face unprecedented social challenges nowadays. The war continues in Vietnam. People are hungry in a country that spends millions to store its surplus food. We are surrounded by the latest conveniences. . . . But the same technology that makes all this possible is alienating us from the earth; it is choking our lakes and streams; it is polluting the very air we breathe. Racist attitudes and institutions not only offend our sense of justice and fair play, they block the emergence of the open communities required by a technological society. The gap between developed and developing nations grows wider. Older forms of colonialism are replaced by new patterns of economic imperialism.”
Substitute another country for Vietnam, and Groff’s words from 1971 are painfully accurate almost 50 years later. Racism, militarism, poverty, and power were the fault lines under the headlines then and still are now.
Today’s paragraph might look like this: Our children today have never known a time when the US was not at war. Climate change causes more damage every day, and its effects are harshest on the poor. The gap between poor and rich is immorally vast. The people crowding our southern border are fleeing conditions created by our own country, as we can see when we recall the history of Central America. It has become harder to deny that racism infects all parts of our society.
Perhaps Groff’s words seemed especially acute because I read them two days after El Paso and Dayton—two more cities joining the shorthand hashtags of gun violence. So far in 2019, there have been more mass shootings in the US than days in the year. Almost all the shooters are young white men. Hate has become normalized, and there are more triggers, literally, than people. We Americans are shooting ourselves.
The nation is sitting on a massive fault line of our own making; this impending earthquake is not an act of God. The temblors and aftershocks of our unstable ground are warnings of a society in crisis.
What can we do? We must do many things all at once. Yes to thinking and praying. Yes to background checks. Yes to a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Yes to reducing the number of guns. Yes to fair treatment of immigrants. Yes to racial justice. Yes to denouncing white supremacy.
No to becoming accustomed to these tragedies. And yes to boldly living out Jesus’ way of peace.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.