Since I know I’ll need to, I’m going to start this blog entry with a number of caveats.
I tend to favor stricter gun laws over loose gun laws, but on balance I believe in the Second Amendment as I believe in every part of the Constitution. Nevertheless, I have two small children and for as long as they reside in my house, no firearm ever will. I consider that too great a safety risk and would consider it so whether I was a Marine sharpshooter or someone like me (who has no experience anything more menacing than a paintball gun).
While the whole “mama grizzly” angle may be all the rage right now, we dads are in fact every bit as protective of their children as moms are. I’d like to think I’m not a violent person. Nevertheless, the last person you’d ever want to be would be someone who would dare harm a hair on the head of either of my sons. I sincerely hope I don’t get any kudos for that sentiment. It’s not particularly noble or heroic. It simply goes with the territory of fatherhood. I pray fervently every day that I never have to actually prove the truth of my words in this case.
We Americans are not a perfect people. No such people exists. But we are on the whole a good people and this is a good country. I know that seems a little obvious and you would not think I would need to spend three sentences articulating it, but given the subject matter, I take no chances.
Last caveat coming up…
I’ve read the accounts of what happened involving a woman named Sarah McKinley as she shot and killed a man named Justin Martin as he and another man tried to invade the home she shares with her three-month old son. While there might be some details that haven’t emerged yet, everything I’ve heard leads me to the conclusion that Ms. McKinley probably did the only thing she could do and at the very least the actions she took were entirely understandable.
I’m not writing this to condemn Sarah McKinley. I keep thinking about her story and I keep coming back to the same conclusion I think most people would come to: you can’t condemn her. You can’t put yourself in her place for even a second and then honestly say to yourself that there’s no way you wouldn’t ha’ve done the same thing.
I would however like to think that if any of us were faced not just with her impossible crisis but also its aftermath, that we wouldn’t be happy about it. We wouldn’t celebrate it. We wouldn’t see it as an occasion for crowing. To my knowledge, Sarah McKinley doesn’t see it as such herself. But she has a whole legion of new fans now who can’t bay their praise of her at the moon shrilly enough. Here are just a few posts I’ve found relating to Sarah McKinley’s utterly terrible but thoroughly legitimate decision to kill Justin Martin:
“Nicely done. I am glad I live in a state (Florida) that allows people to be safe in there own home!”
“This was definitely a win-win situation- one less piece of garbage out of society, another one off the streets.”
“It’s too bad she couldn’t get both of them.”
“Damn. Go, Mama!”
I realize that these are posts from message boards and the average message board offers all the thoughtful reflection and nuanced opinion of the average survivalist compound in the wilds of Montana. Reading them still brought me up short. It wasn’t just the comments themselves. It’s the comments and the time someone at one of the Republican debates shrieked “Yeah!” at the discussion of someone being allowed to die because he or she didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t otherwise afford healthcare. It’s the comments and it was one of the candidates at another of the Republican debates receiving an applause break when his record of executions carried out under his governorship was discussed. It’s the comments and the glee that the news of Osama bin Laden’s death generated. If it could be said of anyone that his departure from this world made it a better place, it could be said of him. I certainly didn’t grieve that night. Even so, there was still a little part of me that paled at the joy death seemed to bring my people. I see similar sentiment now in the wake of what happened to Sarah McKinley and it unnerves me again. I find myself wondering not for the first time and not for the last:
Do you think maybe it’s time to quit calling ourselves a Christian nation?
Christ’s teaching on mercy and loving your enemies is integral to the Gospel. It isn’t a stretch to say that those teaching define Christianity. They are precepts we Christians are justly proud of. Almost no one that I know of in this country follows them. When we list what’s great about us as a people or as individuals, we almost never list our quality of mercy or the understanding and dignity we afford to even the people we despise most. More and more what I hear called virtues are being “uncompromising” and “tough” and more and more it seems like the way to be uncompromising and tough is to be belligerent if not downright warlike.
Now because a mother in one of the most terrifying situations you can imagine makes a desperate decision that will no doubt leave her and quite possibly her son traumatized, warlike behavior is now a clear sign of great parenting.
Sarah McKinley is all of eighteen. She has a three-month old son she is raising on her own because her husband lost a battle with cancer during the recent holidays. For my money, the clear sign she’s a great mother is that she hasn’t utterly cracked up and blasted off her shotgun at anyone and everyone she can find in range in the state of Oklahoma. She has about as good a list of reasons as you can find to spit her pain at the world and she chooses– she chooses– not to do so. She realizes she has that perfect little boy and she knows she must keep it together for him at all costs even when keeping it together is the absolute last thing she wants to do and certainly must seem like the hardest thing to do. That’s what will get a “damn, go mama” from me. That’s uncompromising and tough through the roof. Shooting some guy who was trying to break into your house with a knife is just a horrible moment in your life you never want to relive and you’re just glad it’s over with. It’s nothing to celebrate, not even for a second.
Sarah McKinley exercises mercy and compassion every day. We will never hear about it. She shoots somebody and now suddenly we realize what a great parent she is. Justin Martin had parents too. Their grief will be dismissed as insignificant because their son will be judged to have had what happened to him coming. While that may or may not be true, I would like to think that wouldn’t matter. I would like to think that anyone’s death is a cause for grief, for the realization we are lessened with every life lost, no matter how wasted a life it was.
That’s not how it works for us. It might work that way in some hypothetical Christian nation. We’re not that. We rejoice over death too much to be one.
Sarah McKinleys walk among us everywhere and show kindness and decency ripped straight from the pages of the Gospel. We don’t care. We just want to see those who we have decided deserve to die get what’s coming to them. Then we celebrate.
I won’t be so presumptuous as to declare that God weeps for that.
I just know that I do.