Removing the Millstone: Our Responsibility to Protect Children
I asked my six-year-old son at dinner the day of the Uvalde shooting, “Do you have drills at school where you practice what you would do if a dangerous person was in your school building?”
“It’s called a lockdown drill,” he replies quickly and proudly. He gets a kick out of knowing things that I don’t.
“What do you do for these drills?”
“We get in a dark hiding place and stay very quiet.”
“Oh,” I say with anguish.
“And they lock our classrooms. But if the dangerous person finds another way into our classroom, we’re in trouble,” he says with a silly chuckle.
For my son, this drill is a sort of game. It’s funny. He should think that. He shouldn’t have to think how serious and necessary this exercise is. He shouldn’t have to be prepared to try to save his own life. But if you’re an elementary-age child in America, you must be prepared.
We all agree that this shouldn’t be happening. What we can’t seem to agree on is what to do about it. But do something we must. The last couple of days, this is what I consider on the road to doing something.
Blood is crying out from the ground.
After Cain murders his brother Abel in the first act of its kind in the Bible, the LORD says to Cain, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” The blood of too many children and the blood of Black neighbors (thinking of the Buffalo mass shooting) cries out to God from the ground.
And we haven’t done enough.
I have noticed my colleagues saying this to encourage others: You are enough. Here’s what they say: You are enough. What people mean, I think, is that we are all people made in God’s image and worthy of love. So worthy that God became flesh to look for us where we are lost and to spill blood his own blood on the ground and to be raised from a gruesome, evil death to free us. That God-in-human-skin person Jesus died like he did to conquer the powers that are destroying human lives and creation. He did it to make us more than conquerors with a love from which we cannot be separated.
We are enough. We are more. And we haven’t done enough to protect the little ones among us. To keep them from stumbling. To keep them from falling.
Jesus spoke like he weighed evil actions against children more heavily.
Jesus once said that if anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
A millstone was a circular stone with a hole in the middle people used in Jesus’s time for grinding grain. It was massive and heavy. Jesus thought it would be better for a person to wear one of these as a necklace and get dropped into the sea than for that person to threaten the welfare of a little one.
Like anyone else, I struggle with where to focus my time and energy in this age of instant information and awareness of what’s happening everywhere. For Jesus, children were top priority. Many of us would say the same. And yet, we’ve had children stumbling and falling and perishing in mass shootings regularly, and what have we done? Are we prioritizing the sacred lives of children with our actions? Or are we prioritizing something else?
To be sure, the actions of the people who have murdered children are easily diagnosable as evil.
But may we also consider this. When we prioritize anything over the welfare of the innocent and vulnerable among us, we also are committing evil worthy of a millstone.
Start with these assumptions.
If I look at this issue from a 30,000-foot view, I see a swamp we’re stuck in: the Propaganda Swamp.Cambridge Dictionary defines propaganda as “information or ideas that are spread by an organized group or government to influence people’s opinions, especially by not giving all the facts or by secretly emphasizing only one way of looking at the facts.”
I think we must assume we are targets of propaganda. I think we must assume each of us has fallen prey to it. It’s not just them. It’s us. It’s you. It’s me. It’s on the right and on the left. It’s a swamp in which we’re stuck, but we can get out of it if we want to.
Getting out of it will mean we also assume the media we’re consuming is part of the propaganda. Assume they are more concerned with making money and representing a political ideology for the sake of making money rather than offering you thoughtful information and perspective for the common good. These outlets are profit-making entities whose actual mission is to increase egos, achieve high ratings, and beat the competition.
Assume our political parties and politicians are part of it, too. Assume they are owned by lobbies and special interests. No one of us is exempt from the desire for glory and power. Lobbyists offer the hope of more glory and power, but it comes with a price. Our politicians are paying that price regularly. And we are too.
Finally, assume that each of us needs to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. We need a wisdom and information reset. We must use our God-given reason to discover the facts of the current situation and act accordingly. Yes, we must be thoughtful and prayerful, which leads me to something about prayer.
Our prayers have been answered.
Perhaps you’ve prayed for God to intervene in this great evil of mass shootings. Good news. God has already answered our prayers.
- You are the answer. I am.
- Our feet.
- Our hands.
- Our vocal cords.
- Our minds.
- Our reason.
- Our compassion.
- Our courage.
- Our salvation.
In a video series For the Life of the World: Letters to Exiles, the narrator asks this question: What is our salvation for? The answer? For the life of the world.
That is why Jesus came to this earth to free us from the powers that are destroying it. Not so we can wait to enjoy paradise somewhere else. No, it is so that we join in the fight against evil—the evil among us and in us—so that God’s way of Life becomes the way of life here. That’s what Jesus prayed for: for God’s realm to come to earth as it is in heaven. That’s what our lives and our salvation is for. God gives us the Holy Spirit for this work.
So, praise be to God. Our prayers have been answered. You and I are the answer. Let’s do something. One thing you and I can do to combat scenarios I’ve mentioned above and to become the answer to our prayers is to want to find and digest good information. In the hours since the Uvalde shooting, I have been looking for reliable research and perspective to better understand what is threatening the little ones among us.
Here are some facts I’m pondering.
The leading cause of death in children and adolescents in the U.S. is now from firearm-related injuries. These findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The number of “active shooter incidents” has risen steadily since 2000. In 2000, there were three such incidents. In 2020, there were 40. This data is from Pew Research Center.
Handguns account for most gun murders. Despite the attention “assault weapons” get, they only account for 3 percent of firearm murders. However, when it comes to mass shootings, the deadliest ones are when the killers used “semi-automatic rifles” often with high-capacity magazines. “Over the past decade, the five deadliest mass shooting incidents in America all involved the use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (Las Vegas, NV; Orlando, FL; Newtown, CT; Sutherland Springs, TX; Parkland, FL).
There was a federal assault weapons ban in place in our country from 1994 to 2004. According to an article on NPR, “it prohibited the manufacture or sale for civilian use of certain semi-automatic weapons. The act also banned magazines that could accommodate 10 rounds or more.” The effects of this ban are inconclusive. Most studies say it did not impact gun-related deaths much. There are studies that show it had a significant impact on deaths from mass shootings. One published in The Journal of Trauma Acute Care and Surgery found that deaths from mass shootings were 70 percent less likely to occur during the ban. (reference: DiMaggio, C; Avraham, J; Berry, C; Bukur, M; Feldman, J; Klein, M; Shah, N; Tandon, M; Frangos, S (January 2019). “Changes in US mass shooting deaths associated with the 1994–2004 federal assault weapons ban: Analysis of open-source data”. The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.)
The U.S. is number one in estimated number of firearms per 100 residents at 120.5. In second is Yemen at 52.8.
The perpetrators of Buffalo and Uvalde shootings were 18 years old. They both obtained their weapons legally in the days or weeks leading up to their attacks. Both used AR-15 rifles. Payton Gendron, the perpetrator of the white supremacist-motivated attack in Buffalo, used ammunition magazines that are not legally sold in New York. Both perpetrators demonstrated clear signs of mental health issues and predisposition to violence and/or bullying. Gendron was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation right around his graduation from high school because he said he was considering a murder-suicide plan. This could have been flagged. It wasn’t. There could have been more intervention here. There wasn’t.
This is why legislation is a part of solving this absurd evil.
I believe gun reform legislation is a part of the solution.
I realize in saying this that I’m proposing that part of the solution is relying on those same politicians whose motives and mission I’ve called into question. Nonetheless, I believe legislation is undoubtedly a part of the solution to take care of the most innocent and vulnerable among us. I am convinced these changes together would reduce deaths from mass shootings:
- universal background checks that close loopholes in gun transactions
- red flag laws that help to keep firearms out of the possession of at-risk individuals as determined by a court of law
- stronger safe storage statutes
- a higher age requirement (21 at least) for gun permits and licensing
- banning the sale of high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.
Perspectives on these issues from U.S. senators are detailed here.
Would these measures eliminate mass shootings? No. Would they eliminate deaths from guns? Not even close. Would they reduce the number of gun-related deaths in mass shootings and otherwise? Yes, I believe so. If promoting the welfare of the innocent and vulnerable among us—namely children—is our priority, we must consider these reforms with an open mind and open heart.
I have advocated for commonsense gun reform like this in the past. I will continue to do so. Still, this is only a part of the solution.
Promoting mental health awareness, access to mental health treatment, and trauma-informed approaches is a big part of the solution.
Trauma is the silent killer in our communities. ACEs tell the story. ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence. The ACEs quiz is a quick way to gauge your trauma and the trauma of others. We know that children who have ACEs are more likely (and exponentially so) to struggle with certain behaviors and issues as adults such as violence, substance use, depression, and so on.
A lot of our church’s work is focused on substance use disorder. Trauma is the ultimate gateway drug. “Individuals with ACE scores ≥5 are seven to 10 times more likely to report illicit drug addiction compared to those without ACEs.” And unsurprisingly, people who have ACEs are much more prone to devastating depression.
The good news is that more community stakeholders and service providers are acting on this knowledge. In my own community and ministry, it seems more organizations are committing to trauma-informed approaches, approaches that take seriously that violence, substance use, mental health issues, and many more challenges are often the byproducts of trauma. If we are going to seriously combat these challenges, we must get to the source: trauma.
This makes mental health awareness and access to mental health resources so much more vital. We are the answers to our prayers in this case also. In conversations with friends and family, in meetings, in classrooms, in sanctuaries—wherever we are—you and I can be champions of mental health awareness and mental health service providers. We can be people who speak and act against stigmas related to mental health. We can be trauma-informed people. You can learn more about ACEs here.
What Else You Can Do.
I know we all struggle with where to give our time and our energy. If we try to do everything, odds are we will do nothing. None of us can do something for everyone. But each of us can do something. What’s your something related to this issue?
Maybe you agree with me about gun reform, and you want to share your perspective with your representatives. You can do that here.
Maybe you disagree with me, and you’d like to talk about it. If you’re local, let’s go to coffee. If you’re not, email me. Ross@heavenearthchurch.org.
Maybe you just don’t know, and you need to search for reliable research and wise perspectives.
One of the best things any of us can do is to be engaged in our local communities. So much of what happens in our day-to-day lives is determined locally: with county commissioners, county council, school administrators, community organizations and nonprofits, churches, and so on. If you’re not sure where to plug in, ask around. If you’re local, ask me. If you or your group wants to be more involved in the work our church is doing, let me know. We have lots of partners we work with.
Prevention work is a great effort to be a part of. For instance, here in Johnson County we have the Suicide Prevention Coalition. Our church works closely with Upstream Prevention who is doing so much in our local community to educate people on risk factors young people face as well as increasing protective factors for young people.
Don’t quit praying.
Yes, I said are prayers have already been answered. We are the answer to the intervention we seek. And yet I believe if we are to have a shot at making a lasting impact in our community, it will require a transformation of our hearts—from evil to goodness, from greed to generosity, from selfishness to self-sacrifice, from hate to love. Whatever we do, may we do it with Love, and may we do to seek the welfare of the little ones among us.