Do All Lives Really Matter?
By now, we have all heard the story about the man firing his gun in the middle of the night and the neighbors who came over to ask him to stop only to wind up dead at his hands moments later. It is a genuinely tragic story. It should never have happened. Some things happened this time, though, that are different.
The first is that the conservative community has been strangely silent. The gun lobby, which is usually right there to defend our second amendment rights is seemingly nowhere to be seen. The Republicans who stand in Congress and lift up their meaningless thoughts and payers have not done so. Even the calls for stricter gun laws and assault weapons bans are muted.
The second thing is who did the killing and who was killed. The initial news stories mentioned in passing that everyone involved was Honduran. And then Greg Abbot decided to make his own public statement on the tragedy. Initially, he was eerily silent. And when he did speak, it was particularly terrible. He referred to everyone as illegal and has attempted to turn the conversation toward the need to tighten restrictions at the border.
This second thing is where I would like to focus today.
I think it is the little detail that the killer and the victims were not white that is giving people pause. Those in charge of things are not real sure how to handle this because it does not neatly fit into anyone’s narrative. The pro-gun lobby cannot use this as proof that we need more guns in more hands because it is very clear that there are some people who should not have access to firearms as easily as they are able. And it does not fit the anti-assault rifle narrative because even though not having one of those would have potentially prevented this tragedy from being as awful as it is, this individual has an extensive criminal record and has been deported multiple times. And it does not fit the mental illness is real narrative because this time it is not an obvious case of someone suffering from depression or anxiety going off the rails because we ignored their mental problems for so long.
Culturally, we simply do not know how to respond to tragedy outside of specifically prescribed narratives.
What we are able to do, though, is latch onto some small detail and try to control a narrative and turn the subject away from something we do not want to talk about. Greg Abbot refuses to talk about guns or tragedy, so he is going to talk about bigotry.
This kind of thing gets the base riled up. Generally speaking, the current conservative base is made up of some of the worst kinds of people society has to offer. They revel in their intolerance. Remember when the Black Lives Matter protests were at their peak? White conservatives would counter-protest, claiming that “All lives matter!” This killing proves that this is simply not the case for them. These lives did not matter because they were “illegal”, which is a dubious claim anyway since that detail has not come out as of the time of writing, and is actually irrelevant to the tragedy.
When I was growing up, we would sing this little song in church that, albeit a bit racist, had a good point.
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world…
From an early age, I was taught that, literally, all lives mattered. As I got older, and was shown more of the Bible and encouraged to read more deeply into some of the things that were taught in there, I was introduced to the concept of unity in Christ. Everyone was equal in God’s eyes, and that extended beyond just that we are all equally sinners in need of a savior. Paul wrote to one of his churches,
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Jesus, and by extension his followers, are to actively look past the things that divide us from others and pursue unity.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
Empathy is a Christian value, though given the state of the current church, it does not seem like it is something that has been cultivated very well. In fact, it would appear that the church has instead cultivated an environment of bigotry and exclusion. It has erected walls against those who Jesus expanded the walls to bring in.
During the crucifixion narrative, at the time Jesus dies, there is a massive earthquake and the curtain separating the place God symbolically resided in the temple from the place where the common people stood was ripped apart. The idea is that God was taking away those divisions between themselves and everyone else. God was going to be everywhere present, as they already were.
This is a radical concept because it implies that God can be where the sinners are. It implies that one does not have to be completely pure to approach God. It implies that God’s presence is not limited to certain places and times. God is literally everywhere. God’s kingdom exists wherever people are. It is among us.
This has an even more radical implication when you consider the way the people of Jesus’ day viewed a kingdom. Their stories told them that God’s chosen people, the Jews, were to have conquered the land and killed everyone who was not one of them because God only wanted their single chosen people to have control of that land. God’s kingdom was exclusionary from the start.
God’s kingdom being everywhere implies that there is not a single chosen type of people that are included. Everyone is a part of God’s kingdom. Any theology that excludes people from that kingdom is anathema to the clear message Jesus was attempting to proclaim.
When we use language about other people that makes them out to be something different or less, we are blocking our ability to feel empathy towards them. We are separating ourselves from them and we are giving ourselves permission to feel differently about them. By labeling the victims of Friday’s tragic mass shooting as “illegal”, we are giving ourselves permission to hold the victims responsible for what happened to them. We are giving ourselves permission to turn our attention elsewhere.
It also gives us permission to continue doing nothing to fix the problem. Because it is not “our” problem, it is “their” problem. And we are not responsible for fixing other people’s problems. We are only responsible for fixing our own.