It has been a week since the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. I thought by now I would have been able to organize my thoughts and feelings on the matter into something clear, articulate, perhaps even helpful. Mostly what I’ve got is inarticulate anger and lament.
I’m writing this on Memorial Day, the day when we in the United States remember the sacrifice of soldiers who died for our freedom. Well should we honor their courage. Freedom isn’t free, as the saying goes.
But Memorial Day has also gotten me thinking about the extent to which we are willing to let others sacrifice for our freedoms, and how little we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves. We Americans are slavishly, idolatrously devoted to cheapened visions of personal freedom that are so rooted in self-love that they erode the very foundations of courage. The culture, left and right alike, tells me that my personal autonomy (variously defined) is the most important thing about me. It can be a pretty short step from “I should choose the kind of life I want to live” to “I choose not to not to sacrifice anything for the sake of my freedom, especially if there’s somebody who can sacrifice instead.” Because my freedoms are likely to require sacrifice from somebody, whether soldiers in uniform or nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers.
Nineteen children sacrificed for a mentally disturbed eighteen-year-old’s freedom to buy a semi-automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Nobody thinks that’s a good idea, but too many of us have been willing to live with this sort of thing lest I lose my freedom to buy a semi-automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. I know the arguments. I imagine some of you will write and refresh me on them. But I’m going to go ahead and tell you: I’m not interested in any more of these child sacrifices on my behalf.
You might think I’m trying to spin out a metaphor when I call the Uvalde massacre a child sacrifice, but I’m being as literal as I know how to be. In the face of the kind of evil that was loose in Robb Elementary School, lives were going to be sacrificed. For an hour and a half, dozens of policemen with vastly superior firepower stood outside that school room and let those children and teachers absorb all that suffering rather than putting themselves in danger. Why? I suspect it’s because we’re conditioned to let other people suffer and die for our freedom and comfort and sense of safety. All that tactical gear, all those assault weapons turn out to be a pretty poor substitute for courage.
But courage is still possible. Angeli Rose Gomez was the mother who defied the police, climbed a fence, went unarmed into the school and brought her two children out. Angeli Rose Gomez. That’s a name we all should know. She serves as a reminder that all real courage is a kind of love. We’re going to need a lot of courage going forward. And a lot of love.
As I was trying to write this letter, I realized that David French’s most recent newsletter makes some of the same connections I was trying to make. I’ll close with this passage from that newsletter:
At the root of a failure of courage is often a failure of love. C.S. Lewis wrote that courage is “not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” What we witnessed from the police in Uvalde was the triumph of self-love over love of others, including of the young kids bleeding in that room.
At the testing point, the officers were confronted with a question, “Whom do you love?”
“I love me,” they responded, and they stood down.
That declaration, “I love me,” is endemic in our nation, and it’s not just endemic when lives are on the line. It’s dreadful to read the comprehensive report on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s response to abuse allegations and understand exactly how much of the misconduct was driven by the desire for self-preservation. Preserve the assets of the ministry. Preserve the power of the leaders.
As my wife Nancy continued her tireless investigation of Kanakuk Kamp in Missouri, writing most recently in USA Today about decades of abuse involving multiple predators, you see the same desires in play. Protect the leaders. Protect the camp. Justice is secondary. Accountability is a threat.
At the testing point, these institutions were confronted with a question, “Whom do you love?”
“We love us,” they responded, and they covered up abuse.
The cross utterly rebukes this ethos. Jesus could not be more clear. “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” And with this command comes a warning and a promise, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it.”
You can read the rest of David French’s newsletter here.