The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the young congresswoman from Arizona, must speak to the soul of this nation.
Gabby, as everyone calls Representative Giffords, is liked on both sides of the political aisle as one of the warmest, brightest, most open, and best-listening members of Congress. She was listening to her constituents Saturday at a shopping center when a young man pointed a gun at her head and shot her at point-blank range, and then kept shooting until 14 people were wounded and six people killed, including a federal district court judge and a nine-year-old girl who was a member of her student council.
This horrible tragedy must now become an important American moment…
It is our obligation as citizens to make sure it does not become simply another quickly forgotten event. As the county sheriff in charge of the criminal scene in Tucson said on Saturday, this must be an occasion for national “soul searching.” Part of the tragedy is that, while this shooting has shaken the communities in which Gabby is a part — Arizona and Washington, D.C. — violent tragedies like this are far too common in our bitter country and our calloused world.
We should have always asked and now must ask: What is our role in this tragedy?
A central calling for the religious (Christians and Jews and Muslims alike) is to be peacemakers. Peace is not simply the absence of current conflict, but the presence of a just community. In the midst of tragedy and violence, it should mean that every person “of faith” must ask themselves:
- “How am I responsible?”
- What more can we do to bring peace to this world as the “Prince of Peace” has called us to do?
- What are the situations and environments that allow this kind of hate and violence to grow?
- How can I not only stop conflict, but also be a part of bringing about a just community that displays the positive presence of peace?
As many have already said, we must honor this tragic event by reflecting deeply on how we speak to and about one another, and how we create environments that help peace grow or allow — nay, invite — violence and hatred to enter:
- Many of us who would never consider violence of the fist have been guilty of violence in our hearts and with our tongues.
- We need to be able to relate to others with whom we disagree on important issues without calling them evil.
- The words we say fall upon the balanced and unbalanced, stable and unstable, the well-grounded and the unhinged, alike.
- Are we likely to increase or decrease the likelihood of such incidents if we literally place opposing politicians in the “crosshairs?” *
- Are we improving political discourse when we attack political opponents at events that also offer an opportunity to fire automatic weapons?
The Past Is Prologue (It’s Happened Before; It’ll Happen Again)
In the run-up to the 1912 Presidential Election, a man approached Theodore Roosevelt as he emerged from his car in Milwaukee for a scheduled campaign appearance and fired a 36-caliber revolver at Roosevelt’s heart from close range. The bullet lodged in the muscle of the former president’s massive chest. Roosevelt insisted on going forward with the speech.
As his white dress shirt grew increasingly red from the wound’s flowing blood, Roosevelt talked of the man who had just attempted to take his life:
Now, I do not know who he was or what he represented. He was a coward. He stood in the darkness in the crowd around the automobile and when they cheered me, and I got up to bow, he stepped forward and shot me…but it is a very natural thing that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me…
The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) should not provide an opening to opportunistically score political points against an opposing political philosophy, but… tragedy often forces reassessment about who we are and how we function as individuals and as a society.
People of all political persuasions can learn some sobering lessons from this brutal and senseless episode, yet conservatives need to be particularly thoughtful about the language, images, and messages some individuals who seek to lead their cause have been using over the past 18 months.
The assault on Giffords begs the question not of whether it was directed or deliberately encouraged by any individual or organization in mainstream politics, but rather the question of whether it was an isolated event detached from the current level of public discourse or whether that discourse is inflaming “weak and vicious minds,” as Roosevelt put it. Do words have consequences? Do words help dehumanize persons in the mind’s eye of the weak and sick?
It can be easy to simply turn the station when violence breaks into our world — or happens in another community, not ours — but it’s a tragedy if the violence against Gabrielle Giffords and the others wounded and killed in Arizona become another passing event — a blip on the social media network of our lives — rather than something that changes us.
Instead of viewing this shooting as something that happened to other people in another place far away, this could be a time to tie us closer to our neighbors and fellow citizens across the country… even if we have disagreements.
As prayers continue for Gabby and the families of all those who were so brutally attacked, let the soul searching begin.
Portions Adapted from a commentary by Jim Wallis, “Christian leader for social change”