"Shame on You!"

SenateVotesThis is what Patricia Maisch, survivor of the Tucson shooting, shouted to our senators after their decision to do nothing, absolutely nothing about gun safety. Not even the porous compromise in legislation for expanded background checks was approved. Families of the victims of Newtown, Tucson, and Virginia Tech sat in the Senate gallery and watched the failure of our democracy.

When I heard the news, I felt an anger that is rare for me. I wanted to personally confront the 46 senators and demand that they inspect their consciences, look carefully in the mirror, pray for forgiveness, and change their vote. I, too, wanted to shame them. There are mornings when my prayers begin and end in anger. Today was one of them.

There is a place in religious life for anger and for righteous indignation. Read any of the prophets of the Old Testament if you have any doubt. But the religious impulse needs to move beyond righteous indignation into a place of remembering how we hope to live and a place of commitment to that vision.

I have made no secret of my feelings on the gun violence issue. Nor have 90% of the American people, more than 80% of Republican voters, and even a hefty majority of NRA members who support expanded background checks. How can it be that our political system is so broken that “the most important deliberative body in the world” could disregard both the clear will of the people and its most important duty to help keep us safe?

Yesterday and today I have had to sort through and pray through my own feelings before writing to you as your minister. I am a citizen as well, with opinions about policies, like each of you. Not everyone who reads will agree with my opinions about policy. This is as it should be. In fact, in a democracy that is our strength.

But I believe yesterday’s votes were a failure of our democracy. As religious people how should we respond? Anger, and even despair, is understandable. Perhaps our politics has become too corrupted by corporate money and protection of the profits of gun manufacturers; perhaps we have allowed too much of our democracy to be lost. Perhaps the rhetoric of democracy now functions only to keep us anesthetized to the wealth and power that our system has come to singularly serve.

We can wallow in anger and despair or we can become disciplined, and more determined to reclaim what is best in our system.

Gabby Giffords wrote in the New York Times this morning: “I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.”

She calls for an exercise in accountability. She calls and I urge us to follow her call and the call of our better selves. Today, I am writing to Oregon Senators Merkeley and Wyden, to thank them for their support of sensible gun safety legislation. This is a part of the discipline of accountability. And in the coming weeks and months, I promise to let those elected leaders who failed us through cowardice or calculated self-interest know that we care and we are watching. And I promise to continue our witness for gun safety legislation here in Oregon.

We must reclaim our democracy or we will surely lose it.