Marian Wright Edelman wrote this impressive column after giving the commencement address at my alma mater, Seattle Pacific University, a small Christian-based school in my native northwest.
I respect her work with children and youth, and the school deserves sympathy for the recent shootings.
I have some questions for my old evangelical school, but I’ll hold those for a minute and let her words take effect.
After commending the students, faculty and admin for the way they handled the violence with faith, forgiveness and prayer, Edelman carries forward with an articulate call with timely questions:
What if the shooter had had an assault weapon? The student security monitor was able to subdue the shooter because he had to stop to reload his shotgun. If he had been armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a large capacity magazine capable of firing more than a few rounds without reloading, the tragedy would almost certainly have grown—as we have seen over and over again in similar attacks. Instead a young man with a brave heart armed only with pepper spray was able to seize available seconds to act with the help of other unarmed bystanders and bring a tragedy to a quick end.
At the same time we must all ask: could this have been prevented from happening at all?. . . .
[Washington State]does not have a universal background check law in place. . . And another critically important concern continues to go unaddressed—the need to ensure timely and appropriate mental health treatment, in the community whenever possible, for children of all ages and for young adults. While steps have been taken in Connecticut and a few other states since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, so much more is needed.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the attack at Seattle Pacific University was the 73rd shooting on a school or college campus in the United States since the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I am so grateful to the Seattle Pacific University community for their witness of strength, forgiveness, and deep faith. Yet I am heartbroken that they and so many other children, youths, and adults walk in fear on a daily basis and keep having to worry about experiencing this at all. Why is our nation saturated with guns— four million in military and law enforcement hands and 310 million in civilian hands? Why are American children and teens 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in 25 other high-income countries combined? Why is our mental health system still so inadequate to respond to the cries of those needing help? When will we all say enough?
We can and must do better.
I certainly hope we can do better.
So, here are my questions for the students, faculty and admin at SPU:
How will you, with your stated mission to “engage the culture,” work to end violence of any kind in our common culture?
Are you willing to ask these hard questions and address them beyond prayer and faith?
I’m not saying let go of your prayer and faith, but can you face these difficult issues alongside people like Edelman, who are seeking real change, not just “spiritual” change, not only “Christian change” that dreams of a Christian Planet?
I surely hope so.
Most of what I read coming from the school is focused on bringing an Evangelical Christian gospel message to a “secular world” in need of the “grace of God.” For many of you, perhaps, the mentally ill shooter is evidence of the “evil and godlessness” of the culture you wish to change.
My hope is that the good education you receive at SPU urges you to think deep on these issues, listen to many divergent voices, and work with many of us who live in this society, in this world (Your World; Our World) to do the justice, compassion and human rights work that really makes creative change. You may believe in another world. But right now, this one is all we have.
I wish you all very well, through this awful time, this celebration time, and beyond.