Sermon/Discussion: How Can We Deal with the Charleston Emanuel AME Church Massacre?
From Shabbat morning, June 20, 2015
I hesitate to speak about the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre on Shabbat – mourning is forbidden on our holy day, so I apologize in advance. However, since this is the only time we have together to talk about this, I couldn’t just let this pass. The senseless murder of nine innocent African-American people, including their pastor, by a young racist gave me the same kind of horrified reaction that I had to the murder of the four rabbis at prayer in Jerusalem by two Palestinian gunmen in November. How long, O G-d, how long? My overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and helplessness comes from not seeing any solution on the horizon. Mourning the losses communally, across religious divisions, naming schools after the victims, comforting the shocked and grieving families – these might be humane and hopeful reactions, but until we proactively, rather than reactively, address the underlying causes of these horrific events, we will find ourselves in this situation again and again.
If we are to heal as a society, we must address the causes of this disease rather than its symptoms. There is still, unbelievably, in 2015, a strong, albeit somewhat hidden, undercurrent of racism that continues to erode our national soul. Hate groups must not be allowed to poison young minds unchecked if fighting them leads to Internet monitoring and censorship, so be it. The FBI should be tracking down and eliminating the domestic purveyors of racial and religious hatred. Needless to say, overseas hate and terror groups should be pursued internationally and not be allowed to infiltrate our borders electronically in ways they could never achieve in person. If policing the Internet means a slight curtailment of our so-called free speech, then so be it.
And we must stop hiding behind lame and self-serving excuses for this pervasive violence. The problem is not mental disease, which is the go-to excuse – calling this young mass murderer insane is a disservice to the truly mentally ill, who are, more often than not, victims rather than perpetrators of violence. He became evil – let’s call it what it is – either through being taught to hate by his racist father, who allegedly gave him as a birthday present the gun that was to become the murder weapon – or via racist, white supremacist, Confederate/neo-Nazi websites. A truly deranged person does not plan and carry out an attack. Similarly, Hitler – yemach shemo – may his name be erased – was not a madman; he was a calculating, cold-blooded mass murderer. Let’s stop the courts and defenders from hiding behind the insanity defense for hate crime killers.
And finally, to get to the heart of the matter: this horrible tragedy and the vast majority of other mass murders in recent years could have been prevented by limiting access to and easy availability of guns. There are far too many guns in society – and this is not an inner city problem alone. The overwhelming number of uses of handguns is for homicide and suicide, not for self-defense, no matter what garbage facts are spewed by the NRA. Licensing or not, open-carry or concealed, size and type of ammunition sold: these are all side issues. There are simply too many guns. The NRA’s and gun manufacturers’ bottom line is that the right to bear arms is Constitutionally assured by the Second Amendment, but don’t they always leave off the phrase “in a militia”? No, I do not believe that we have the absolute right to own a handgun or an assault rifle. And what if their erroneous interpretation of the Second Amendment were correct and we do have an absolute right to own guns? Then it would be high time that we legislate that so-called right out of existence – I am convinced that is precisely what the framers of the Constitution would do were they alive to see the pathetic state that our society is in due to gun violence. But this really is a Constitutional issue – if we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then eradicating gun violence, not abortion, is the ultimate right-to- life issue.
A friend posted on Facebook yesterday concerning Pres. Obama’s call for a national self-assessment on this issue, “As part of this self-assessment, we are going to have to face the fact that we have the highest gun ownership rate in the world and the highest per capita rate of firearm-related murders of all developed countries. We justify this level of gun ownership and murders under an amendment to our Constitution that was written in 1789 and ratified in 1791. We are better than that…I hope.”
I also hope we are better than that, but I have my doubts. Despite it being Shabbat, I mourn today not only these innocent worshipers murdered in their church in Charleston but all those who were murdered in gun violence, martyred to the arrogance and hypocrisy of the Second Amendment lobby and the evil perpetrators of racial hatred.
Again, I am sorry for the major downer, but I feel this had to be said. Shabbat Shalom.