Greed and Gun Violence

A LETTER FROM BISHOP BENFIELD

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. – 1 Timothy 6:10

It might seem odd to start an article about the national crisis over gun violence with a quote from the Bible about greed, but it may indeed be the best place to focus.

Last week the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops met in Texas, and one item of extensive conversation—and an eventual statement from the House—centered on gun violence, particularly following the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla. That statement included the bishops’ agreement that we bishops observe a day of lament and action on March 14, one month after the shooting.

I have been taught that we members of the clergy ought to stick to what we know, that is, we should teach based on the unique perspective of our Judeo-Christian heritage and training. Too often the gun violence debate, even in the church itself, has focused on bump stocks and definitions of assault weapons, while missing the real underlying illness: greed.

There is a school of economic thought that states that politicians make their decisions based on their own self-interest. In that sense, they are like the rest of us fallen humans. They will do whatever it takes to keep themselves in office. In the case of gun control, they accept huge amounts of money for their future campaigns and vote accordingly. Simultaneously, certain leaders in the gun lobby have realized that they can exercise power over politicians through the doling out of cash. The issue is ultimately not about assault rifles; it is about pure, unbridled greed. If the NRA were gone tomorrow, another interest group focused on a different issue would fill the vacuum. And indeed, we have seen such groups do so, as we observe the fight to value corporate profits over the stewardship of creation, or our fear that immigrants coming into this country will take away too much of our own piece of the pie.

So, how will I as a bishop observe a day of action surrounding gun violence? Asking my legislators to ban guns is disingenuous. After all, I own a shotgun and would be loathe for the government to tell me that I have to turn it in. But I can ask my elected officials to stop taking money from organizations and individuals that will simply perpetuate the role of greed. For example, I read in the New York Times that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton received almost $2 million from the NRA, and Representative French Hill received over $1 million. They are but two examples; others receive money as well. Are they willing to return that money? Are they willing to refuse such gifts in the future? And if they do so, how might their votes change?

For millennia the church has taught that greed distorts human relationships and keeps us blind to the fact that our call is to respect the dignity of every human being. I hope that we can begin to look with clearer eyes at the role that greed plays in politics and in our own personal, day-to-day decisions and prejudices. It is a religious issue, not simply a political one. To be released from its suffocating grip is one way to begin to experience resurrection to a new way to live and see the world.

Faithfully yours,

Larry Benfield