Until It Happens To Me

Caleb Keeter, guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band and lifelong advocate of gun ownership, performed at the Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the late hours of October 1, 2017 this became the site of the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The day after the murders, Keeter tweeted about his harrowing experience, "I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.” He continued, “My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.” Some criticized him for not recognizing the importance of this issue until he was personally affected. He accepted the critique “You are all absolutely correct. I saw this happening for years and did nothing. But I'd like to do what I can now.”

Empathy is a part of emotional maturity that develops unevenly. But it’s a vital part of Christianity. The Lord emphasized the importance of being able to express compassion for others and act on their behalf. Since Jesus said it best, I encourage you to reread this passage of His own words. Yes, I know you’ve read it many times before. You’ve studied it and heard it preached and maybe taught it to others. But I invite you to contemplate the application of this passage in your own life today:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37 NASB)

Empathy has to be intentional. It’s a bit easier to extend to people of our in-group. And everywhere around the world, there are examples of group divisions, whether defined by borders or skin color or class or accents or sects or something else. And, when someone has a different religion or cultural background or nationality, it can be easier to dismiss their needs. The Samaritan demonstrated compassion to someone who shared none of those labels with him. Reflecting on the actions of the Good Samaritan is highly appropriate at a time when we are tempted to turn our backs on people who are protesting against brutality committed against their people group. Or families with a different language seeking refuge on our shores, or those of a different political persuasion recounting how policies will affect them. If we were being systematically subjected to violence, if we were fleeing from a war torn community, if our fundamental human rights were endangered and we were crying out – wouldn’t we want compassionate action by someone, somewhere? These things shouldn’t have to actually happen to us before we recognize that we should move to help others. If that’s what we would want, then the words of Christ should motivate us, for we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh day Adventist Church.

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:

https://spectrummagazine.org/authors/courtney-ray

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8282
1 Like

Yeah, let’s get rid of the 2nd Amendment. Then only the government and the criminals will have guns. That makes me feel A LOT safer. Totalitarian regimes like to take guns away from the common man. And I’m sure their citizens are always among the happiest and most contented people on earth.

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Thanks Courtney,

My sincere condolences for my American cousins from the relative safety of Australian shores! And you are correct, Courtney. Unti it happens to me the understanding generated by empathy often does not kick in!

Our present Prime Minister was heard the other day expressing his understanding of the political intractability of stopping this rush of American madness which has made it impossible to deal in any meaningful way with the gun problem in America.

Let me quote from our Australian experience to highlight what can be done where there is the political will to do so. On 28 April 1996 Australia experienced its worst gun massacre in living memory. It happened at Port Arthur, historic site of an early Australian penal colony situated in the Australian island State of Tasmania. 35 people were killed by a lone gunman and another 28 were injured. it happened just three days after Australia’s equivalent of Memorial Day - Anzac Day.

Our newly elected conservative Prime Minister in statesmen-like fashion began to stitch together an agreement with the six Australia state governments and two territory governments to seriously curtail the availability and prevalence of the most deadly weapons in our society. Gun amnasties and buy back schemes were instituted. Thousands of weapons were taken out of circulation and destroyed. Effective legislation was passed in every Australian jurisdiction, and these legislative measures have held to a significant degree although throughout the years since, Yet for all that the Australian gun lobby and the hunting and gathering “Fishers and Shooters Party” and other political operatives are anxious to water down these legislative and regulatory measures have been watered down with some success. Eternal vigilence is still required.

These measures have had a measurable and positive impact on the relative safety of Australian society as compared with other Western societies.

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Rereading the passage, Courtney, I am reminded that empathy is not subject to rational processes nor is it facilitated by legal instructions. Such seems the point Jesus made clear to the lawyer.

With a lack of empathy sufficiently deeply rooted, a person is described as a sociopath. The question is whether empathy is more curative that legal posturing in such cases.

What is the evidence that Jesus was empathetic with the young lawyer? Was it not that Jesus held the lawyer as mercifully as the Samaritan held the man beside the road? And for the same reason. It is rarely preached from the point of view that features Jesus, rather than the young lawyer, as the lead character, though the gospel of Luke is about Jesus, start to finish.

Of course Caleb Keeter wants to put an immediate stop the possibility of such events repeating. We all do. And so far society has failed, and not for lack of laws. Perhaps for lack of empathy.

Does one have to have felt empathy to be empathetic? Jesus offered that his disciples will be known by their love one for another. When he put that into the form of a new commandment, the commandment was not to love on one’s own, but rather to love as the disciples sensed being loved by Jesus.

Still too few Christians in the world is the takeaway it feels like. And there is no legal solution for that shortage, either. And that is not meant to be the last word, but rather the first words going forward.

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Two specific verses from the Bible help me in coping with the recent events in Las Vegas:

  1. “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” Genesis 9:5-6
  2. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19

My prayers and thoughts are with the victims of this tragedy and their families and loved ones.

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The root of all evil is the breakdown of empathy or the failure to develop empathy. The story of Cain is the perfect example of how an individual can develop empathy from birth and then is unable to defend it against the constant onslaught of life’s challenges and vicissitudes. In his case after his sacrifice was looked unfavorably by God. The psychodynamics that leads to the breakdown or loss of empathy can be concealed and creep into every aspect of life, even or more so in religion. In the case of our church, WO, which makes it crucial that our church leaders resolve this issue once and for all. Would they come through or will they disappoint and show they have lost their ability to empathize? There is no biblical principle involved in this issue but a reflection of human frailties instead. This is the question facing the 2017 Annual Council.

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i think there has to be a reasonable compromise…for instance, canada, and every other developed country, has found a way to have fewer guns, and guess what: there are fewer gun crimes…of course there are some gun crimes, but we don’t have anything like the constant cycle of mass shootings you have…

i think it just stands to reason that if you impose some limits on access, you’re going to have fewer guns…and if you have fewer guns, you’re going to have fewer gun crimes…it’s a no brainer…

of course restricting access doesn’t affect mentally unstable individuals…for instance, stephen paddock would have been stephen paddock, with the same intent with a machete that he had with a bump stocked AR-15…but guess which kind of weapon access would have resulted in vastly fewer, if any, deaths and injuries…hint: it isn’t bump stocked AR-15 access…

i just think extreme arguments, like totalitarian regimes taking everybody’s guns away and the destruction of the 2nd amendment, obscures a perception of reasonable measures that can be taken…in any case, does today mirror colonial america, where militias were necessary for defense because there wasn’t an organized police force or a standing army…does any private citizen today need to worry about being unable to protect himself from a sudden invasion of british soldiers…would the founding fathers have passed the second amendment in today’s society, where there are many police forces, not to mention the largest, most sophisticated military the world has ever seen…

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Yes, restricting access doesn’t affect the mentally unstable individuals. Yet, gun laws, by definition, only restricts access by/to the law-abiding citizen. The criminal will, always, find a way to have access to weapons.

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Logic would suggest that even if you have a bumpstop modified AR-15 by the time you recognize that you are under threat by a similarly equipped shooter with even a rudimentary aim you will be the recipient of 10 rounds. Interestingly there is a strong correlate between postgraduate education and lack of gun ownership suggesting that the logic of firearms as protection, the most commonly cited reason for gun ownership is indeed illogical. It is surprising to me that Adventists who would perhaps fete Desmond Doss for his position on using guns in a position where one could argue that protection was paramount would advocate so strongly for universal arming of the citizenry.

I will stick with historical Adventism and its pacifist position as both Christian and logical.

Hi, Groucho–

I too am in favor of repealing the 2nd amendment. No doubt our forefathers wrote it clearly and in a way that was relevant to their situation, but I believe the US has outgrown it. Our military-industrial complex supplies weapons to government that the individual, or a militia of individuals with their personal weapons, would not be able to resist. Our population and societal conditions have outstripped the imagination of our forefathers as well.

I don’t follow your suggestion that “only the government and the criminals will have guns” in such a case. Why is that? The Bill of Rights includes no right, for example, to own or drive a car.

I would love to hear the arguments. What would you say in favor and against gun licensing, safety features (“smart guns”), unlicensed carry, etc., if we were NOT superstitiously compelled to hold all such arguments in the shadow of the Second Amendment–that towering relic of a bygone culture, that artifact that many American Adventists seem to regard as somehow sacred?

Margaret