Monthly Archives: December 2012

So, How Do We Prevent Mass Murders?

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the...

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the USA by state in 2004. “Violent crime” includes Homicide, rape, robbery and serious assault. >100-200 >200-300 >300-400 >400-500 >500-600 >600-700 >700-800 >800 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet another horrendous mass murder occurred yesterday. Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old male (I hate to refer to him as a “man,” although state and federal laws have to draw the line somewhere) killed his mother, then went to the elementary school where she worked and opened fire on students and staff. By the time the massacre ended, twenty small children (first grade and younger, I believe) were dead, along with six adults at the school, the young man’s mother, and finally himself (he committed suicide, which is how most mass murders end).

Already, politicians are calling for stricter gun control laws. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wanna-be-dictator of New York City, has already jumped into the fray demanding stricter gun laws. Ordinary citizens have flooded the White House with petitions for stronger gun control laws. I have to admit, it is hard to avoid getting passionate when you see news like this. After all, the deaths of 20 children in the first-grade age range hits all of us personally. Mothers and fathers think of their own children at times like this. As a grandfather, I could not help but think that, in three years, my son and his wife will be entrusting my oldest grandson to a school. Teachers and school employees see their own students in the eyes of these victims. We have all loved a child in this age gap.

Yet I have to ask, is gun control the answer? I know some of my less-religious friends may find this to be a contradiction in terms, but this man of faith demands evidence. Facts matter to me: Ideas and concepts must be backed up by data.

I compared data from two websites this morning. The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence posts a state-by-state gun-control scorecard at http://www.bradycampaign.org/stategunlaws/ (you can download the PDF summary by going to the headline, “Brady State Scorecard Reviews Gun Laws Across the U.S.” and going to the link to “Click here to download state rankings”). I also found a comparison of violent-crime rates by state at the US Census Bureau’s website. Although these sites provide data from different years, this is a starting point for discussion. The most violent states will usually stay pretty violent, and the states with the most lenient gun-control laws will usually not be too quick to clamp down on gun rights.

I kept my study pretty simple. I compared the ten states with the strictest gun laws with the ten whose laws were most lenient, taking a look at the violent crime numbers. Here are a few of my observations:

  1. Connecticut, where the most recent mass shooting occurred, was ranked fifth in terms of gun-control legislation.
  2. The ten states with the strictest gun-control laws had an average of 422.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The ten states with the most lenient laws had an average of 378.4.
  3. The three states with highest crime rates (South Carolina, Tennessee, and Nevada) fell near the middle of the pack in terms of gun-control legislation. South Carolina and Tennessee were tied for 20th (ignore the fact that the Brady Campaign’s PDF says they were tied for 22nd; one should calculate these rankings from the top down, not the bottom up), while Nevada was tied for 28th.
  4. Although not ranked with the states, the District of Columbia had almost twice as much violent crime as any state. I believe it also has very strict gun-control laws. It also has a lot of politicians. This leads me to believe that we should pass a law banning politicians.
  5. Two of the three states with the lowest crime rates (Vermont and Maine) also fell near the middle of the pack. North Dakota (49th in violent crime) had some of the most lenient gun control laws (in a six-way tie for 42nd).
  6. California had the strictest gun laws and the 14th-highest crime rate. Utah had the most lenient laws and was 45th in crime rate.

To draw a thorough conclusion, a more thorough study of the numbers would be needed; this is only a beginning. But, it leads me to believe that both the gun-control advocates (who say that stricter gun laws will solve our crime problems) and the gun-rights supporters (who think an armed population will immediately reduce crime) are not completely accurate. The data slightly favors gun-rights supporters, but even that does not solve the problem.

I would be interested in seeing studies comparing other cultural and demographic trends with violent crime. What about religious involvement? Divorce rates (Adam Lanza was from a broken home, and countless statistics show that children of divorce face greater social challenges than those who grow up in two-family households) are worth looking at. So are economic factors (if I had more time, I would be interested in finding violent crime rates since the recession began). I believe that some or all of these factors, as well as a host of others I did not mention, are more closely intertwined with violent crime than gun-control legislation is.

I am reminded once again of the Scripture that says, “[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV). As I have written before, our nation’s greatest problems lack a political solution, since they are, at their root, spiritual maladies. The gun itself is a tool: It can be used to protect our families, to hunt for dinner, for recreation, or to kill innocent children. The degree of wickedness in a person’s soul determines whether he or she will use that tool for evil. As long as that wickedness prevails, the sinner will find a way to achieve his or her goals. Only a transformation of the heart, by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, will eradicate sin. Therein lies the solution, and our politicians are unable to offer that.

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Categories: Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness

The Church of Jesus Christ prints both a large...

Having correct beliefs about God demands that we recognize false teachings about Him, such as those taught by churches that do not accept the historic tenets of the faith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).

The above passage is one of the familiar passages that we use to teach about the inspiration of Scripture. The King James Bible phrases it as “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (hence, the theological term “divine inspiration of Scripture”), whereas the ESV translates it more literally, “breathed out by God.” The image depicts the words of the Bible being exhaled from the lips of God.

It is important that we avoid the temptation to simply focus on the fact that God breathed forth these words. Paul tells his young protegé, and us, that God breathed these words forth for a reason. God wants us to learn from His word. This learning is both doctrinal and practical, covering what we both should and should not believe and do. God wants us to know what to believe, and what not to believe; what to do, and what not to do.

Teaching indicates what we need to know. The New Testament teaches that we receive eternal life by believing in Jesus:

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  • “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

There are certain teachings that are essential to salvation. There are things God wants us to know. I hate to be divisive with other Christians, so I do not reject a professed believer over purely denominationally distinctive doctrines. Accepting other believers who adhere only to your own church’s official statement of faith borders on cultism. Yet, we have to believe in the right Jesus. We have to adhere to certain biblical truths. Since the early centuries of Christian history, the key doctrines of the faith have been best described by the ancient creeds: The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed are the most familiar. While these creeds do not include every important teaching of Scripture, they are an important starting point. Any church that disagrees with these core teachings cannot truly be considered “Christian.” (I know some believers take offense at the statement, “I believe in … the holy catholic church.” However, the word “catholic” here should be taken in its original meaning of “universal,” indicating that there is one true worldwide body of Christ.)

The “flip side” of teaching would be correction. If teaching is the presentation and definition of truth, correction is exposing error. Again, we need to avoid the temptation to mark everybody as a false believer if they do not share all of our beliefs. Yet, there are some core teachings. If Jesus is truly God in human flesh, and the “fullness of deity dwells bodily in Him” (Colossians 2:9), then He is not merely a nice guy and great teacher who showed us that we can all be gods (He is not some sort of New Age guru). If He was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), we cannot claim that He sinned. If He died on the cross and rose on the third day, we cannot claim that He just swooned during the crucifixion and awoke from a long nap on Sunday morning. If the Bible tells us that we are appointed to die once, and then face a final judgment (Hebrews 9:27), a Christian cannot believe in reincarnation.

In addition to instruction about correct and incorrect belief, the Bible gives us instruction about correct and incorrect behavior. It has to reprove us when we sin. Passages like Ephesians 5:3-20 point out a plethora of sins: adultery, fornication, covetousness, etc. The list can go on and on. God forgives our sins, but He does not shrug about them. He cares deeply that we do His will. That means, we have to avoid doing things contrary to His will.

Along with the negative (what not to do), the Bible gives us specific instruction about things we should do as children of God. This does not mean we do these things to become Christians, or to become children of God. Rather, because we are His children, God gives us training in righteousness. He shows us how to resist temptation, pray, worship. He gives countless examples of ways that we can tell others about Jesus or serve others.

I realize every one of these items could be addressed in greater detail. I made no attempt to give an exhaustive teaching on correct and incorrect doctrine (this would require an in-depth systematic theology textbook, which usually runs about 1500 or more pages). Nor could I cover all examples of godly and sinful living.

However, as we read the Bible, we should look at it from this perspective. What is God trying to tell me? What is He trying to teach me about Himself, or myself, or the world He created? What sinful behaviors or bad habits is He pointing out in my life? What false beliefs is He seeking to correct? What should I be doing as a beloved child of God? Ask these questions whenever you approach God’s Word, and He will reveal His truth to you.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Getting Ready

After Superstorm Sandy

After Superstorm Sandy (Photo credit: NJ Tech Teacher)

 But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36, NASB).

Life here on Long Island took some unexpected twists over the last five weeks. On October 29, Hurricane Sandy (aka “Superstorm Sandy” or “Frankenstorm”) slammed into the northeastern coastline, inflicting unprecedented damage on Long Island, New York City, New Jersey, and surrounding areas. For decades, residents have been warned to make the necessary preparations for such a natural disaster: buy enough nonperishable food and bottled water, fill your cars with gas, and so on. This time, many of us were urged to evacuate.

Most Long Islanders–myself included–do not take these warnings seriously. I made a few minor preparations; I bought some bottled water, batteries for flashlights and a radio, and some food. But, it seemed silly to waste time at a gas pump; after all, I was sure there would be gas stations open after the storm, and I had half a tank left. This, however, proved to be a hard lesson. Be prepared: Today may not be the day, but eventually those preparations will be necessary.

It did not take too long before I regretted my apathy about gasoline. Automobile fuel became a precious commodity in the days after the storm, as lines at gas stations were often eight or more hours long (yes, we measured them in hours). Sometimes, people would spend hours in a gas line, only to find the station had nothing to offer.

While my house did not lose power or other utilities for any significant amount of time, many of my friends learned the value of those other preparations. About 90% of Long Islanders lost electricity for at least one day, and in some communities running water or sewer service were lacking. I feel sorry for those who chose to stay, and did not buy bottled water or adequate food.

Luke 21 reminds us that we need to be ready for Christ’s return. Luke 21:36 warns us to stay awake, or be alert, at all times, so that we are always ready for the return of the Lord. Jesus warned us not to be weighed down by “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life” (Luke 21:34). It is tempting to allow the things of this world (both the good and the bad, the necessities and luxuries of life) to weigh us down and distract us from Him. However, the times when we are most distracted, or Christ seems most unnecessary, are the times when we need to be most ready to spend time with Him.

Advent is a time when we can be most prepared or most distracted. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has given way to the maniacal materialism of “Black Friday” and “holiday shopping.” After weeks of abundant charity in the Long Island area, people are resuming their normal lives, which is not always a good thing.

While the world calls us to stores and sales, Christians need to focus more on the coming of the Lord, and His current abiding presence in our lives. That is the message of Advent, as we await the joyous celebration of Christmas. Let us not be swept away by the storm of secularism and materialism as we await the celebration of the coming of Christ.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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