Children Dying Needlessly

That our children continue to die needlessly
from gun violence must call us to action.

Marquis Hudson, a nine-year-old boy, was killed in his aunt’s living room in Nashville recently when someone fired a gun blindly through the door. It’s outrageous, but there really wasn’t that much public outrage, at least, not enough as I see it. No comment from the mayor, no clergyperson calling for an end to senseless violence, no large group taking to the streets to reclaim the neighborhood. Apparently it’s all been said and done, to no avail. And so, children continue to die.

I wonder if we have become so accustomed to gun violence that the killing of children in this country, even in a southern city of hospitable gentility like Nashville, is no longer cause for outrage. Is a child gunned down so frequently in this nation that we no longer believe we can prevent it? Have we become so enamored with the idea that life is all about individuals that we’ve lost our understanding of community responsibility?

In our better thoughts we know community makes a difference. I was moved to tears during the baptism of an infant in our local church recently, in part, because the parents and their families movingly displayed deep and obvious affection in their commitment to each other and the children in their care. But where I choked is at these words of congregational response: We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in trust of God, and be found faithful in service to others. We will pray for him, that he may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.

In contrast, however, adding to the sorry tale of Marquis’ death, his funeral was interrupted by fisticuffs between two men over the appropriateness of a T-shirt one wore memorializing the child. Fearing more gun violence, the funeral director removed the child’s body to the graveside where he was buried, his eulogy never delivered.

But let’s not say there’s nothing we can do. We can stop undermining public education every chance we get and pay taxes to support public schools instead of creating private academies that only the affluent can afford. We can adequately fund Headstart and other services for economically disadvantaged children. We can support job training and a living wage. We can advocate for health care for all, and open community-based health clinics for low-income persons in local churches. We can support the Benefit Bank initiative by the National Council of Churches that seeks to connect poor people with benefits to improve their economic and health status. We can study economic policies that affect all of us around the globe and find ways to change those that don’t benefit the common good. Both the NCC and Sojourners offer helpful guides. The Children’s Defense Fund offers both background information and analysis about actions we can take to create this community of concern for all children.

We can question the assumption that poverty is a product of individual initiative, unrelated to policies and practices that exploit the poor and working poor and that result in tax cuts that benefit the affluent and undercut working people and those trapped in poverty. We can at least hear and stand with the police chiefs of nearly every city in the country when they tell us hand guns need to be controlled.

And perhaps every mainline denomination should commit itself to opening a storefront church, partnering with an urban congregation or opening a multipurpose center in a neglected neighborhood for every new suburban church they plant.

As moving and important as it is, It’s not enough to commit ourselves to one child on Sunday morning. Our words will ring hollow when the next child is shot dead, and the next, until we truly surround all children with a community of love so they may walk in the way that leads to life.

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