THE BLOG
05/28/2014 04:32 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

Be a Witness

In John 3:11 Jesus says: "We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen," in response to a question of how we can be born from above or as we would say today, saved.

Sometimes as religious leaders, it seems that all we can do is testify, at its best that means to say the way things are is not the way they have to be. We can be saved.

That can be truly annoying at times. In general I don't respond to the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons at my door or in the subway stations, but I can respect why they do it. Their goal is to tell you the story of the transformative nature of faith in their lives in such an irresistible way that you want to join them.

Well, I'm here to testify.

After Sandy Hook, Aurora and Columbine, Colorado and, last week, UCSB -- my first thought was to want to get to that town to support my brothers and sisters trying to be faithful priests in that place. As local ministers, they were as stunned and shaken as the rest of the community, and yet they opened the doors of their churches, organized vigils and counseling and held up to media and politicians for weeks, forcing us to keep our eyes on the tragedy. They painfully point us to both perpetrator and victims as fully human and devastated. They call us to reconciliation and healing when we wanted to rage or flee. Their work is the nurturing our humanity at the very moment it has been defiled. They call us to our salvation.

They are right to respond and call everyone to his or her best selves in times like this.

And, as the list of sites of shooting rampages in this country grows, we would be foolish not to organize ourselves, you and I, the witnesses, for change. Legislation and gun buy back programs in other nations have reduced gun violence significantly. Why not here? Because the NRA tells us we do not see what we see, our American-ness is caught up in being armed, and we believe them.

There are other more recent examples of how a gun culture can change through legislation, but I am picking Australia because they are culturally a lot like us -- sun burned cowboys like we are in our imaginations.

In 1996, 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a gunman in Port Arthur, Australia. He had acquired military style weapons and ammunition easily, if not legally. You can read about it here and here.

After a decade of what appeared to be an epidemic of these kinds of incidents, the then newly elected, conservative government under the leadership of Prime Minister John Howard put the pieces in place to end it, and it has seemingly worked. Interestingly, suicide rates as well as homicide rates are down. There is no uptick in the kinds of crimes we are told by the NRA we need to arm ourselves against. It actually seems to be going the other way. They are safer overall as a people -- and they still ride their horses and look rakish and tough while shopping. We can do this.

As priests, we stand at our doors ready when storms hit or disasters have come. When they subside it is also our task, we, who witness, to make sure there isn't something we could do to avoid the same tragedy again. Sometimes it is just a one off, like a super storm or hurricane, although there seems to have been more done to protect the city I live in from the next unpredictable storm, than has been done to protect our students.

There would have been death in Goleta last week, even without guns, but maybe fewer. Our tradition teaches us that one life is worth our ultimate effort. That is what we mean by sacred.

As Christians we cannot justify the support of an industry that makes machines whose sole purpose is to kill. Recreational killing for sport or the collection of memorabilia is interesting, I guess, but how is it that these are considered greater goods than the lives that are devastated by the state of gun manufacturing and sale in this nation? Guns are not the same as a medicine, a car, or my very good kitchen knife, which have other intended purposes and might be misused to kill, but are not designed to do so. Guns are for killing.

The next time I come knocking on your door, it will be to bear witness to this truth and to ask you to support laws to limit gun ownership.