We have reached a crossroads. Call it the juncture of Guns and Glory. Find it, fittingly, in the south.
In one direction we see grief-stricken survivors of the massacre at South Carolina’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, who arise from the blood around them to address their attacker with tears and forgiveness.
Pointing down another road is Arkansas’s former governor and current presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, who finds sorrow in the fact that no one in the kind congregation was carrying a concealed weapon, so as to have been able to shoot down the assassin.
Survivors of the shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church have already shown us the higher road, even as tears streamed down their faces. They spoke of all they had lost in one man’s outburst of hate. They stood in shock, stricken by brutal betrayal at the hands of one they’d befriended. Yet, when hate came to them they did not return it.
I suspect that, having suffered much, as that church has, it sees forgiveness not only as a mission, but as a mandate for social health. Having taken to heart the words, “Be not afraid,” they armed themselves with prompt forgiveness.
Huckabee, a minister, on the other hand, would lead us down a lower road. His call is for weaponry of the kind the killer used. His response would be armament concealed on — rather than in — a person.
I have seen Huckabee display greatness of spirit. He has that capacity. So did Orval Faubus. But when the chance comes to play to fear, both have proven willing. In matters like the church shooting, I imagine that Huckabee, like most of us, recalls horrific acts, great and small, committed by one human against another, and reflexively jumps to the gun.
We think of the undefended Warsaw ghetto, of the attempt to kill President Reagan, of children gunned down in schools, or of someone we know who was senselessly attacked and killed. We confront such events and our inner guardians cry out for defense.
Which is not unreasonable. What is does not make sense is that, like the extremists we fear, we Americans have weaponized ourselves into a state that is proving our destruction. We have industrialized our fears and hammered out our responses to them in hard, body-piercing metal.
Nor are we alone. The whole world stands at this crossroads. Civilizations and faiths grew up together, learning from and inspiring each other in ways to move beyond the butchery that has marked so much of human history. The effort allowed us to advance in agriculture, law, science and art, but that advance moves in fits and starts and its future is by no means assured.
At every critical juncture, someone, finally, must lay down arms so stability can return. Often the answer is simply to not pick them up in the first place because, really, who at Emanuel Church would have been safer if someone had, as Huckabee suggests, opted to return fire?
Emanuel Church, wounded and suffering, must now ask itself hard questions about how guarded it will become. I don’t know how it will answer. But, based on what we have seen, I believe it understands that it will cease to be the great refuge it has been for so long if it now surrounds itself with wire, erects a gate at the parking lot, pushes guests through metal detectors and urges congregants to pack concealed weapons.
We all face questions like those now before Emanuel. Life leads to crossroads aplenty. At this one, where Huckabee calls for yet more destruction, I choose to walk with Mother Emanuel.