Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Whose Sin is it Anyway?

There has already been much discussion on the Virginia Tech Shootings that happened this Monday. Along with so many others, I was shocked, disheartened, and very, very saddened at this news. My first thought at hearing the story on the radio was concern for my neighbor three doors down whose son is a student at Tech. My second thought was about my seminary classmate and prayer partner who is a pastor in the neighboring town of Christiansburg and whose congregants include Hokies. And then my mind went racing, trying to take the story in and sort it out.

You've probably already read and heard and seen more about this than you can possibly absorb - so please forgive me for jumping in the fray but I just can't help myself on this one. I have to get something off my chest on this topic:

So far I've repeatedly heard two perspectives on the "why did this happen?" question that have my blood boiling. The first is that this is a gun-control issue. The second is that this is an issue of the path of sin that the young man who did the shootings has chosen to walk down.

If you believe that either of these issues is at the heart of the matter, then you are in good company. Even my own bishop, whom I deeply respect and admire, has made the "gun control" case on the Newsweek "On Faith" Blog. Dear Bishop, I respectfully disagree.

And just next to his post is another viewpoint by a respected (I think, I don't know him) Christian leader, Rod Parsley. His take is that "What we saw Monday morning is nothing less and nothing other than the result of one young man’s sin." Again, I disagree.

My perspective? There is a much deeper issue here - actually two issues - than either gun control or the sin of one young man. Those two issues are:

1. The failure of the church in effectively sharing the Good News of Hope that Jesus offers; and,

2. The failure of the human society that stigmatizes the real problem of mental illness.

Let me start with #2. Here are the facts:

  • Mental illness is more prevalent than cancer and heart disease combined

  • Mental illness occurs on a spectrum of severity and persistence

  • A conservative estimate of the number of homeless people with mental illness is 70%

  • We balance our state budgets on the backs of those who are least able to advocate for themselves: those with mental illness - in other words we severely underfund their care

  • There are as many people on the waiting list for mental health services - sometimes twice as many - as there are people who are currently receiving services

  • People with severe and persistent mental illness are not usually able to recognize the fact that they are mentally ill
Cho Seung Hui had been referred for counseling by an astute professor. He did not seek out help. And yet, there are multiple reports from those who recognized that he was a disturbed young man. If he had been vomiting blood, don't you think someone would have taken him to the emergency room or at least called his parents? And yet, with all the signs of persistent mental illness there, no one was able to help him. Why? Because there are no procedures, no policies, no easily discernable safety nets in our society for those with mental illness.

This is not the sin of one young man who chose a path of disobedience to God.

This is OUR SIN.

And what of the church? Have we been the shining city on the hill offering with clarity and charity the Good News of Hope in Resurrection Life? Well....maybe...sometimes....sort of. Here's the deal: Jesus didn't maybe...sometimes...sort of set an example for us. God in Christ came to us to suffer with us, to walk alongside us, to offer healing - physical, spiritual and mental to those whom he encountered. Jesus clearly said that the man was born blind (John 9), not as a result of his parents' sin, but as a matter of the human condition of living in an imperfect world - and as a chance for God's mercy and glory to shine through him. And what Jesus did was to heal him.

The church is the mystical body of Christ empowered by God to offer healing and health to a world on edge. When are we going to step out of our sin and really BE THE CHURCH? Not maybe...sometimes...sort of - but really. When are we going to freely give of ourselves in such a way that the Good News is clear and comprehendable?

We certainly won't get there by fighting about sexuality, worship styles, or even gun control. We have to give freely of ourselves. We have to share the stories of faith. We have to love the least (Matthew 25:31-40) and stand against the powers of this world that would have us do otherwise.

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