All monotheistic (and some polytheistic) religions have an admonishment about worshipping false idols.
I cannot help but think of that right now. Because, as a nation, our unwillingness to confront unchecked gun violence and put our children before our guns makes me think that we must be worshipping false idols.
There are numerous religious leaders who have, rightly, taken up the call to lay down our arms and treat gun violence like the national health epidemic that it is. The largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S. appointed a minister of gun violence — the Rev. Deanna Hollas — just last week. But my grief about this week’s gun violence prompted my return to a panel discussion I attended recently about the ways in which gun culture in the U.S. now closely resembles its own religion.
The scholars of the sociology of religion on the panel (three white men), pointed out that guns have their own Scripture (Second Amendment), flagship church (National Rifle Association), Sunday school (firearms training, gun shows, competitive shooting), liturgy (gun safety rules). The American treatment of guns in the current moment is more than a fetishization, they said, more than a cult, it has become a religion in its own right.
They discussed the moral order that the church of the gun believes itself to exist to protect: A mythology of whiteness and masculinity and a particular notion of women and family. As a result neither gender nor race can be readily separated from the church of the gun.
They made a compelling case. Their research seemed to bear out their points, especially about race and gender. Gender being my primary interest, I asked: “Given that these are men interested in protecting a particular idea of family, isn’t Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — an advocacy organization created and advanced by women with the express notion of protecting children and families — uniquely poised to counter this ideology and mythology and, therefore, make headway on this issue?”
Three white men demurred. Two had no response at all. One waved his hand dismissively. “They’re not really all that organized. Or that much of a force ...” He trailed off, looked around the room, and took another question. The scholar’s pivot.
That interaction has stuck with me ever since.
The panel had a gender (male). The so-called “church of the gun” has a dominant gender (male). Religious leaders, in general, have a gender (male). Most monotheistic understandings of God offer a gender (male). The most recent shooters have a gender (male). The vast majority of all the mass shooters are (white) male. Most have a history of violence against women.
Meanwhile, the largest, most organized, most effective countervailing force around gun violence right now is Moms Demand Action, whether the men on the manel want to admit it or not. It is not a coincidence that their group’s name is also gendered and deeply connotative of family and the protection that women provide to children as mothers. The group is not composed entirely of women or even mothers, but its leadership and voices are. They take their cues from a long history of women taking action, of mothers recognizing danger and working to stop it. So often groups of women effectuate profound change in the face of violence. Argentina (Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo). El Salvador (CoMADRES). Liberia (Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace).
After the mass shooting in El Paso (and, tragically, before the mass shooting in Dayton), members of Moms Demand Action flooded into Lafayette Park across from the White House. An impromptu protest. A clear show of strength. A demonstration that they will protect American children and families, even if our lawmakers won’t, in ways that men with guns can’t.