Wayne LaPierre Sent Me a Nice Letter: Here's My Reply

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Dear Wayne LaPierre,

Thank you for your very nice letter welcoming me to the NRA. I didn’t expect a letter from you, since you’re quite the celebrity these days, but it was a nice touch.

You suggested that I carry my NRA member card with pride, and I can promise you that I am carrying it. I have it in my wallet. However, you also said that the card “symbolizes what you stand for as an American,” and I wanted to state that, actually, it doesn’t.

As an American, I love my country and the people who live in it. I think we have a unique Constitutional system, and I am proud of the Bill of Rights, in particular. Even though I will never own a weapon, I understand that the Second Amendment protects an American’s right to “bear arms,” though I don’t think I understand that phrase the same way you do. I’m OK with that; I’m not trying to pry your weapons out of your hands.

But I don’t think the freedom to own any weapon you or I want is “what I stand for as an American.” I’m more persuaded by the line in the Declaration of Independence that says all Americans have an inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately, the current gun freedom in this country threatens the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of millions of people.

You also said that the card means “that (I’m) a member of a family of patriots who make NRA the most powerful defender of freedom in America today.” Again, I take issue with this statement. I know that you’re biased, since you’re the executive vice president and all, but there are lots of organizations out there defending freedoms and rights that currently aren’t being recognized in our country, like Amnesty International, ACLU, and the Human Rights Campaign. This might just be some exaggerated bravado, and again, that’s OK.

But we also apparently have different definitions of “freedom.” I don’t believe that owning a gun has anything to do with freedom. In fact, as long as you carry a gun (except to use in hunting or sport), you’re not free; rather, you’re in bondage to the belief that violence can be defeated with violence.

You’re fond of saying that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but Mr. LaPierre, that’s a dangerous thing to say. It suggests that people can easily be divided between good and bad, and that you can tell quickly by looking. Ah, but the truth is that we all are both good and bad.

Furthermore, as I have already pointed out, the so-called “freedom” of Dylann Roof, Nikolas Cruz, and Stephen Paddock, to name only a few, was not any type of freedom for their 84 victims.

There is one thing I do agree with in your letter. You said that you need me now more than ever before. “Your voice, your activism, and your votes are how we’ll save freedom … I look forward to hearing from you and getting to know you better in the weeks and months ahead.”

So true, Mr LaPierre. I look forward to that very much, too.

Sincerely,

Wes Magruder

 

More Thoughts and Prayers? Hell Yeah!

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Let’s revisit the #ThoughtsandPrayers meme that has been circulating on social media recently.

Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating to hear politicians offer nothing but “thoughts and prayers” every time a mass shooting occurs. Because it’s shorthand for “I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m not going to do anything about gun legislation.”

And yes, it’s infuriating when the NRA offers nothing but “thoughts and prayers” and then shifts the blame for a shooting to something other than the fact that assault-style guns are easily available.

If #ThoughtsandPrayers is nothing but a weak and anemic response to a culture of gun violence, then I am also not a fan; we all want real action. If the Parkland, Florida shooting has done nothing else, it’s sparked an immense backlash against the NRA and the politicians who are in their pocket. It’s possible that real action will result, thanks to the teens of Parkland and the rest of America.

But let’s not throw prayer under the bus. I fear that the act of praying has been unfairly caricatured as a measly response to tragedy and injustice. Prayer is too often seen as something done after the fact and after the accident; it’s viewed as something you do for the patient, the victim, the one who is suffering. We think of God as the cosmic 9-1-1 operator: “Send help, please!” Or God is the Great Hospital Chaplain in the Sky: “Don’t let my friend die!”

Don’t get me wrong; prayer can be a source of great comfort and help in time of distress. The Psalmist often cried out to God in moments of terror, pleading for his life.

But that’s not the only function or purpose of prayer, people! Prayer can be a revolutionary, counter-cultural act of resistance to the powers that be! Prayer can -- and should -- be a rousing call to action in the name of the God of justice! I just don’t think we know how to do it right … at least not yet.

The baptismal vows of the United Methodist Church include the promise to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world … accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” How do we go about doing that sort of thing? Well, it starts with prayer — I’m convinced of that.

Not a namby-pamby sort of prayer, not the kind of stuff we typically do in a church sanctuary, not merely repeating the Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary. No, there’s a kind of prayer that is stronger and more durable than this. It’s prayer that might more accurately be called “spiritual warfare” though I shy away from this term because of its connections to a brand of Christianity that I resist.

What I’m saying is that a proper Christian response to the evil of gun violence in America would include a healthy dose of aggressive, passionate, forceful prayer.

I’m reminded of the time Jesus came down from the mountain after being transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John. Upon reaching the rest of the disciples, he discovered that they had been unsuccessfully trying to cast a demon out of a young boy. The father complained to Jesus: “I spoke to your disciples to see if they could throw it out, but they couldn’t.”

After expressing a bit of frustration with his so-called followers, Jesus healed the boy. Then his disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?”

Jesus replied, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer” (Mark 9:14-29, Common English Bible). (A number of early manuscripts also included “and fasting” to the end of the verse.)

The point is that there are some things that we are asked to do that require something stronger than wishes, thoughts, and actions — they need prayer. Prayer is a forceful appeal to God that the will of God be done; in so far as we know that God desires shalom for the world, then we know what God’s will is. We know that God does not desire that children be shot and killed by other children. We know that God does not want our country to be awash with guns so that one’s life is always in danger. We know that, in God’s eyes, every person’s life is full of value, worth, and dignity.

Thus, we can move out forcefully with prayer on our lips and in our feet and in our hands. Don’t forget that Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt with prayer in his mouth; that Elijah defeated the priests of Baal on the mountaintop with prayer in his mouth; that Jesus faced arrest in the garden of Gethsemane with prayer in his mouth; that the civil rights leaders of the 20th century in the American south led every march with prayers spoken and sung.

And it was prayer that brought down the Berlin Wall. The pastor of a small parish church in Leipzig, East Germany, named Christian Fuhrer, held weekly Monday evening prayer services, which he called “Prayers for Peace,” beginning in 1982. In 1985, he began advertising that the services were “Open To All.” The weekly services began to swell as a kind of protest against the oppressive regime.

By 1989, the government began to exert pressure against the church, Pastor Fuhrer, and the people who attended the prayers. On October 7, 1989, hundreds of people were arrested outside the church. The Communist Party announced that on Monday, October 9, people who gathered to pray would be countered “with whatever means necessary.”

On the evening of Oct. 9, over 8,000 people crowded into the church to pray, in defiance of the authorities. Other churches in Leipzig opened their doors to hold the overflowing crowds, which some estimated at 70,000. At the end of the service, Pastor Fuhrer opened the doors of the church and led the congregation outside to march through the streets, but fearful that the police and soldiers would open fire.

But they didn’t attack. Pastor Führer said later, “They had nothing to attack for. East German officials would later say they were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.”

Exactly one month later, the Berlin Wall fell, and the fearsome divide between East and West was finished.

Here’s the lesson of that story — the powers-that-be really are ready for anything, except candles and prayer. They are ready for riots and violence and clubs and guns. They are ready for bloodshed and broken bones. But they absolutely tremble before people who are so radical as to require nothing but a candle and a prayer for peace.

I think we need more of THAT kind of prayer. Who’s with me?