The consequences of our 'morally inclement climate'

Tue, Jul 9th 2019 11:00 am

On May 31 of this year, an apparently disgruntled employee entered a municipal building in Virginia Beach where he worked and began shooting with the two silencer-equipped handguns he had brought in. When it was over, 12 people lay dead, many were critically injured, and he had been fatally shot as well.

In response to the shooting, Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said, "This shooting reminds us yet again that something is fundamentally broken in our society and culture when ordinary workplaces can become scenes of violence and contempt for human life. As Americans we must deeply examine why these horrific occurrences of gun violence continue to take place in our communities, in order to root out the causes of such evils."

Of course, it's not just workplace shootings that occur in our country. As we celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we were reminded that as of March 6, more Americans died in shooting deaths this year than those who lost their lives during the invasion of Normandy. And every day 100 Americans are killed with guns. One hundred per day.

The arguments for stricter gun laws are compelling, and have been part of Catholic teaching for quite some time. But even more important, perhaps, is the question raised by Bishop Dewane. We must deeply examine why this gun violence continues in order to root out the causes of this evil.

Maybe it starts with our examination of the level of hostility, anger, rage and violence that occurs in our society. This is not a new problem, not something that has just popped up in the last few years.

In 1963, in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King said that as important as the question of who killed the president might be, an even more important question is WHAT killed the president. His conclusion was that he was assassinated by a "morally inclement climate."

King went on to say, "It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder."

We have to heed Bishop Dewane's words and examine the causes of this violence in order to root out this evil. And we have to be willing to start conversations about why we glamorize violence and war, why we condone "disagreeable" speech - especially on social media - why we endorse rage and anger as political principles. We have to be willing to look at the Beatitudes not as "suggestions" or ideals for saints, but as actual commands from Jesus on how to live.

We each might have to promote this conversation in our families, in our schools, in our communities, and especially in our churches. And it is a conversation that has to happen not just among the laity, but with the leadership of the clergy. I remember a provocative article I read a couple of years ago entitled, "When was the last time you heard a homily on gun violence?" And if not gun violence in particular, at least a homily about the anger, prejudice and self-centeredness that lead to violence.

Our Christian call is to speak out against violence and all of the factors that lead to the evil in our culture. Otherwise, each of us is complicit in the "morally inclement climate" we live in.
Deacon Don is the diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services and can be reached at   

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