Monday, August 26, 2013

Antoinette Tuff’s weapon of the spirit: How compassion stopped a gunman

A brilliant essay, that appeared in the Washington Post, by Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, Professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary:

'Our weapons are not carnal, they are spiritual.’ This biblical lesson is found in 2 Corinthians. This week, it can also be learned at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school outside of Atlanta.

Antoinette Tuff, the school clerk at McNair, is being credited with averting another horrific school shooting. Tuff met the gunman as he entered the school building, and listened to him say “he didn’t have any reason to live, and he knew he was going to die today.” She chose not to meet violence with violence, but spoke compassionately to the gunman, identifying with his pain and loneliness, a feeling she shared that she had as well after she separated from her husband of 33 years. She encouraged the gunman not to give in to despair.

Tuff used the “weapons of the spirit,” not a gun to stop the gunman. “I give it all to God. I’m not the hero. I was terrified,” she said.

Spiritual strength and compassion were the weapons used here, not a physical gun.

Weapons of the spirit, not “carnal,” that is, physical weapons are what we need in life, according to the Bible.

That’s not the way the National Rifle Association sees things, however. In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the response of the NRA was to commission a report that recommended more guns in schools, not less, including training and arming “willing” teachers.

It should be remembered, and honored, that teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary gave their lives to protect students, and acted with wisdom and courage. It should also be remembered that Columbine HIgh School had an armed guard during the massacre in 1999.

There is no simple and easy solution to protecting our children in school, as well as in their homes and on the streets, in a society awash with guns.

What Antoinette Tuff’s actions show, however, is the power of spiritual compassion and the courage to live by it in word and deed.

I often ask myself, when we understand what a text like Corinthians is teaching, why isn’t gun control a “Christian” issue? Christian Evangelical Ellen Painter Dollar pondered just that question in a post, “For Christians, Gun Control Should Be a No-Brainer. Why Isn’t It?”

Unfortunately, Painter points out, “When it comes to gun violence, Christians too often either say nothing, or parrot a conservative political position embodied by the NRA and others.” That kind of attitude is, in fact, “nonsense” she writes. “Jesus was crystal clear on the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to violence, on whether arming ourselves with fists or swords or guns is the way to protect ourselves from fists and swords and guns. Nonviolence—turning the other cheek, keeping your sword in its scabbard even under threat, loving your enemy—is a centerpiece of Jesus’s gospel.

Nonviolence. Loving your enemy. That’s a spiritual perspective, drawn from scripture and taught by Antoinette Tuff with her spiritual courage.

An important lesson from this event is that instead of adding more guns to a society already reeling from gun violence, perhaps we should train our school personnel in compassionate and nonviolent communication.

Will such training stop every determined shooter? Of course not. That is why we need far better social policy on guns. Many groups support better policy, like “Moms Demand Action,” a group I support as a concerned mother, grandmother and citizen.

But part of ending the madness of our gun culture is helping to create a different culture, one of kindness instead of meanness.

So many of the great spiritual leaders the world honors, from Gandhi to Mother Teresa to Jesus to the Buddha to the Dalai Lama and more, taught the spirituality of compassion and nonviolence as the best way to end violence and increase peace.

As the Dalai Lama has said, “You must not hate those who do wrong or harmful things; but with compassion, you must do what you can to stop them — for they are harming themselves, as well as those who suffer from their actions.”

Weapons of the spirit can transform hate into compassion, and violence into peace.

See the difference?

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President at Chicago Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power.


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