Unity As a Response to Gun Violence
By: David Baak, Kaufman Volunteer
These have been several weeks of pain and deep division in our society, heightened by mass shootings and hundreds of protest marches, radically different interpretations of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and Congress, and, here in our own community, a traffic stop and homicide and the subsequent charge of murder by a police officer.
In that context of cultural dissonance, I looked up the Merriam-Webster definition of “unity.” The first listing is “Unity is the quality or state of not being multiple: ONENESS.” A second listing is “Unity is a condition of harmony: ACCORD.”
The first seems to me to be an aspirational goal, a “quality,” as it says, of complete agreement among whatever multiple parts there might be in a situation or event or group, a uniformity that does not leave much room for various facets or interpretations. It’s an ideal — pure, ambitious, desirable — and as a practical matter, unattainable.
On the other hand, the second meaning, “accord,” gives me hope, for it is about action; about how we respond to that situation or event or group. “A condition of harmony” allows for, even promotes, respecting diverse opinions while pursuing understanding, consensus and mutual action.
I think the latter shows clearly how an interfaith approach empowers our ability to bring a positive response to a painful, difficult or otherwise debilitating situation.
For such it is in our society today with gun violence. In whatever way we approach it, our U.S. reality of 400 million guns for 330 million people is related to both an incredible number of deaths and deep, painful, disagreement about the “what, whether, why, who, when” questions about both guns and people. Say “gun control” and the arguments start.
The Kaufman Interfaith Institute’s goal is harmony among differences and not uniformity. The interfaith approach is to gather people in a variety of ways around a range of issues in an arena that empowers both individual expression and group understanding.
People from many cultures, reflecting the religious and ethnic diversity of our community, have found each other across the “political polarization” divide, says Kaufman Associate Director Kyle Kooyers. “Faith communities can play a vital role in healing that divisiveness,” he asserts. While Kaufman steers clear of advocating direct political action, the very fact it continues to address social problems through a faith lens inevitably touches on politics.
“Anything where you’re engaging in people’s lived experience or life together as part of a city, that is a political conversation,” Kooyers says. “It’s just not partisan.”
The key to keeping the discussion nonpartisan, non-argumentative, nonjudgmental — and ultimately nonviolent — is to “change the culture,” as professor and author Eddie Glaude Jr. suggested in a TV commentary last Friday, moving toward “looking out for each other” rather than being stuck, selfishly demanding “Take away guns” or “Don’t take away my gun.”
What happens to the tone, and, ultimately, to the culture, if we shift from the vocabulary of “gun control” to “gun safety,” as was also suggested by a number of activists over these last few days?
Of course, it is a political issue. But the “safety” language pulls us beyond politics into a mutual interest that can free us up to move forward into preventative action; the latest tentative steps are being taken in the current congressional legislative approach. Even in the presence of so many guns and intense feelings on one side or the other, we all are interested and invested in the careful use, generally, of implements and machines and rules and, certainly, in the specific safety of each other, of our children and the next generations.
It used to be that there was great antipathy, even violence, even in our West Michigan community, around whether Catholics and Protestants could associate with each other — many of us remember the restrictions from our parents and leaders on both sides of that divide. But the language of faith, over the years, intentionally prompted by individuals and leaders with a “harmony” vision, brought about “unity” without “controlling” the response. It is a mutual faith-willingness to find ways to cooperate and act together in the public square regarding a whole list of religious, racial, poverty and other social issues.
Can we — will we — be able to do so with gun violence? Can we start with “gun safety”? And can we — will we — people of faith, join the cause?