Taylor S. Schumann is a survivor of the April 2013 shooting at a college in Christiansburg, Virginia. She is a writer and activist whose writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Fathom. She is the author of the forthcoming title When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough (IVP, July 2021).
The following is an adaptation from Chapter 13, “Beyond Thoughts and Prayers.”
When I began to publicly speak out about gun reform, I expected the backlash and the criticism. What I did not expect were the attacks on my faith and my character from people who claim to follow Jesus. Even though I had spent almost all of my life in a conservative and religious area of the country where many people own firearms, I never grasped just how enmeshed it all is.
I was somehow labeled unpatriotic and un-American for wanting to reduce gun violence. I was told that I hate my country, that I should be more grateful to be an American, that I was attacking a God-given right. I have frequently been told that what happened to me is simply a price we pay for freedom. I have been called an angry and emotional woman. I have been accused of using my victimhood to become famous.
I have been told that I am selfish. Selfish for wanting to take people’s rights and guns away. Selfish for centering my own story and my own beliefs. And selfish for thinking other people should have to make compromises because something bad happened to me. I have been accused of using my story to manipulate people. I have asked people, “If giving up your guns meant saving a life, would you do it?” And they have replied to me, passionately, “No. It’s my right.” Maybe the worst part of all of these is that when they happen online, and I click over to view their profile, I see a line saying that they believe in God.
None of these criticisms or observations of me are true, except for one. I am angry.
I am angry about the ways guns have poisoned our country like lead seeping into our water. I am angry that people are taught to cling to their personal freedoms and their individual comforts above caring for real life human people. I am angry that the God I believe in, the one who teaches us to love our neighbors, to sacrifice our lives for that of our friend, and to consider others more important than ourselves has been turned into a justification for a right he did not bestow and an ideology that looks nothing like him. So yes, I sure am angry. But more than that, I am sad.
Gun reform isn’t about taking away everyone’s guns, or even the right to own one. But I ask you: even if it was, even if guns were banned tomorrow, why should we be so afraid? If you know and love Jesus and are going to spend eternity in Heaven with him, why does the idea of not having guns anymore scare you so much?
When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There are no guns in heaven. When I pray this prayer, I ask that God would help me bring some of his kingdom to earth. I pray that, in the same way, there would be no gun violence here on Earth, just as there is no gun violence in heaven.
Many people own guns for the just in case, the maybe, the what-ifs. Meanwhile, I live in a constant state of the reality, the actual, and the absolute. My reality is the same as thousands of others in America who wake up from a nightmare at 3am and can’t sleep. Who operate in a dull state of chronic pain. Who cower at the sound of a car backfiring. Who wonder if the bullet fragments left in their body are poisoning them or damaging their bodies as they move around inching closer to the surface of their skin.
When I log into my online survivors support group I see posts of despair by people who miss their children, their parents, and their friends who were stolen by guns. I see posts from people who are in a state of panic because someone set off fireworks in their neighborhood or who can’t stop panicking after seeing reports of a shooting on the news.
While some people sit in homes admiring the guns on their nightstand or in their display cases, there’s another group of people who are trying their best to figure out how to live in a world where those guns are more important than their lives and the lives of people they love. We don’t get to live in the what-if anymore.
Jesus says to inherit eternal life we must love God, and we must love our neighbor. Then he tells us what loving our neighbor looks like. He says go and do. Imagine a scenario in which the Good Samaritan passed by the man dying on the side of the road and stopped down to offer his thoughts and prayers and then go on his merry way. This man is called good because he cared for this man’s physical needs, because he showed this man mercy, not because he simply prayed for this man to be helped.
Jesus says this is what loving our neighbor is. It is seeing their needs and taking care of them the way we take care of our own.
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I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in praying for others and I am thankful every day for the people who have and continue to pray for me. Every time I see a shooting on the news, I pause to pray, every time. Every month in my prayer journal I write a line for gun violence.
It’s not the thoughts and prayers I’m tired of. It’s pretending the thoughts and prayers are all we have to do and all we have to offer.
I can’t make people change their minds about gun reform. I can’t force people to believe the data, the studies, and the stories. All I can do is offer these up for consideration. I can remind us of the words of Jesus many of us have read in the Bible since childhood. I can offer a picture of what the world might look like if Christians fought to save lives lost at the hands of gun violence as they do for those lost in abortion. I can ask all of us to imagine a world where we lay down the weapons of this world and try out the ways of Jesus for a change. The worst that could happen? We end up more like Him and less like this world.
We have so much more to offer this world than thoughts and prayers. We know a Savior who redeem, rescues, and gives of Himself to save others. A savior who leaves the 99 to find the one who is lost. We know a Savior who has taught us how to love one another. This is what we have to offer this world. This is what I want us to see. We are clinging so tightly to this thing that the world gave us, instead of walking in the ways that Jesus offers to us.
I want to end gun violence. I want no one else to have to suffer as a result of this horrific crisis. But what I want even more than that, is for Christians to take up their place in this fight. I want them to finally open their eyes to this injustice all around them, and to show the world we are here and we care and we will work to protect each other. I want us to stop enabling violence and instead seek peace, even if it costs us something.
We have the ability to bring the Kingdom of God to this earth with our hands and our feet. If the goal of being a follower of Jesus is to be more like him and to invite other people into His kingdom, then this would be a great place to start.
We can’t keep trying to serve two masters. We can’t keep passing the dying man on the side of the road. We’ve desperately tried for decades to hold a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other and we have no hands left to serve each other, or Jesus. We have to choose. We have to lay one down. So I ask, who will you serve this day?