Governor Northam just unveiled his “Gun Violence Prevention” legislation ahead of the July 9th Special Session, which he called in response to the recent shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal center. In his statement, he rightly points out that “We continue to lose too many lives to senseless and preventable acts of gun violence.” But it’s what the Governor said next – as his top-line messaging, no less – that should really get our attention.
“Now is the time to act—Virginians deserve votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” he declared.
It sounds catchy, even clever. It strikes me initially as the kind of “tough talk” one appreciates in a chief executive from time to time. The problem is, it’s not true. But not only is it not true, the exact opposite is true.
Here’s what I mean. The Governor reveals his view of the world as being that if anything bad happens in society, it’s primarily because the government wasn’t big enough to prevent it in the first place, and therefore the necessary solution to every problem is more “votes and laws.” Under his philosophy, if we can just pass some more laws, so that the state can exercise maximum control over people, we will be able to ensure peace, order, and the preservation of life. A cursory review of the 20th century amply demonstrates the tragic folly of this theory.
But his worldview doesn’t stop there. He goes even further by indicating that Virginians do not need “thoughts and prayers” as a response or solution for evil and suffering that is hard to make sense of. To him, these are meaningless platitudes void of any real power or influence. The great irony here is that these are exactly what we need more of if we are to have any hope of preventing much of the evil in our midst, while the laws he seeks to enact could never stop anyone determined to carry out destruction.
If we want to prevent evils in society, we should start by encouraging more “thoughtful” dialogue among people, especially when it is typically those in isolation and with misguided thinking who are most prone to hurting others in the ways we too often see. And we need more prayer – both in our individual lives and corporately. We have to realize that while every one of us has so very little control over others and society, we have the tremendous opportunity to appeal to the One who has all control. We must also recognize that it will require a much greater force than civil government to make men good. Only by loving one another, learning how to walk and communicate in love, and drawing strength and purpose from the God who IS love can we actually successfully prevent such great evil acts. I can’t say what “Virginians deserve”, but I know that is what they need.
The best way for anybody to experience that kind of thoughtfulness and to learn that kind of spiritual truth is in the context of a loving family. Every person enters this world and finds his or her identity largely in the context of a family. The solution for senseless acts of violence is not more government – it’s strong families. And in order to cultivate strong families, government has to stay out of the way.
So, to Governor Northam and all Virginians, I say: Now is the time to act – Virginians need more thoughtfulness and fervent prayer, not votes and laws.