Editor’s Introduction: Gun Violence and Childhood Trauma

[1] “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11: 7-9.

[2] The prophetic voice of Isaiah promises a time when sin, symbolized by the serpent, no longer reigns on Earth, when sin no longer traumatizes children. Isaiah’s words were written for a society that lived in the midst of re-occurring violence that posed a constant threat to families and to children. In the midst of that experience, Isaiah promised new life that would grow from the old.

[3] With this promise in mind, this issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics invites readers to look, with eyes wide open, at the the pandemic of gun violence in the United States and the resulting trauma caused by this violence on children.  The authors in this issue write about gun violence in schools, gun violence in communities, and gun violence at the hands of police.  They offer a call to work towards ending this violence and a call to work towards healing from the wounds of this violence.

[4] Sadly, this issue is timely in ways I did not expect when the issue was planned over a year ago.  Because of Covid-19, children were not attending physical schools this spring, and many children are not back in physical schools this fall.  But children are still witnessing gun violence in their neighborhoods and on the news.  In Wisconsin, summer ended with the news of police officers shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back in front of his own children.  Two days later, protestors in support of black lives were murdered by a seventeen year old child from Illinois who had armed himself with an AR-15 style rifle.  Atlantic author Graeme Wood likens his attitude as one who “foolishly enrolled himself in a Midwestern version of the Children’s Crusade.”[i]

[5] Rather than arming children with an admonition to protect themselves, the authors in this issue look to ways that individuals, churches, and the ELCA can work to protect and heal children. Niveen Sarras’ use of Biblical texts reminds readers of Isaiah’s warning to King Ahaz that he ought to fear and to trust God rather than to make violent partnerships.  Sarras’ exegesis calls readers to attend to Isaiah’s foretelling of a child who is Immanuel—God with us.  She points to ways that the church must continue to work to deracinate the roots of gun violence.  And she reminds readers of the Christian trust that God is in the midst of suffering, a trust that can be shared in spiritual counseling to children.  In both types of work, Sarras urges readers to join the efforts.

[6 In the essay “Marching for our Lives,” Mary Roche explores the connection between gun violence and public health in the midst of a double pandemic.  She reminds readers of the dangers of racializing, and thus marginalizing and demonizing, victims of disease.  She raises up the voices of children who march and who speak against violence.  She advocates that we all do the necessary work as a community to provide for the common good.  This requires making systemic changes that can stop the wounding and start the process of necessary healing.

[7] Elisha Branch’s reflection focuses on the experience of her four year old daughter’s realization that police have shot children.  Branch’s description of her own experiences as a child witnessing police interactions with children and her account of her daughter’s recent reaction to news events speak of a perpetual cycle of trauma forced upon children. Branch raises up the voice of her own vulnerable child so that we can hear her suffering and her insight. Having heard this voice, Branch advocates that we do the work of dismantling the systems that cause children to suffer long before they can begin to fully understand the nature of their suffering.

[8] Martin Luther was famous for raising up the vocation of taking care of children.  He suggested that changing a diaper could be more holy than performing the Eucharist.  He routinely praised the works of bathing children, feeding children, and teaching children.  But it is essential that we remember that the Reformer did not claim that these responsibilities are limited to individual parents.  To the Christian nobility he demanded that they consider their role to protect children, to create conditions for their general welfare: their health, their safety, their education. In our democracy, we are all given the power of leadership, and we are all charged with the task of taking care of children. I hope that these essays inspire readers to consider the current situation American children now face in order that they might consider new ways to support and protect these children and heal them from their cycles of trauma.

Call for Papers

The December issue will highlight the 25th anniversary celebration of the social statement For Peace in God’s World

We invite papers reflecting on this document or on the topic of peace and justice more generally.

Submissions are due October 20th to jennifer.hockenbery@elca.org.

Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.