Professor Emeritus, Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., Responds to Dean LeAnn Snow Flesher

Dean Flesher’s blog on the recent mass shootings in Oregon is logically lucid with cogent arguments for a widely diverse readership. In this blog Dr. Flesher appeals not to political correctness or to a theological partisan view but her appeal is to common sense and wise judgement. Therefore, every one would do well to read to carefully read her words and share them with others.

What a wonderful blog Dean Flesher has written causing us to reflect deeply on our faith in ways that address the out of control violence in our homes, schools, workplaces, churches and communities. Violence is toxic evil not only in the neighboring countries of the world but in our very social locations. This blog  carefully written  with clarity is most insightful for implementation.

The difficulty the patriotic citizens will have in being open to the reasoning  process of Dr. Flesher is due to the way the American narratives of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism have legitimized the use of violence  to remove the indigenous peoples, and build an economic system on black bodies that mattered only for profit and the militaristic westward expansion of the West  into Asia. This narrative is taught to children and youth, and they grow up seeing movies which celebrate violence.

Stokely Carmichal said violence is as American as apple pie. Americans suffer from the pride of power and the pride of virtue. Both expressions of pride contribute to the arrogance of power .The strength of this blog is the clear use of ethical arguments to appeal to the highest and the best in the idealized  core values of the American social contract.

The Utilitarian ethic of the greatest good for the greatest number espoused by John Stuart Mill  supports the ethical method of Dr. Flesher when we apply consequential ethical theory to confront the  the harmful effects of rejecting a  Frankena ethic of duty or obligation. Violence respects neither race, religion ,class, gender,  nationality, or age.  It is more pervasive in deprived  communities whose infrastructures have been dismantled by velvet glove exploiters who bow to invisible power brokers who shape public policy and politicize ethical issues with mindless aphorisms swallowed by a gullible public. For survival reasons , the have nots prey on each with drugs placed in their community by outsiders whose greed preys on the needy.

Violence puts at risk the four freedoms of America. They are:  freedom of speech , freedom of religion. Freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Students are afraid to attend school, afraid of others who differ in color, class, or gender sexual orientation, or  religion.

Flesher,in this blog,has shown no fear  in speaking up and out  against the absurdities of injustices and violence. Challenging those who  argue we are most safe when we are most armed is a holy calling  that she has accepted and she now calls each of us  in the faith community  to  be faithful to the ethics of Jesus. Let us join her in  correcting this myopic  vision of a nation trapped in its own contradictions.

Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr.
Professor Emeritus,  A.B.S.W. 

How do we respond to yet one more mass shooting?

I would like to make some clear statements.

  • There are ways, tested and proven, to reduce gun violence in a nation.
  • The US Congress has blocked the implementation of such measures, and has even blocked the accumulation of data that would help us know how to implement programs to reduce gun violence.
  • The blocks imposed by Congress have been made on the founding principle of Liberty and Freedom for all. The underlying premise is that small government is better; and that government ought not to impose itself on its citizens in too many ways. Citizens ought to have the right and the freedom to decide if they will own and use guns.
  • Yet, we have laws against murder and violence. Laws that are unevenly imposed upon perpetrators for various reasons. Often perpetrators go free and innocent victims suffer unnecessarily.
  • President Obama has made strong statements regarding the perpetrators of the numerous mass shootings from the past few years. He has declared that these perpetrators have some type of mental illness that has resulted in unnecessary violence being imposed upon innocent victims.
  • In order to wade our way through this complex set of views and circumstances we need a guiding ethic.
  • Frankena, in his book entitled Ethics, espouses the following ethical basis for his decision making:

In a normative theory of moral obligation justice equals:

1) Dealing with people according to their deserts or merits

2) Treating human beings as equals w/ regard to the distribution of rewards and punishment

3) Treating people according to their needs and abilities: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

** 1 is balanced by 2; 3 is the case for special needs; unequal treatment requires justification

8) Given the reality that the US citizenry is uneven with regard to access to resources, levels of education, emotional maturity, and mental health, it seems essential that we adopt an ethical framework, with regard to gun violence, that addresses the abilities and needs of each. We need an ethical framework that allows for responsible, safe ownership and use of guns and prevents misuse of guns and abuse of gun ownership.

9) As a faith leader in our nation, I adhere to, teach, and preach the sanctity of life, as well as the need for equity and justice for all. Simultaneously, I am aware that the population is not even. For example, Children and youth do not have the maturity of an adult, and we do not expect them to behave as an adult. Those with disabilities, physical and mental, do not have the same capabilities and access to the world. If we, as a nation, do not formulate laws, processes, and standards that address the unevenness in the population, with regard to gun violence, we are in essence putting guns into hands of people that are not equipped to use them in safe, ethical, and responsible ways.

10) The current policies on gun ownership and violence in our nation are irresponsible and unethical. It’s time for Congress to take down the road blocks and move forward toward the implementation of proven processes that will reduce gun violence. In essence Congress is asking all citizens to risk their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, everyday so that every person may have equal access to guns.

11) The data speaks for itself, as of July 24, 2015 there were 204 mass shootings in the US within 204 days. The math on that is pretty easy. One a day!

12) Finally, let’s be clear, mass shootings are only the tip of the iceberg, everyday gun violence in US black communities kills many more Americans; everyday! .

Is this the way we want to live and die?

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD is Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at American Baptist Seminary of the West.