Guns, God and students
Hundreds of the faithful turned out to the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, PA on February 28 carrying assault rifles that were a central part of a blessing ceremony. The church is a breakaway group from the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon in Korea in the 1950s. In 2008, Sun, who was considered a messiah by his followers, anointed Hyung Jin Moon to be his successor. After Sun’s death there was power struggle, and ultimately Hyung split from that church and founded his own church in Wayne County.
Hyung recently took exception to accounts in the media that said he and his followers were going to worship assault rifles. He issued a social media post explaining his church’s interpretation of the biblical “rod of iron.”
He wrote, “In the Book of Revelation, Christ speaks repeatedly of ‘ruling with a rod of iron’ (Rev. 2:27), but the true meaning of the Greek word, ‘poimano’ means to ‘shepherd’ or ‘protect.’ The scripture tells us that God will shepherd His children with the rod of iron, guarding the flock not as a dictator, but as a loving father. In the same way, each of us is called to use the power of the ‘rod of iron’ not to harm or oppress as has been done in the satanic kingdoms of this world, but to protect God’s children.”
But at one point in the ceremony, which can be seen at tinyurl.com/yb8axomc, a clear connection was made between AR-15 assault rifles and these biblical musings: Hyung’s wife, Yeon Ah Lee Moon, knelt and solemnly transferred what appeared to be a gold-plated assault rifle to Hyung as he recited biblical versus about the “rod of iron.”
We’re a nation that believes in freedom of religion and speech, and if Hyung, who has a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School, wants to believe that a “rod of iron” is an assault weapon, he has every right to do so
But a quick check of some other sources of interpretation of scripture indicates this interpretation is probably quite unique. For instance, one online Christian forum (tinyurl.com/yddfszkc) says, "In most of Scripture, the rod refers to discipline. Christ rules the nations with his WORD, an iron rod which cannot be broken."
The Oxford Dictionary (tinyurl.com/y8xl9o9g) says “rule with an iron rod” means “Control or govern very strictly or harshly. ‘She ruled their lives with a rod of iron.’”
But Hyung’s interpretation of “rod of iron” isn’t the real issue of concern. Although the guns at the ceremony were fitted with zip ties rendering them inoperable, and no incidents were reported at the ceremony, the event raises the issue of a clash between the rights of the church and of other members of the community.
The officials at the Wallenpaupack Area South Elementary School, located about half a mile away, were concerned enough about the event that they decided it was prudent to move all of the students to other buildings in the district for the day. So the rights of the faithful to participate in this ceremony infringed on the rights of at least some of the people in the community to go about their lives as usual, free from fear.
In referring to the deaths of the 17 student and staff members in Parkland, FL on February 17, Hyung took the side of gun-rights advocates who think the way to end mass shootings is to arm teachers. He wrote, “98% of mass shootings in the last 60 years have taken place in ‘gun free zones.’ The idea that passing such laws will protect our sons and daughters is a dangerous and delusional fantasy.” The problem with that argument is that tighter gun laws in other countries have reduced mass and other types of shootings.
As CNN recently reported (tinyurl.com/y8qot95z), “In Australia, four mass shootings occurred between 1987 and 1996. After those incidents, public opinion turned against gun ownership and Parliament passed stricter gun laws. Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since.”
The article said, “Gun homicide rates are 25.2 times higher in the U.S. than other high-income states.” The argument that tighter gun laws won’t reduce shootings here, when they have done just that in other countries, just doesn’t wash. There are not proportionally more mentally ill people in the United States than there are in other developed countries.
The United States differs from those other countries in that our gun laws have become weaker over time. Sen. Chuck Schumer said on the floor of the Senate last week that when he wrote gun legislation in the early ‘90s, there were no internet sales of guns to be concerned with, and gun shows weren’t popular. He said that as a country, we don’t keep track of those gun sales now, but he estimates that 20% of gun sales are made online and at gun shows—and that means they don’t require background checks of the buyers.
So when some say that the only way to stop mass shooting in schools is to arm teachers, many of us believe what they are really saying is that the right of individuals to own assault weapons trumps the rights of those 17 dead in Parkland to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.