June 2, 2016

The 400-lb Gorilla in the Room

We should talk about the 400-pound gorilla in the room. That and a four-year-old boy.

In case you’ve been in silent retreat on a desert island without wifi, newspapers, or a message in a bottle, here’s the recap: Last weekend, a four-year-old boy climbed into an enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and came face-to-face with a 400-pound gorilla. Zoo officials decided they had no choice but to shoot and kill the gorilla to save the life of the child.

Protestors took to the streets, and frenzy descended in social media. Horrible, vicious memes have been posted. I’ve read eviscerating criticism of the mother, the child, the zoo, and gorillas. I heard today that the mother has received death threats. Seriously. Death threats.

The whole situation is sad. I mourn the death of Harambe, the endangered gorilla. I feel badly for the zoo employees who faced an untenable decision. I pray that the boy recovers completely. And I empathize with the mother. (I know how easily children can escape a watchful eye. I’ve lost a toddler in a discount store and watched in slow-motion horror as my son pulled a bookcase on top of him. Thankfully, they were safe.)

What I’m frustrated about is the anger and self-righteousness that has emerged. I don’t know if the mom was distracted or the kid was Houdini. I’m not a wild animal expert so I won’t wade in on the pros and cons of bullets versus tranquilizers. I can’t imagine how this single incident is an indictment on the morality of zoos (or circuses, for that matter).

It seems to me this was a terrible situation, a very difficult day. I hope that some good may come of it. Perhaps we’ll have discussions about the role of zoos in conservation. Maybe we’ll reevaluate exhibits and barriers.

But I also pray that it lays bare our shameful delight in the bloodthirsty sport of casting blame. The same newsfeed that praises God, asks for prayer, and invites people to church events flurries with savage critique. Some of the same people who exchange the peace on Sunday are calling for the boy to be taken out of the mom’s custody or for zoo officials to be castigated. 
When did we get so angry? And for this?

I want us to get mad about refugees dying on beach shores. I want the Church to be stinking angry about the heroin epidemic and gun violence, about the grip of poverty and the sin of racism. If we are so passionate about the life of one gorilla, then let’s storm against the degradation of the environment and our collective antipathy for the whole of creation.

Jesus wasn’t a nice guy who turned water into wine and broke bread with his friends. He was a flipping-tables, authority-questioning, law-breaking radical who I bet got really mad when people forgot to put love first. Would that we could follow his example.

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