The Common Good

Pastors, Parents, and People of Faith: Game Changers on Gun Violence

Sojomail - January 31, 2013

Pastors, Parents, and People of Faith: Game Changers on Gun Violence

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Pastors, parents, and people of faith — they can make the most difference in this country. We have seen it just this week on immigration reform. On Monday, in a breathtaking display of bipartisanship not seen for years in our dysfunctional capitol city, Democratic and Republican senators unveiled their plan for fixing the horribly broken immigration system — which their partisan irresponsibility caused. It was quite amazing, really. The very next day, President Barack Obama announced his commitment to and principles for comprehensive immigration reform amid a cheering crowd of young people in a Las Vegas high school gymnasium.

Political courage has suddenly replaced partisan roadblocks and official reticence to take on the controversial issue of immigration. What changed all this was, in my view: the courage of the young undocumented “DREAMers” who risked stepping out and speaking up; a change of heart among many law enforcement officials who find the present system untenable; business leaders who realize the economy now depends on immigrant labor; and, most dramatically, the faith community’s conversion to what Jesus said about welcoming the stranger as we would welcome him, and treating immigrants among us — who are the largest growing group in our faith communities — as our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s been basic: gospel and relationships — but it has changed immigration politics. And as others, including those in the White House and the Congress, will tell you: evangelicals’ entry into this debate has been the primary political game changer.

We have a real battle before us now, and the ugly xenophobia and anti-Hispanic rhetoric that has resisted reform before will no doubt re-surface again. But that angry — and I will say racist — talk is what sunk the Republican Party in this last election. And the election has changed everything—even many Republicans’ sentiments. In this moral battle over the last several years, I have witnessed the roles of pastors, parents, and people of faith. Their roles have made all the difference.

Could that now happen again on guns? It will certainly be a long, uphill battle (as immigration once was), but I think a change is possible here too.

Children are supposed to bury their parents. When parents have to bury their kids, something has gone very wrong. Pastors are meant to do funerals for old people who have passed. But when pastors have to bury so many children from the deaths of gun violence, the moral sequence of the world has been turned around. 

After Newtown, you could see in the emotional faces of all the parents — from first responders, to the adults in the school’s community, to the president of the United States, to all of our neighbors and friends the next day at our children’s sporting events. You could see the dramatic difference that being a parent made in response to the massacre of 20 first-grade children. In our communities now, in our companies and organizations, in our legislative halls, whether gun owners or not, whether members of the NRA or not, and certainly in the media, the first thing we must say is, “I am a parent, and the safety of my kids and other kids must come first!”

Pastors have been also been deeply affected by gun violence. So many have now had the experience of burying the young victims and comforting the devastated families. This is becoming one of the primary pastoral tasks in many of our urban parishes and now in places like Newtown, Conn. Just as I believe parents should speak up as parents, I believe pastors should stand up as pastors to the violence that threatens us all so randomly and brutally. That is the only way that we will get past the politics of this issue. Just as Mothers Against Drunk Driving changed that issue, so parents and pastors could change this one.

Finally, people of faith should name, address, and apply their faith to the issue of guns, just like they have on immigration. It was not our politics but our faith that caused us to change our hearts and minds on immigration reform. And now we must apply that to gun violence. Shouldn’t people of faith who are gun owners apply their faith to this issue? And shouldn’t members of the NRA who are people of faith apply their faith to the leadership of their organization?  If millions of dollars in NRA funding comes from gun manufacturers, doesn’t that make it a gun-running organization more than a gun safety organization? And what should people of faith say to that?

Imagine 1,000 pastors coming together to heal our communities torn apart by gun violence. Imagine 5,000 or 10,000 or more — across religious and political lines, from urban, suburban, and rural areas — challenging law-makers, backed by the horrific experiences of ministering to the epidemic of gun deaths in their parishes. That would be a game changer, too — just like faith communities are supposed to be. 

If you are a pastor, start today. Sign on HERE, then send it to your friends who are pastors. 

If you are a parent, take up the mantle of protecting all of our children from a society of gun violence. Join the thousands of other parents who say enough is enough.

If you are a person of faith, remember our call to be voices for peace. Don’t let extremist viewpoints speak for us. Take action now.

Remember, pastors, parents, and people of faith will make the difference. 

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in April. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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