Despite ‘Manhandling’ of Pregnant Chaplain, Interfaith NRA Protest a Success, Say Organizers | Sojourners

Despite ‘Manhandling’ of Pregnant Chaplain, Interfaith NRA Protest a Success, Say Organizers

Rev. Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, holding the megaphone, gives instructions to the interfaith protest outside the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 27, 2022. Ruth Nasrullah/Sojourners

An interfaith protest of the National Rifle Association on May 27 began with the reading of an original poem and ended after a security official pushed and attempted to handcuff one of the faith leaders who organized the protest. 

The protest was organized by Rev. Teresa Kim Pecinovsky and Megan Hansen and took place on the first day of the NRA’s annual meeting at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. Numerous protests were planned for the day, and about 500 protesters filled Discovery Green, a park across the street from the convention center on Friday. 

The protesters gathered to raise their voices for gun control and lament gun violence three days after a gunmen killed 21 people in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The interfaith group, about 150 people, gathered in a less crowded grassy area alongside the main protest venue. They told Sojourners they chose that quieter, more open space so they could maintain the spiritual focus of their group. Originally they planned to walk through the convention center, but opted for a public sidewalk because of the high level of security at the convention.

Hansen, an administrator and elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told Sojourners she and Pecinovsky, a hospice chaplain and children’s book author, met through Twitter in the days after the Uvalde shooting. They were both experienced activists who found the concept of an interfaith protest against gun violence to be part of their faith and began organizing. 

“Most of my time is spent in the church world and the interfaith world. We thought we would have a different sort of protest and make a different sort of space by gathering people of faith,” Hansen said.  They set up an Eventbrite page, shared the link online and began doing interviews.  

Rev. Mariah Newell, a youth and family minister with Cypress Creek Christian Church in Spring, Texas, which is in the Houston metro area, said her work with children motivated her to join the protest.

“[Gun violence] touches all of us,” she told Sojourners. “This is hurting all of our children, especially our Black and brown children, and we need to come together, eat together, and stand together because what hurts one child, what hurts one person, hurts us all.”

Bill Cork, a Seventh-Day Adventist chaplain from Houston, echoed her sentiments. 

“Our Houston community is so diverse and so interconnected,” he said. “When we come out together, we see our diversity as a strength and not as a source of division.”

Pecinovsky opened the gathering by reading an original poem alluding to the biblical Rizpah, who mourns the death her of children in 2 Samuel 21. Pecinovsky used a megaphone to give a few instructions to the group and then led the march across the street, directly in front of the convention center. Protesters chanted and marched peacefully with no issues until Pecinovsky stepped through an open barricade and a security official immediately attempted to restrain and handcuff her.

While others walked through the opening, other protesters spoke to the official as he grabbed Pecinovsky, asking what she was doing wrong and telling the official to “stop manhandling her.” The security official forcibly pushed Pevinovsky to the other side of the barricade, and protesters yelled at the official, demanding an explanation, with some saying “shame on you!” 

After the group reconvened on the grass in the area where they had started, they bowed their heads in prayer for peace, healing, and unity. The crowd dispersed and Pecinovsky, who is pregnant, left for the hospital to ensure her health and the health of her pregnancy. The Convention Center did not respond to a request for comment from Sojourners. A public information officer with the Houston Police told Sojourners they were “aware of a video on social media involving an incident with an employee of Apex Security and an unknown female,” and that “HPD will address the incident accordingly.”

Despite the trouble, Hansen said the event achieved many of their goals, including bringing together a group that included non-Christians and Christians of different denominations.

“This intersection of interdenominational but also interfaith [gatherings] really matters for Christians in America because Christianity is communally based … We cannot do it without each other,” she told Sojourners. “When I gather with my community of faith … I’m reminded of why we do this … The more we’re together, the more that God is brought into that community because we’re being God to one another and then (we) take that out into the world; that’s the biggest thing.”