Witnesses to Trauma: Faith Leaders Stand Up for Gun Violence Legislation

Interfaith grave markers, cofkocof,

Interfaith grave markers, cofkocof,

For many pastors of urban congregations, “stepping up” to end gun violence stems from a very personal place — as they have been forced to bury their own neighbors and church members. According to Samuel Rodriguez, gun violence – especially in urban areas – deeply affects interfaith leaders there, who are declaring violence-free zones and taking action.

Faith-based leaders in Philadelphia and Chicago have rallied to fight gun violence. Heeding God’s Call, based in Philadelphia, holds prayer vigils at the locations of gun homicides as well as organizes gun-store campaigns that ask gun store owners to sign a code of conduct.

In Chicago, All Saints Episcopal Church organized CROSSwalk, a walk through downtown Chicago, which drew a few thousand people the past two years. Violence on Chicago streets has killed more than 800 young people in the last six years.

Nuenke addressed breaking the chain of violence and pain that we see in every community. He quoted 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 and Isaiah 61 as examples of God’s compassion and its life-changing, healing power.

“What would happen if the body of Christ more fully was involved in living out Christ’s compassion in a broken world?” Nuenke asked. “Sometimes people who are hurt or experience violence end up hurting other people. The care and compassion they might receive from the Lord Jesus will impact them more in 20-30 years than anything else.”

Shooting Down Easter

Angel statue, Malgorzata Kistryn /

Angel statue, Malgorzata Kistryn /

The conversation yelling match around gun control is exhausting — both in terms of the ethical boundaries each side will breach to advance its cause, and the way our rhetoric has turned into an exercise in “crash-testing:” we always hit a wall in talking our good sense to the Dissenters, but are content to back up, add force, and try again. Because “One day, THEY will see the light. One day, THEY will become US”…

… crash!

The more gun violence we experience as a nation correlates to our panic in pursuit of the common good, however we define it. And get too many panicky people in a room – people who are certain they are right – and watch how skillfully they evade progress. I am a pastor in Chicago and I speak on behalf of all who serve in neighborhoods where violence has become the rule and not the exception: I am tired of you hitting the wall.

This course of action and righteous disrespect of Those-With-Their-Heads-You-Know-Where will not make us masters or better neighbors. It has made us dummies. And while we are arguing, our children are losing. In Chicago, and Baltimore, and Detroit, and Newtown, and in Washington. They are losing because we are competing to see who can make the wall topple over the other first. Because we are arguing over rights from the wrong perspective.

Nearly 50 People Murdered in Chicago and No One Gives a *&%^$

Chicago skyline, nialat /

Chicago skyline, nialat /

My city of Chicago, known as the City with Big Shoulders, is now on its knees. But it’s not prostrate in some humble submission to God. No. Instead Chicago is weeping from the emotional exhaustion of having to bury too many youth who have been murdered.

Last year Chicago recorded 2,400 shootings and more than 505 murders, of which more than 108 were teenagers of color from seven violent communities. Already 2013, with less than two months into its birth, has seen 49 murders. Those of us on the ground seeking to bring change to this pandemic of violence know that if the Chicago cold winters are this violent, then the hot summers will not cool off. On top of the hard and constant news about those who are killing and being killed, Chicago Police stats show that only 34 percent of the murders get solved within one year. If the detectives have two years on a case, then the rate barely reaches 50 percent. The national average of murders solved is 64 percent. New York’s rate is only 60 percent. In Chicago, though, one has a 50-50 chance of getting away with a murder.

Christians: Gun Violence is Our Issue

Gun image, val lawless /

Gun image, val lawless /

A well-known restorative justice film, "A Justice That Heals" recounts the role of faith and the church in caring for the families of both a murderer and his victim. The film climaxes in the mother’s act of forgiveness and counsel to the young man who killed her son. The power of that image of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration almost obscures another dimension of the grieving family's response to the death of their son. The victim's father resigns his job and becomes the director of an advocacy group for gun control.

The late Carl Dudley demonstrated in his research on mobilizing congregations that communities of faith rally to advocacy only after they have generated sufficient energy about and engagement with those affected by the policy. Congregations care about people not policy, stories over statistics, and narratives before numbers. Even the civil rights movement found its genesis in the story of Rosa Parks, and others like her, rather than in the "ethics" of segregation and discrimination. So, like the family in "A Justice That Heals," our work to mobilize around gun control requires creating a climate where people's experience with those who are victimized by bad policy.

Chicago is Ground Zero in U.S. Muslim Renaissance

RNS photo by Monique Parsons.

Rami Nashashibi founded IMAN in 1997. RNS photo by Monique Parsons.

CHICAGO — Religious affiliation may be on the wane in America, a recent Pew study asserts, but you wouldn’t know it walking into the storefront near the corner of West 63rd Street and South Fairfield Avenue.

Inside a former bank in a neighborhood afflicted with gang violence, failed businesses and empty lots, a team of volunteers drawn by their religious faith is working to make life better for Chicago’s poorest residents.

The free medical clinic has expanded its hours; 20-something college graduates are clamoring to get into its internship program; rap stars swing by its alcohol-free poetry slams; and the budget has increased tenfold in the past decade.

The storefront belongs to Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and it is part of a wave of new Muslim institutions emerging at an unprecedented pace. More than a quarter of the nation’s 2,106 mosques were founded in the last decade, according to a recent University of Kentucky study, and new social service organizations, many of them run by 20- and 30-something American-born Muslims, are thriving as never before.

Bus Ads Aim to Reclaim the Meaning of ‘Jihad’

RNS photo courtesy

An ad campaign to change public perception of the word "jihad." RNS photo courtesy

An ad campaign on San Francisco buses is aimed at trying to change public perception of the word “jihad,” which the program’s founder says has been distorted by extremists — Muslim and anti-Muslim alike.

Ahmed Rehab, a 36-year-old political activist, started the campaign in Chicago in December and expanded it to 25 San Francisco buses at the start of the year.

Rehab, who heads the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says his MyJihad campaign, which defines jihad as a personal struggle in many areas of life, is aimed at reframing a debate over a word that has become synonymous in many quarters with armed struggle and terrorism.

He said the debate has been taken over “more or less by two extremes — Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim extremists.”

Is It Too Late For Us?

John Moore/Getty Image

Rachel Berger (L), and Greta Waag embrace while visiting a makeshift memorial in Newtown. John Moore/Getty Images

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

In 2012 more than one hundred young people were killed by gun violence in Chicago. More than a hundred. If you start adding up the numbers, there was a time there in the summer where Chicago was more dangerous than Afghanistan. Well, parts of it were. It's a big place, you know.

As tragic as the shooting was in Connecticut —and I am truly not interested in minimizing the grief or outrage — we have to wake up and realize that more children are killed every year in the U.S. and we seldom cry in outrage. Not as a nation. There were marches in protest by Chicago churches

The news media covered the march but not the murders. 

Transgender Killings Reflect Deeper Injustice

Glynnis Jones /

Photo: Glynnis Jones /

For the second time in Chicago this year, the life of a gender-variant young person of color was lost to violence.

Donta Gooden’s body was found in an abandoned building on the city’s West Side late in the evening of August 14th. Gooden, 19, who also went by the name “Tiffany,” was stabbed to death just three blocks from where Paige Clay, a 23 year-old transgender woman, was shot and killed in April, according to media reports. The police investigation is ongoing.

The tragedy of these senseless killings, still so raw and heartrending for the loved ones of Gooden and Clay, is beyond comprehension and deplorable on every level. But perhaps even more unsettling is how often violent crimes against LGBTQ people occur and how little social outrage they ignite.

For many, these two terrible tragedies may melt into the background in a year when Chicago is scrambling to stem a rising tide of murder across the city (year -to-date homicides are up 25 percent from August 2011 according to data compiled by the Redeye. However, they are part of an alarming trend of violence targeting LGBTQ people of color – and transgender and gender-variant people of color in particular – which directly intersects with the front lines of the HIV epidemic.

Nursing Trauma: How One Church is Going After Chicago’s Violence Epidemic

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Dolores Walker leaves the Cook County ME's office after identifying her slain 16-year-old son. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Editor's Note: This piece is part of a longer series on the wave of violence hitting Chicago, with murders for the year reaching the 250 mark this week. Some think the solution is purely over-policing or sending in the National Guard. Mayor Rahm Emanuel may legalize small amounts of marijuana so police can focus on violent crime. We asked some contributors—people who are on the ground in Chicago working for change—to discuss real, creative solutions.

For all its deep dish pizzas and –style hot dogs, The Crib is one of the most violent cities in the world. 

When I say in the world, I mean that 1,976 Americans have died in Afghanistan since 2001, and there have been 5,056 murders in Chicago during the same period. (A specious stat for a number of reasons, but let’s move toward the point people are getting at when they mention this). This is a dangerous town. “How do we stop it?” is the million dollar question, and will net someone a Nobel Peace Prize if they can figure it out. 


It's Time to Say a Brave YES to What You Were Made For

I want to tell you the story of one brave woman who has given her life to live in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Arloa Sutter is one of my new heroes. Let me tell you why.

I met Arloa through the Redbud Writers Guild to which we both belong. Last month I had the honor of meeting her at our guild retreat. I had no idea what a culture rebel she was.

Arloa didn't begin her days of serving the inner-city poor as the grandmother she is today, but as a young woman. It all began with her church staff not knowing what to do with the many people who came into the building during the week needing assistance. Instead of pushing them out the door, she created a storefront room that provided  food,l friendly conversation and a hot cup of coffee to those wishing to escape the cold. This eventually evolved into her gathering a board of directors to form Breakthrough Ministries in 1992.

She didn’t know what she was doing, but she did it anyways. I love gutsy people like that.