Black Pastors: Gun Violence Isn’t Just a Problem for White Suburbs

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

African-American Church Gun Control Coalition in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON — Black clergy have launched a new coalition to fight gun violence, saying they are undeterred by the recent failure of legislation on Capitol Hill and all too aware of the problem of gun violence.

At meetings held Tuesday in Washington and Los Angeles, supporters of the African-American Church Gun Control Coalition called gun violence “both a sin and a public health crisis” and committed to a three-year action plan of advocacy, education and legislative responses.

“As people of God and as faithful members we have the obligation to stir the world’s conscience and to call on our nation’s decision makers to do what is just and right,” said the Rev. Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which convened the coalition.

Newtown's Teddy Bears: How Many is Too Many?

Photo by Susan Kim

Photo by Susan Kim

When a distressed child hugs a teddy bear, there is a moment of innocent comfort that not only soothes the child but the grownups around her, too.

No wonder, then, in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the donation of choice for many people was a teddy bear. The bears — huge, tiny, handmade, store-bought, rainbow-colored, traditional brown — began arriving within 24 hours of the tragedy. They came from churches, children's groups, Facebook campaigns, car dealerships, and individuals across the globe.

Undeniably, for some of the children in Newtown — and adults, for that matter — a new stuffed animal was just the right gift at the right time.

Where Idolatry Rages, Prophets Speak Out

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rev. Sam Sailor of of Hartford, Conn., speaks at the vigil on April 11. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Guns are dangerous idols. While mass shootings are happening at an alarming rate and an epidemic of gun violence plagues our nation’s cities, our society’s fanatical devotion to weapons prevents us from enacting solutions to curb the violence. The cost of worshipping these false idols continues to rise, as firearms kill more than 80 people a day

Since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newton, Conn., nearly 3,500 people have died because of a gun. Some of them were suicides. Some were gang-related gun deaths. Many use these facts to insinuate that the deaths somehow aren't equally tragic. But as Christians we know that all of them were children of God created in the Divine image.

While the idolatry rages on, prophets are beginning to speak out.

A Call to Arms


People pay their respects at a makeshift shrine to Sandy Hook victims. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

In the wake of the recent school shooting tragedy in Connecticut, we will undoubtedly hear the lament, 'America is at the crossroads', as we struggle to contain an increasingly violent society. Sadly, this country left the crossroads some time ago. We have passed the tipping point, and are rapidly descending into the abyss of chaos when it comes to respect for human life. 

Well-meaning voices are sounding the alarm that things are different now — innocent children have died in great numbers in Connecticut. This is true, but people are dying every day in towns and cities throughout our nation due to acts of senseless violence. The deaths in Connecticut represent an unspeakable new low, but we have been steadily arriving here for decades.

We will rightly pray for and comfort the families and communities of the victims. We should do no less. There will also be calls for greater gun control. However, we can count on this: we cannot count on our governments to get this epidemic of violence under control. Nor can we retreat to the false comfort of innocuous statements such as, 'Guns don't kill people. People kill people.'  

Five Children’s Questions About the Sandy Hook Tragedy

© Yuri Arcurs /

© Yuri Arcurs /

I’ve seen plenty of articles responding to the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Some are angry, some pastoral, still others, prophetic in their call for change in various forms. I have little to add to the conversation at that level, but I have heard questions from many children, some from my own kids. I thought I’d offer some responses I’ve shared.

What happened? 

Something terribly sad. A man hurt some children and adults in a school in Connecticut. Some of them died. The teachers and students were very brave, and the community is working together to take care of those who survived and those who lost someone they loved. Even the President went there to be with them.

God is Here?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

David Echevarria (7) and his father Daniel from Newtown stand outside of a church. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

One commentator suggested that it was precisely because God was not there that this heinous act happened. Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed we should not be surprised to see this kind of violence since we have removed God from our schools and our society. His sentiment is to say, “God is NOT here.” If that is the case, then it surely can explain the existence of pure evil that we saw displayed on Friday.

However, thinking like that of Gov. Huckabee suggests that we somehow have the power to remove God from our schools and our society. This kind of God is quite small, weak, and impotent  — one that is dictated by the mere whims of humanity. This is not the God of whom Matthew spoke.

Matthew spoke of the Almighty God fully embodied and revealed in the person of Jesus. So much so that he claimed he was Immanuel: God with us. He is here not in spite of the pain, nor did he come to explain it away. God is here in the midst of our suffering.

The hope of Advent is that God responded to the suffering of humanity by entering into it with us. He did not stand outside of it and look in with a wincing face and hope that everything would somehow work out. Nor did he see humans who removed him from their schools and societies and say, “Well fine, then, have it your way!” Not at all.

Grieving With or Gawking At: A Response to Responses of Tragedy

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Media gather near a makeshift memorial outside a Newtown, Conn., firehouse. Mario Tama/Getty Images

In the time following our latest national tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many have wondered where God was in the midst of these horrific events. While such questions are indeed significant and deserve extended consideration (and thankfully, many have already addressed the subject), instead of wondering where God was, perhaps the time is upon us to also consider where we are

While it is imperative to contemplate and debate the role and presence of God during such catastrophes, it is also critical to consider our collective response as a human community.

We often learn of tragic events through the lenses of news media, and of course, the various outlets possess mixed motives and results. While there is nothing inherently wrong with sharing the stories, there is fine line between seeking facts and invading privacy, and this boundary is too often crossed. In the hours immediately following the recent shootings in Connecticut, countless camera crews, photographers, and reporters crowded around devastated children and traumatized families. While some merely wished to share information and build awareness, others seemed to be more interested in ratings and profit. And so, while the debates surrounding media ethics in the aftermath of tragedy will surely continue, most would agree that even the most sensitive of camera crews, photographers, and reporters do not always create the most ideal setting for those enduring tragedy. For the sake of those who experience loss in the most heartbreaking of circumstances, we should demand something better.

What We Parents Must Do

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rachel Pullen (C) kisses her son Landon DeCecco at a memorial for victims near the school. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Our deepest question now is whether what happed on Friday — and what has focused the attention of the entire nation — will touch the nation’s soul or just make headlines for a few days. 

I think that will be up to us as parents — to respond as parents. The brutal shooting of 20 six- and seven-year-old school children in their own classrooms touches all of us, and as the father of two young boys I’m especially struck how it touches parents. From the heartbreak of the parents in Newtown to the tears in the eyes of Barack Obama as he responded — not just as the President, but also as the father of two daughters — to the faces of the first responders and reporters who are parents. I have felt the pain and seen the look on the face of every parent I have talked with since this horrendous event occurred. Virtually every mother and father in America this weekend has turned their grieving gaze on their own children, realizing how easily this could have happened to them. The emotions we’ve seen from the Newtown parents whose children survived, and the feelings of utter grief for those parents whose children didn’t, have reached directly to me. 

Saturday, the day after the Connecticut massacre, Joy and I went to our son Jack’s basketball game. The kids on the court were all the same ages as the children who were killed on Friday. I kept looking at them one by one, feeling how fragile their lives are.

Our first response to what happened in Newtown must be toward our own children. To be so thankful for the gift and grace they are to us. To be ever more conscious of them and what they need from us. To just enjoy them and be reminded to slowly and attentively take the time and the space to just be with them. To honor the grief of those mothers and fathers in Connecticut who have so painfully just lost their children, we must love and attend to ours in an even deeper way.

Descendants Want Justice for Connecticut Witches

RNS HartfordFAVS photo by Ann Marie Somma

Anthony Griego and members of the Connecticut Wiccan & Pagan Network. RNS HartfordFAVS photo by Ann Marie Somma

HARTFORD, Conn. — At age 82, Bernice Mable Graham Telian doubts she'll live long enough to see the name of her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and 10 others hanged in colonial Connecticut for witchcraft cleared.

Telian was researching her family tree when she discovered that her seventh grandmother, Mary Barnes of Farmington, Conn., was sent to the gallows at the site of the old State House in Hartford in 1663.

"You won't find Mary's grave. She and all these people who were hanged were dumped in a hole. Their graves aren't marked. They wanted them to be forgotten," said Telian, a retired university administrator who now lives in Delhi, NY.