Gun Violence

The NRA's Dangerous Theology

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

A membership card for the National Rifle Association. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday was the 84th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know about you, but I miss his words, so I offer a few. King said “people often hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate, they cannot communicate because they are separated.” I would add to his words: ‘and in that separation they seek guns.’ As an evangelical Christian, I’m going to make this theological. 

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant. 

Evangelicals and Muslims Together Denounce Franklin Graham’s Anti-Muslim Remarks

Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, speaks at a joint evangelical Christian and Muslim event. Image via RNS.

Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, speaks at a joint evangelical Christian and Muslim event. Image via RNS.

An evangelical pastor from Texas joined American Muslim leaders July 23 in denouncing recent anti-Muslim comments by evangelist Franklin Graham as they announced upcoming efforts to build bridges between their religious communities.

In response to the killing of five service members in Chattanooga, Tenn., last week, Graham — son of evangelical leader Billy Graham — wrote on Facebook that the U.S. should bar Muslims from immigrating.

"I was so sad when I read the Facebook posting of Franklin Graham," Bob Roberts, Jr., pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, said Thursday at a gathering on Capitol Hill.

"This is not ‘evangelical’ and even less evangelistic. I don’t want American Muslims to think we fear them or that they are our enemies."

3 Dead, 9 Injured in Louisiana Theater Shooting

A gunman opened fire in a Lafayette, La., movie theater Thursday evening during a showing of Trainwreck, killing two and injuring nine, before turning the gun on himself, according to multiple news reports. Police say they know the identity of the shooter — described as a white, 58-year-old male — but are not yet releasing his name. 

Four Killed, One Wounded in Naval Reserve Shooting

Image via  Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

Image via  /Shutterstock

Four Marines were killed and one police officer wounded at a Naval Reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 16, CNN reports.

The shooting occured at two sites — the first a military recruiting center — and lasted less than 30 minutes. According to CNN:

Investigators "have not determined whether it was an act of terrorism or whether it was a criminal act," Ed Reinhold, FBI special agent in charge, told reporters. "We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism -- whether it was domestic, international -- or whether it was a simple, criminal act."

U.S. Attorney Bill Killian earlier told reporters that authorities were treating the shooting as an "act of domestic terrorism."

The suspected gunman is also dead. Read the full story here.

Horizons of Hope

sunsetincharleston

Sunset in Charleston, S.C. Image via /shutterstock.com

How could there have been people outside the South Carolina state house this weekend driving around in pick-up trucks with confederate flags attached to their beds, declaring "Heritage, not hate"? How could passerbys affirm these protests with shouts of "Long live the South"? How can people still deny that racism is deeply embedded in our culture? How can they not see that we must confront the harmful words and acts so that everyone may know they are beloved children of God and that their lives matter not just to God, but to their communities as well?

'We Are Brokenhearted'

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

We are brokenhearted by the murders of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We join our brothers and sisters in deep lament for the lives lost in this evil act, and our prayers go out to all of the victims, their families and their communities.

Atrocities like this wound the very soul of our nation. We must not merely attribute this horror to the depraved actions of one individual, mourn those we have lost, and move on as if there is nothing more to do. In his statement yesterday, President Obama quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in the wake of the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four little girls were killed:  

"...We must be concerned not merely with who murdered [these girls], but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream."

The deep wounds of racism, America's original sin, still linger in our society, our institutions, and in our minds and hearts — sometimes explicitly, but far more pervasively through unconscious bias. Wednesday's terrorist act is the latest manifestation of this lingering sin. Are there no safe places for black people in our country, even the places where they come together to worship?

We all have the responsibility to overcome both the attitudes and the structures of racism in America. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we must act. 

Where is the Hope in Charleston?

Image via TFoxFoto/shutterstock.com

Image via TFoxFoto/shutterstock.com

Last night while attending Sojourners’ annual conference, The Summit, I heard from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Jim Wallis, C.T. Vivian, and so many other legends in their fields. Afterwards, I stood in a small circle with others, discussing faith, justice, and reconciliation. I was the lone white face in my group of five; the other four were African-American, faith- and thought-leaders all.

One person, the only man in the group, referenced white supremacy. My ears perked up and I wondered, “Is that really a large part of the issue anymore?” I waited for a break in conversation so I could ask, “Aren’t we dealing more with subtle, insidious, and implicit biases these days?”

I never got the chance to ask. This morning at 5:00 a.m. when I picked up my phone to hit snooze, I saw an NPR alert: nine dead. I knew without question that those nine were black. Turing on CNN confirmed it, and I cried. No one had yet said the gunman was a white supremacist, but what else could he be? Who other than someone who feels his life supreme could take the lives of nine others, cause such aching disbelief and sorrow to their friends and family, and bring such hot pain to those around the nation who, like me, woke to tears and rage and confusion and heartache?

Intimate Partner Violence and Guns: A Deadly Combination

Image via Burlingham/shutterstock.com

Image via Burlingham/shutterstock.com

From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun. That is more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.

Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Of all the women killed by intimate partners during 2001-2012, 55 percent were killed with guns.

All Eyes Are Upon Us

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
                           —Marvin Gaye

then they stomped
          John Willet
as he lay on the sidewalk
hands cuffed behind his back
and shot
                      Michael Brown

who was on his way this fall to college

Stop and frisk
Stop and frisk

and used a chokehold to kill

                    Eric Garner

who sold cigarettes one-by-one
on the street in Staten Island
and punched again, again
in the face
great-grandmother

                Marlene Pinnock

as she lay on the ground
then they stood around while
an angry bartender
pushed vet

                William Sager

down the stairs to his death;
maybe helped hide
the security videotape
then it was
unarmed

               Dillon Taylor

in Salt Lake City, and
homeless

              James Boyd

in Albuquerque

and       Darrien Hunt

in Saratoga Springs, Utah—
how about that grandmother
92-year-old

             Kathryn Johnston

shot to death in a SWAT team raid
gone bad?

in ’73 in Dallas

             Santos Rodríguez

was marked by officer Cain
who played Russian Roulette
with the handcuffed 12-year-old
in his cruiser—
till the .357 fired; Santos’ blood
all over his 13-year-old handcuffed
brother David

and those cries of
19-month-old      Bounkham Phonesavanh
in whose crib
the flash-bang grenade exploded

Shelter in place
Shelter in place

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Grace-Filled Moments

ON A COOL, windy October evening, the family of 23-year-old Dominic Amey Jr. stands outside and waits. They’re waiting for someone to tell them how and why Amey, a father of three, was shot and killed behind the house a week before. So they pray and they wait. But there aren’t any answers—at least none that night.

Joe Zelenka, a 74-year-old Catholic, wishes he had answers, but instead he offers the family what he has: prayers for peace and healing.

Zelenka has done this many times (probably too many times, if you ask him) since he began coordinating the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis’ prayer vigils for homicide victims—many killed by gun violence—nearly 11 years ago. At every vigil, standing at the scene of the crime, Zelenka reads scripture, offers a prayer, and then invites those present to pray aloud if they so choose.

“I think it’s important that we bring God’s presence where violence has occurred,” he said. The vigils pre-date Zelenka’s tenure with the Church Federation—he’s the fourth person to hold the position of vigil coordinator since January 1996, when the Church Federation began holding a prayer vigil at the site of every violent homicide in the greater Indianapolis area.

The federation’s goal is peace and reconciliation, and to that end Zelenka will hold another service—this time for the person who shot Amey. It’s important, the federation believes, to pray for both the offender and the offended. It can be demanding work, particularly in a city where homicides have dramatically increased in the last few years. But Zelenka said the work is worth it when he witnesses the faith and resilience of the victims’ families.

“The rewarding part is to realize that there are families who want to forgive the perpetrator,” he said. “Families will stand at this prayer vigil where their loved one was killed, and they will pray that the perpetrator may find God somewhere along the line.”

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