Gun Violence

Life, Death, Taxes, and the Common Good

Abstract heart cardiogram, Petr Vaclavek /

Abstract heart cardiogram, Petr Vaclavek /

The common good is not only about politics. The common good is about life and how we live it. It is ultimately about how we are all connected. It is about how our love or lack of love affects our families, our neighbors, our communities, our cities, our nation, and our world.

The common good is about personal brokenness. Have we taken the time to let Jesus come in and heal the wounds that distort the image of God within of us — wounds that drive daughters and sons, mothers and fathers to self-destruction? Have we taken the time to let the Great Physician heal the personal wounds that break families and friendships, slicing the central fabric of society? We are all connected.

Is There No Cure for These?

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

3,300 crosses & religious symbols staked on the National Mall. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Last week, the Senate began a floor debate on gun control that brought to mind an earlier “floor debate” several months ago in Chaska, Minn.

Ever since our Community Dialogue on “Gun Violence in America,” I’ve searched for answers to what happened.

A crowd of 138 people came out on a Tuesday night to chime in following the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.

As the night wore on, it became clear that there would be no real dialogue, no moderated discussion. No give-and-take. A series of monologues, without interruption and with a time limit, was the best we could expect.

Fear, anger, hostility, and suspicion were in the room. The room was hot.

The months following have been a personal search for understanding of what happened that night, and how we in America move forward together on such a divisive issue.

It Is Time to Honor the Spirit of the Republic

Bill of Rights, Cheryl Casey/

Bill of Rights, Cheryl Casey/

Meaning happens when the purposes of the writer come together with what the reader thinks is important. Since all aspects of any one thing cannot be perceived all at once, we focus our attention on this or that aspect of a thing depending upon what we want to achieve. This is why we can read a particular text many times and find new insights each time.

This is also why we cannot agree on what the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution means. The amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Many of us who support restriction on the kind of guns and the size of ammunition magazines that private citizens can own focus attention on the clause, “a well regulated Militia.” On the other hand, many who do not support restrictions on the kinds of guns private citizens may own focus attention on the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

More Than 3,300 Gun Deaths Since Newtown; Faith Leaders Say 'Enough'

Heather Wilson / PICO National Network

Crosses & religious symbols on National Mall represent 3,300+ gun deaths since Newtown. Heather Wilson / PICO National Network

Today, on the National Mall, I stood with fellow faith leaders, including clergy from Newtown, to remember lives lost at Sandy Hook elementary school and the 3,364 gun deaths that have happened since.

We stood in front of a field of crosses, Stars of David, and other grave markers, and it broke my heart to think that each one stood for a life ended too soon. It doesn’t have to be this way. Commonsense steps to reduce gun violence are within our reach. Just today the Senate voted to begin the debate. But there is much work to do. Lawmakers need to hear from you.  

This is one of the clearest examples of a stark democratic choice: the old politics of guns or the morality of the common good. The clergy are here today for the common good.

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.

Faith Leaders Speak Out to Reduce Gun Violence

Driven by our moral call to protect each member of our society, people of faith have been outspoken about the need to craft meaningful legislation to reduce gun violence.  This week, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released an ad featuring a diverse group of religious leaders, including Sojourners CEO and President Jim Wallis, leaders to demand that Congress make common-sense reforms to our nation’s legislation that is failing to keep us safe.

The faith community continues to speak loudly and clearly about the moral urgency to address this issue. The only question is whether Congress will listen and finally address the epidemic of violence that plagues our nation.

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.

Leaving Fantasy Island: A Call for the Church to Respond to Gun Violence

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

NRA's Wayne LaPierre testifies at a Senate hearing on gun violence. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

In the 1980s television show, “Fantasy Island,” the island watchman heralded the arrival of individuals attempting to escape their reality with a call of “the plane … the plane … the plane!”

In the weeks since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I’ve spent much of my time in Washington, D.C., preaching about our moral mandate to reduce gun violence, especially in our urban neighborhoods. However, in my time in the capital, I have come to feel as though there are many arriving in Washington on the proverbial plane, escaping the realities of their hometowns, for the Fantasy Island in the beltway. 

In the Book of Proverbs, we read, “Buy the truth — don't sell it for love or money; buy wisdom, buy education, buy insight (Proverbs 23:23, The Message).”

Sadly in Washington, truth seems to be for sale; wisdom seems to be radically individualized; education seems to be mocked; and insight seems to be unable to breach the partisan walls in our nation’s capital.