Gun Violence

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.

Gun Violence: How Valuable is a Life?

Gun shot in window, Iurii Konoval / Shutterstock.com

Gun shot in window, Iurii Konoval / Shutterstock.com

Death doesn’t make sense — especially when it interrupts the life of one so young. Richard Twiss was only 58 years old.

It makes me think: Richard was one life, cut short by a heart attack. What about all the images of God erased from our lives and families every year through gun violence in the U.S.? What about their families and pastors and youth groups who held vigils in waiting rooms across the country? What about the estimated 1,793 gun deaths since the Newtown massacre? How valuable are their lives?

Lay Down Your Arms and Take a Stand

DeiMosz / Shutterstock.com

DeiMosz / Shutterstock.com

Edmund Burke once said, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." So what is at the heart of the endless stream of violence in our country — is it guns or is it something a lot harder to eradicate — passivity?

The overwhelming response would likely be "it's the guns, stupid." But in this fight, the individual with the loaded AK-47 rifle may be only slightly less dangerous than the passive citizen, the average person who may think "something should be done about guns,” but fails to stand up and make their voice heard.

Christians: Gun Violence is Our Issue

Gun image, val lawless / Shutterstock.com

Gun image, val lawless / Shutterstock.com

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.

Call and Response: What the President Did This Week

Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama at the State of the Union Address on Feb. 12. Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images

There is a tradition in the black church named “call and response.” It’s simply the experience of the preacher “calling” and the congregation “responding.” I’ve always loved it. When you’re preaching in a black church, and the congregants begin to actively and vocally respond, your sermon can actually get better, stronger, deeper, and more powerful than it might have been if everyone just sat there. Sermons get interactive. Congregations can be inspired by the preacher — and the other way around. Ideas grow, get taken further, and even develop during and after the sermon. And it can make things change.

After his first year in office, I sent a letter to President Barack Obama humbly suggesting he needed “the political equivalent of the black church’s call and response.” Just talking to and in Washington was never going to get important things done. Washington just sits there and mostly makes sure that things don’t change — and that the special interests that buy, shape, and control this city usually have their way. (That private letter to the president will be published for the first time in my new book about the common good coming out in April.)

I recalled something Obama said right after the 2008 election — that he would need “the wind of a movement at my back” to get anything really important done. He would have to go over the heads of Washington, to speak directly to the people that had elected him and also those who didn’t. He would have to have public debates about the common good and not just debate in Washington. 

I saw him do that in this week’s State of the Union speech.

An Ash Wednesday Question

Police crime scene tape,  Luis Louro /Shutterstock.com

Police crime scene tape, Luis Louro /Shutterstock.com

 What do we do? How do we stop this?

“Motorists and walkers scattered in terror Monday night as a gunman fired two bursts of bullets at passing vehicles near an Oakdale grocery store, killing a 10-year-old boy and wounding two other people. Click HERE for the Star-Tribune story.

We can‘t stop it. America is an arsenal with an open door. And any attempt to close the door is “unconstitutional.” Liberty, one of three basic rights outlined by The Declaration of Independence, is killing the other two. “Liberty” trumps not only “the pursuit of happiness” but “life” itself.

“At least two vehicles struck by bullets sped into the parking lot of the nearby Rainbow Foods at 7053 10th St. N. seeking help.”

Responsible gun owners did not do this. An irresponsible gun owner did this. But it would have made not one ounce of difference if the passersby had been armed. They were sitting ducks, like the ducks in a carnival booth. There is no protection against irresponsible use of a firearm.

SOTU: Time for Common Ground for Common Good

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Barack Obama in the House Chamber during his State of the Union Address. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

There was truth tonight in the president’s State of the Union message.

There was truth that the rising costs of health care must indeed be addressed by serious reforms in our Medicare and healthcare system — but  that it’s wrong to put most of that burden on vulnerable seniors, while protecting the most powerful special interests. Truth that you should not reduce the deficit by cuts in crucial investments in education, infrastructure, science, clean energy, or programs for the most vulnerable — but leave billions of dollars in tax loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and well-connected. 

Truth in the compassionate and committed words about “poverty” and “poor” children and families who deserve our attention to find ladders up from poverty. Truth that no one who works full time in the wealthiest nation on earth should have to live in poverty but have a living wage. That quality pre-school should be available to every child in America to create stable and successful families. 

Episcopal Bishop Schori Addresses Senate Committee on Gun Violence

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, submitted written testimony today to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on gun violence, chaired by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. The subcommittees is accepting “Proposals to reduce gun violence: protecting our communities while respecting the Second Amendment." Established after the Newtown massacre and in the wake of President Obama's leadership on reducing gun violence, the subcomittee is recieving statements from a number of religious leaders.
 
Bishop Schori says:
"I urge lawmakers to press for comprehensive and universal background checks for firearm ownership, regardless of where and how a gun is purchased; for bans on the availability to civilians of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and for policies designed to better regulate the manufacture of guns,” the Presiding Bishop states in her testimony. “The Episcopal Church also supports the highest level of accountability for violation of all existing laws pertaining to violence in our midst.”

Guns ... According to Jesus

Gun control word cloud, Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

Gun control word cloud, Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

Red, white, and blue. Pick-up trucks. Apple pie. Baseball. Church on Sunday. And guns. You can't get much more American than that, or so it seems here in Montana. This week a regional newspaper posted on Facebook looking to find proponents of greater gun restrictions for an article they were writing. Within minutes the request was laughed at, belittled, and deemed unlikely. Truth is, even if someone did lean toward greater gun control, they never would have publicly responded. To utter such absurdities is equivalent to branding yourself anti-freedom, anti-American, and even anti-Christian. To listen to the rhetoric, gun control of any kind is nothing more than an eager embrace of Nazi-fascism, Chinese-communism, and the demise of all things American. And surely God would disapprove.

Which makes me wonder: what would God say about gun control? Not in some sort of glib WWJD-type platitude, nor in an entangled concoction of American freedom and Christian theology. And definitely not in a sensationalized proof-texting approach to scripture. But honestly, can our faith inform this conversation? And should it?

The Second Amendment Can't Heal Trauma

 Bill of Rights, Charles Knowles / Shutterstock.com

Bill of Rights, Charles Knowles / Shutterstock.com

How did this gun-owner-since-he-was-eight find himself at a prayer vigil to end gun violence on the steps of the Michigan state capitol? The easy answer is that Michigan Prophetic Voices, a nonpartisan, statewide organizing clergy group invited me to be there. But I had another reason.

In my family owning a gun was explained as a rite of passage, not as a Second Amendment right. When my father handed me my first gun he said, "You are old enough now to learn how to use this safely. There is one thing you have to promise me: never point it at anyone. If you do, I will take it away for good." I made the promise.

The man who said those words had heard different words from his father. "Never steal another man's property," my grandfather had told my dad, "and if it's yours, you fight like hell to keep it." 

Those words shaped events of an early August morning in the 1970s when both of those men leveled shotguns at would-be burglars in the family business and, out of fear for their own lives, fired. One of those 20-something men was killed.

Pages

Subscribe