Gun Violence

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.

Respect for a Father’s Grief

Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

We know we are addicted to something when that behavior damages our relationships with people. When alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, or work is more important than mother, father, husband, wife, child, friend, or neighbor, we know we have a problem. Similarly, we know that we are worshipping an idol when a created thing becomes more important than the Creator, when we put our faith in our fears and a dead thing that cannot love us back becomes the object of our ultimate concern. We know we are worshipping an idol when our devotion fails to cause us to love and to respect our neighbor.

In a Connecticut hearing about gun violence, Neil Heslin — a father whose son died in the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School —asked why any one individual citizen needs military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. People in the room answered by quoting the Second Amendment. In this case, the Second Amendment was more important than this father’s pain. Their lack of respect for his pain indicated a deficit of both compassion and love, not only for this grieving father but for a grieving nation.

Let us be clear. The Second Amendment is not holy writ, and a gun is not God. Far too many Americans have made these created things, these inanimate objects more important than the compassion we ought to have for one another. This is fetishism. This is idolatry. This is morally wrong.

God of Love Wouldn’t Embrace An Arsenal

Photo by Krystal Brewer / Sojourners

Protestors march for common sense gun legislation in Washington, D.C. Photo by Krystal Brewer / Sojourners

So you might think that religious folks for the most part are not big fans of guns, and for the most part you’d be right.

And then you run across these comments from a California legislator, who said guns are “essential to living the way God intended.” That was Rep. Tim Donnelly, who told a Christian radio show Jan. 16 that guns “are used to defend human life. They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom.”

Well, yes, guns are used that way. They are used in lots of other ways too — to kill people we don’t like, to hold up banks, to commit suicide. It’s harder to wrap those under the banner of God’s intent.

For Christians, it’s hard to square the deification of guns with Jesus telling his followers to put away their swords, even as he was being arrested and led off to death.

That’s why a wide coalition of religious voices are speaking out in the great national debate about how we can live up to the Second Amendment’s call for having a “well-regulated militia.” Notice the words “well-regulated.”

As the Very Rev. Gary Hall, the new dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., said two days after the horrific shootings at Newtown: “I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby.”

Death in Broad Daylight: A Childhood Memory

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama signs executive orders on new gun law proposals with children. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When I was a little girl, my mother and I prayed together every night:

Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And then I would ask God to bless a list of people who were on my mind.

Every night I spoke about my own death, but death was not real. It never occurred to me that I would die or that my parents would die.

One day when I was in the fifth grade, we heard gun shots outside our school. Our teachers did not let us go outside for recess that day because a woman had been killed, caught in the crossfire of a domestic dispute between her son and his wife. By the time school was out, the body had been removed; there was no yellow crime scene tape. There was still blood on the ground to mark the spot of this tragic death. The next day it would be washed away.

PHOTOS: Families Affected by Gun Violence March on Washington

Photo by Krystal Brewer / Sojourners

Photo by Krystal Brewer / Sojourners

Over the weekend I joined more than 6,000 people in a march for common sense gun control legislation.

The ground was covered in snow and ice, air so cold we could see our breath, on Saturday morning as we marched silently from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument. In front of me, 100 residents from Newtown Conn., carried signs that read, “We Are Sandy Hook.” By my side stood an elderly woman with a sign reading, “Guns kill people. People kill people. Let’s work on both TOGETHER.” 

Behind me, beside me, and scattered throughout the crowd of silent marchers more than 1,000 simple white signs were also displayed — carrying the names of victims of gun violence who have been permanently silenced.

They were names like Charlotte Colton, a mother of three who was gunned down along with seven other people at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Goleta, Calif. 

Names like Laura Webb, who was shot and killed in a salon while styling her mother’s hair in a massacre that killed eight people.

Names like Vanessa Quinn, 29, one of four victims gunned down in a mall in Utah while she was picking out her wedding ring. 

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