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”…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The pressure from the faith community on Congress to address gun violence is building. There have been vigils, marches, and press conferences. Faith leaders have visited the White House and lobbied on the Hill. Now, an interfaith call-in day is being organized on Feb. 4 to ensure Congress hears directly from people of faith demanding change. This is a chance for your voice to ring through the halls of Congress.
While the debate on sensible gun restrictions has continued, local evening newscasts continue to run stories highlighting yet more tragic deaths from gun violence. We need more than a conversation. We need Congress to find the courage to lead.
Much has been said, since the massacre at Newtown, Conn., about our American culture of violence. It is no exaggeration. In 2012, the United States had three mass shootings within six months. According to a study published in the Washington Post, our nation’s gun murder rate is roughly 20 times the average of all other developed countries.
We should not be surprised. Not only have we created a culture of violence, we glorify violence in our movies, television shows, and video games. Even in pro sports, players increasingly settle disagreements on the court or field with physical altercations, reinforced by the cheers of raved fans.
The huge surge in gun sales, after President Barack Obama announced his intent to have Vice President Joe Biden make recommendations to curb gun violence, attests to the misguided fears of many Americans.
We have a paranoid citizenry who, like Sen. Rand Paul (R – Ky.), mistakenly falls into the delusion that arming more people with guns is the answer.
So here America is, coping with this assault on our sensibility, at a time during the year when we celebrate the teaching of the great civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was King who successfully applied the force of nonviolent resistance to end segregation in America, and it is his voice we must listen to in this time of increasing violence in our culture.
“Idolatry of guns.” What does that mean, exactly?
It might be hard to admit, but if you think about it, you can see that many groups in the United States see guns as sacred. Guns are not only the solution to our problems, they will save us from evil. Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, stated this himself: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Do we really believe this? If we stop and think about it, we don’t. Our protection does not come from guns, and we do not live in a binary society of good and evil, where the right to hold dangerous weapons can be allocated to people who are entirely virtuous.