SOTU: Time for Common Ground for Common Good

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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. 

Missouri Synod President Apologizes for Newtown Interfaith ‘Debacle’

RNS photo by Pete Souza/The White House.

President Barack Obama attends a Sandy Hook interfaith vigil. RNS photo by Pete Souza/The White House.

The president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod apologized for his role in the “debacle” that led him to publicly reprimand a pastor in Newtown, Conn., for praying at an interfaith service following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In the initial incident, the denomination’s president, Matthew C. Harrison, requested an apology from the Rev. Rob Morris of Newtown’s Christ the King Lutheran Church for participating in an interfaith prayer vigil that followed the Dec. 14  shootings. Morris’ role in the vigil broke denominational rules against joint worship with other religions.

Morris complied and apologized — not for his participation, but for offending members of the St. Louis-based denomination. But the president’s request sparked a blaze of criticism — from within the denomination and outside it. Critics charged he was intolerant and insensitive to the town’s grieving residents.

“In retrospect, I look back and see that I could’ve done things differently,” Harrison said in a video posted on the denomination’s blog Sunday. “My deepest desire was to bring unity, or at least to avoid greater division in the Synod over this issue.”

Lutheran Pastor Apologizes for Praying at Newtown Vigil

RNS photo by Pete Souza/The White House

Newtown, Conn., prayer vigil. RNS photo by Pete Souza/The White House

A Lutheran pastor in Newtown, Conn., has apologized after being reprimanded for participating in an interfaith vigil following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, prayed at the vigil the Sunday following the Dec. 14 shootings alongside other Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Baha’i clergy.

Morris’ church is a member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the denomination’s constitution prohibits ministers from participating in services with members of different faiths.

It’s not the first time a Missouri Synod pastor has been reprimanded for joining an interfaith prayer service; a New York pastor also was suspended for participating in an interfaith service after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

LCMS president Matthew Harrison wrote in a letter to the Synod that “the presence of prayers and religious readings” made the Newtown vigil joint worship, and therefore off-limits to Missouri Synod ministers. Harrison said Morris’ participation also offended members of the denomination.

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

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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. 

Faith Community Organizes Call-in Day to End Gun Violence

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Hand holding smart phone. Chardchanin /

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.

The Courage to Reject our Culture of Violence

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Participants with One Million Moms for Gun Control march across the Brooklyn Bridge on January 21. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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.  

A New Year's Challenge in the Wake of Sandy Hook

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Isabel Lebron holds son Izaiah Taylor at a memorial with donated Christmas trees honoring victims. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The New Year is upon us and it is time for us to participate in the yearly tradition of setting new goals and listing our resolutions. Even if you deny it, I suspect that when that calendar year rolls over there is some part of your brain where you ask yourself a few questions … about things that you want to change, do differently, tasks you want to tackle this year.

We poke fun at the tradition mostly because we all do it and most of us will break resolutions within a month, but I still argue that the process itself is valuable. We had BETTER be investing time into goal setting for “where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJB). Another translation says: “Where there is no vision the people are unrestrained” (NASB). Still another says: “Without revelation the people run wild” (HCSB).