I have written this article before. I have written this article a number of times before. Every time there is another incident of gun violence, I sit down to write this same article again. It is not the article you think it may be, about the need for our prayers for family members and friends who are devastated by the violence robbing them of loved ones. Though those prayers are needed. It is not the article where I call for us to comfort one another in the face of yet more casualties of gun violence. Though comforting is necessary. No, this is the article that asks, “When will we move beyond simply offering prayers and actually do something about the violence that runs rampant in our culture? When will the Christian church that follows the Prince of Peace, actually do something, say something that will make a difference in countering the violence so that we don’t have to pray for the families of the victims anymore?”
In this article that I have written before, the names of the cities are all that is different. Atlanta and Boulder now enter the lexicon of sites that have experienced deaths by gun violence. These names are added to the other names that just by mere mention call to mind tragic episodes of gun violence: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Charleston to name just a few. However, there are hundreds of other places that only make the news for a split second that are reeling from their own encounters with gun violence. Small towns, large cities, churches, synagogues, mosques, family reunions, random street corners – all have been places where loved ones, family and friends are gunned down and the call for prayers ascends yet again.
Is there a unique role for Christians to counter gun violence? Those of us who seek to follow a Savior who himself was a victim of violence, what is it that we are called to do? At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the problem (and possible solutions), I humbly offer a few possibilities for our consideration
- Hate appears to be a large factor in gun violence, where the shooting outwardly manifests an inner hate against someone else. We must counter this hate with a renewed focus on love for all people.
- Young white males seem to be the majority of the perpetrators of gun violence. Can the church create or participate in programs that teach tolerance, understanding and acceptance for young males? Mentoring, Big Brothers, youth groups, scouting – at their best – offer some hope.
- Isolation and individualism create a climate for gun violence. People may become more prone to seeking resolution by violence if left to their own devices. The church is all about building community, building relationships, resolving conflict, and encouraging transformation. What are some ways that your church can further build community and be a mediating presence – not just for members, but for all people?
- Many of those who are prone to gun violence, like the rest of the population, have experienced mental health challenges. The Mental Health Network of the United Church of Christ has a great program that seeks to remove the stigma mental health problems often create, and truly welcome all to seek wholeness and wellness within a supportive and loving community. Can your congregation become a WISE congregation? Check out this toolkit: https://www.mhn-ucc.org/wise-congregation-toolkit/
I know that I will have to write this article again. I know that we will hear more calls for prayer and few calls for action. But I continue to hope that maybe this time will be different. I continue to hope that maybe our churches can be part of the answer – like that the prayer in the Book of Worship where we pray that “we might be a part of God’s answers to the cries of this world.” This time, may it be so.
With you on the journey,
Interim Conference Minister
South Central Conference, United Church of Christ
From SCC Weekly e-News Submitted by Campbell Lovett, SCC Interim Conference Minister