Friday, September 19, 2014

God and Guns

Put a bunch of faith leaders together and you are not likely to find many of them arguing that Jesus really wanted everyone to have a gun. So the panel called God and Guns at the Religion Newswriters Association 2014 conference had activists who want to find ways both to regulate the proliferation of guns in American society and to change the culture that idolizes guns.

It’s not that there was not a spectrum of hackgrounds on the stage. The head of the National Council of Churches and someone with deep roots in Southern evangelical Christianity. Someone from the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and the Episcopal bishop of Atlanta.

In some ways, they covered familiar ground in the gun debate, but a recurring message was that this is an effort for the long haul. “Persistence” was the word of the day. But there were some vivid phrases in the discussion.

“We are truly messed up in this area,” said David Gushee of Mercer University, the evangelical as he compared gun violence in the U.S. with other nations. “We have a constant low-grade bleeding going on every day. A lot of our domestic problems are resolved by bullets.”

The disequalizer is the amount of money the gun manufacturers and gun lobby have in this debate. It is a classic example of “the power of vested interest money to override the public sentiment.”

What’s missing, said Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, is the support of the grass roots. As if to reinforce what Gushee said about the U.S. standing apart in the world for its gun violence, he said that in a year, Philadelphia loses more people to gun deaths than all the developed nations in the world except one – the U.S.

“The faith community is the most logical one to take the lead,” he said.

Bishop Wright
Bishop Robert Wright, the first African-American Episcopal bishop in Atlanta, offered the theological rationale for that among Christians.

“Piece carry is at odds with the Prince of Peace,” he said, explaining why he banned guns from all Episcopal churches after a new George law allowed guns in churches.

He cited lax gun laws that reinforce people’s hostility to one another as being at odds with Jesus’ call to look out for our neighbor. “They are an affront to God,” he said.

He looked at Scripture and said there are no texts that affirm our obsession with self defense, adding, “You can’t put those words in Jesus’ mouth. Jesus is not from Georgia, he does not speak English and he is not a member of the NRA.”

Finally, he said that enlarging fear is not a very imaginative response to issues around neighborliness. “It is an absolute offense to human dignity,” Wright concluded.

This issue will get some attention in Madison next Monday. There will be a Hearts & Soles rally to prevent gun violence in Wisconsin at noon on the State Street steps of the Capitol. Here’s the explanation:

“Every year, an average of 467 men, women, and children in Wisconsin are killed by guns. One death is too many -- 467 is a crisis that requires decisive and meaningful action. That’s why WAVE is traveling across Wisconsin with a powerful display of 467 pairs of empty shoes, which serve as both a stark reminder of those we’ve lost and a compelling call to action.  

“We will be joined by elected officials, community and faith leaders, victims of gun violence, and other concerned citizens. Together, we will form a united front in the fight to prevent the tragedies that have devastated so many families and communities.”

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