God, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
The prayer attributed to St. Francis resonates deeply within me, especially now as I reflect back on this past year when Christ Church Cathedral focused our prayers, pastoral support and advocacy on the scourge of gun violence. We have created a special link from our homepage called “We remember”, and on it resides the tragic list of 81 Cincinnatians (and counting) who lost their lives in the past year due to a firearm. Some were murdered, several died as a result of suicide or domestic violence. The youngest was five years old. Twenty-two were under the age of 20. Each was a brother, sister, father, mother, daughter, son, and friend. Each was a beloved child of God.
They rest not-at-peace with the 300-plus people who die from gun violence every day in this nation. Yes, do the math to consider the totality of violence that occurs every year. More children die annually from a firearm than die from all childhood cancers combined. Millions of dollars fund research for cancer cures yet for 17 years the Congress of the United States, under immense lobbying pressure from the NRA, has frozen or blocked all scientific research into this epidemic.
Each week, as the names of Cincinnati gun victims are read during our Sunday services as part of our prayers of the people, my heart aches. I know I am surrounded by people of faith, perhaps people searching for faith, but all who are human beings gathered with other human beings to find answers to the troubling questions of violence. We pray for the families and friends whose lives are forever altered. We pray for the victims and the perpetrators of violence. We are frustrated by the inability or unwillingness of our leaders to work together and find solutions to the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, a rate of firearm violence that surpasses even the most violent places on the planet. I know that gun violence has long been a problem in the US and it won’t go away overnight. I believe it needs to be named for what it is and dealt with as a matter of public health policy.
Most of us are pretty immune to the daily carnage, the individual losses of a stranger, an unknown sister here or a child over there. It is mass shootings that tend to get our attention and for a time, focus our grief, our anger, and our demand that something be done. It happened most recently in June 2016 with the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Yet, in 2015 there were 375 mass shootings in our country and the cumulative grief and anger did not translate into our resolve to make change. Instead we have focused on the shooters. We have focused on their ethnicity and their mental health. We’ve poured more energy into debating so many other issues. We have failed to consider the obvious solutions or the more complex causes of violence. We’ve offered our allegiance and reverence to other gods and idols of “liberty” while ignoring the dignity and worth of every human life.
Many of us can remember where we were on December 14, 2012. It was the day when the news came out of Sandy Hook Elementary School that 20 six- and seven-year-old children had been shot along with six adults who tried to save them. Sandy Hook was not the first mass shooting, and as we know, it was most certainly not the last. But it was out of that tragedy that Bishops United Against Gun Violence was founded. This coalition of over 60 Episcopal Church bishops, one of whom is Bishop Breidenthal, is committed to exploring and advocating for all possible means of reducing the appalling levels of gun violence in our society. It is a big tent and includes bishops who own guns, who are NRA members, as well as those who do not own or use guns. They commit to honest dialogue and solidarity in their advocacy for the rights of our children to grow in safety. Theirs is a moral call for all people of faith to confront the tragedy of gun violence. Theirs is a call to engage in sacred conversations about guns and the common good. They have been clear in their message that the intersection of poverty, racism, and gun violence are together part of an “Un-holy Trinity”. They are concrete and unified in their proposals for change. This is a list of their proposals:
• Handgun purchaser licensing
• Background checks on all gun purchasers
• Restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers
• Classification of gun trafficking as a federal crime
• Encouragement for development of “smart gun” technology
• Federal funding for research into gun violence prevention strategies
• Safe storage of firearms
To include more of us in an understanding of the “Unholy Trinity,” the Bishops United Against Gun Violence will offer a three-day conference in April (learn more at http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/unholy-trinity/). Christ Church Cathedral will send a team and I encourage other congregations to send a delegation so we might return and together continue our advocacy in strength and solidarity.
Clearly, the powers and principalities of our nation are indicating they are not onboard with the objectives outlined by our good bishops. The current Congress and President appear to desire less gun regulation. All the more reason for us to remember that in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”. Jesus calls us to resist the idolatry of all things other than God.
I want to be among those children of God. A spiral of peace can counteract the cycle of violence. The spiral of peace begins in our hearts and our homes, and moves outward from there. It can encompass family, neighbors, and our world community in education, compassion, and action.
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The Very Rev. Gail Greenwell serves as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.