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Godly leadership in the face of violence

Godly leadership in the face of violence

A Word to the Church: Godly Leadership in the Face of Violence

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week. Book of Common Prayer (BCP) p. 220)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Your House of Bishops has gathered in retreat from March 8-12 at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC. The theme for our days together has been “Godly Leadership in the Midst of Loss.” We have heard moving reflections on loss in the wake of: the shootings in Newtown, Hurricane Sandy, the ongoing struggles in Haiti, historical trauma experienced by Native Americans in South Dakota, and physical illness. Being together in conversation, prayer and common worship, we have shared the reality of new life in the resurrected Jesus who has overcome death and redeems our losses.

Our time together has brought us to a new place of recognition with respect to how violence infects, and affects, our lives. We have considered how the reality of violence in our world, our society, our churches, our homes, and ourselves alienate us from God and each other. And we repent that we have too often neglected to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. In this Lenten season we pray: “Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.” (From the Litany of Penance for Ash Wednesday, BCP p. 268)

We particularly grieve those killed by senseless gun violence in the many contexts from which we come. We lament and have cried over the widely reported mass shootings in this country, recalling tragedies like Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown. We are outraged by the too often unseen and unacknowledged daily massacre of our young people in cities such as Chicago, Newark, Baltimore, Port-au-Prince, and Tegucigalpa. This carnage must stop.

As bishops of The Episcopal Church we embody a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with respect to firearms. Many among us are hunters and sport-shooters, former members of the military and law-enforcement officers. We respect and honor that we are not of one mind regarding matters related to gun legislation. Yet we are convinced that there needs to be a new conversation in the United States that challenges gun violence. Because of the wide variety of contexts in which we live and our commitment to reasoned and respectful discourse that holds together significant differences in creative tension, we believe that The Episcopal Church can and must lead in this effort. In fact many in this Church are already doing so, for which we thank God.

At our ordinations as bishops we pledged to “boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience” of those we are called to serve. (BCP p. 518) We call all Episcopalians to pray and work for the end of gun violence. We commit ourselves to lead a new conversation in our nations as to the appropriate use and legislation of firearms. And we further commit ourselves to specific actions to this end.

Praying and working together we can be instruments of God’s restoring and reconciling love for the whole world. Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

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Chris Arnold

I know there wasn’t much time to pull a statement together, and that it matters that the bishops have said something at all in this dire time. What I would love to see (next) is for them to do exactly what they quote: “boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience”. I’d love to how guns and gun violence specifically relate to the gospel and scriptures more widely. We need more than just one or two citations, we need a whole theology of personhood, rights, self-defense, violence, and nonviolence.


I think one of the biggest barriers to adopting any new gun laws is that people who don’t want laws such as gun registration, universal background checks, etc., quite simply don’t trust the motives of those who are pushing for such laws. The motives of those who wish to keep any such laws from being passed are certainly clear about what they want. But there are two issues with the people who do want such laws passed:

1) They often have issued contradictory statements. For example, Sen. Feinstein has said that she doesn’t want to confiscate any guns. Yet she has been quoted twice in the past (prior to the current controversy) that she wants to pass a law confiscating what she terms “assault weapons”. This makes her and others’ motives suspect when they call for new laws.

2) Any new legislation that is called for is limiting a Constitutional right. Such rights do have limits, but it does put the burden on the proponents to show that it will in fact have the effect of limiting things such as homicides while not interfering with legitimate owners’ rights. They rarely reference how actual incidents would have been affected by such laws. For example, the vast majority of people who have been murdered in Chicago have been killed by people who use guns bought on the black market – so their lives would not have been saved by such a law.

3) The use of the term “gun violence” is seen as dishonest rhetoric. More homicides are committed using cars in this country every year than by those using guns, yet we do not talk about “car violence”, we talk about drunk drivers. This makes it appear as though the proponents are making a political attack on guns rather than on the violence.

4) People talking ignorantly about guns. If people talk about an issue such as abortion they are expected to understand and properly use terms relating to the subject. But opponents of gun ownership constantly misuse terms relating to guns and gun use. For example, numerous politicians and spokespeople talked about how automatic weapons were used at the Newtown killings and how they should be banned – whereas they were not used there and have been virtually illegal to own since 1934. This makes people think that they are willing to lie in order to attain their goals.

Ron Fox

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