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The spiritual crisis behind gun violence, and the church’s response

The spiritual crisis behind gun violence, and the church’s response

In the wake mass shootings recently in Oregon, Nevada, Washington and California, Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada asks what is at the root of these spasms of violence and how the church should respond:

In the aftermath of gun violence, we reflexively say we need better regulation of firearms and we need more mental health services. Yes, obviously true. I am 100% for both those technical responses.


But whenever we say those things in the aftermath of gun violence, people rush out to the gun stores to beef up their firepower, the daily attrition through gun violence continues, and a short while later (these days a very short while later), we have another mass shooting. The problem is deeper and wider than loose gun laws and the shortage of affordable therapists.

For whatever reasons – let competent sociologists explain them – people are becoming more and more disconnected. The loneliness and despair overwhelms us. We are alienated and in our alienation, we are disempowered, unable to influence our environment because the channels of influence – relationships – are broken. We lose the ability to shake hands, look each other in they eye, and have an honest conversation. In the absence of such organic connection, the economic machine chews us up. In despair, we drink, gamble, distract ourselves with work and electronic games, and some of us become angry – angry enough to kill, to kill someone, anyone – it doesn’t matter who we kill because we aren’t really connected to anyone. We don’t have the capacity to connect with anyone. We have lost the capacity to imagine how the world looks through another person’s eyes, and no one can imagine what it is like to be us. We live and die unknown. In a crowded room, perhaps in a casino sitting at a gaming machine, we are in solitary confinement. The only connection we know how to make with another human being is to shoot them.

My question is: where do faith and the community of faith come into this? Some of our congregations are open and welcoming, embracing people who come their way, offering them caring presence, attention, appreciation, and a chance to participate in activities ranging from the fun to the noble. I hear stories from people who were lost, alienated, and discouraged until they connected with a congregation, and little by little, they came back to hope.

Do you agree with his analysis of the problem? How should the Episcopal Church respond?

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Richard Edward Helmer

Completely agree. But we have to learn to "walk and chew gum at the same time." Commonsense gun control must be something we support, even has we get more deliberate about engaging with our ecumenical, interfaith, business, governmental, and non-profit neighbors to rebuild the fabrics of our communities.

Most importantly, we need to get over "the church is dying" navel-gazing fixation and do what we are called to do: build community, and do it in Christ's name. We've had 2,000 years of practice. Time to show up.

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