Guns in Churches?

Written for Disciples Peace Fellowship in the wake of the massacre at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX.  Parts of this were first published as Opponent Testimony to a bill that would allow guns in churches to the State Government Committee of the Ohio Legislature on June 10, 2015.)

Like many of you, I was horrified to learn of the most recent mass shooting in our country.  Like many of you, I spent the morning in church. Heights Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation in Cleveland, OH.  It was All Saints Sunday which always seems to bring tears, even when the deaths we are honoring are not my own family or people I even knew particularly well.  The previous Sunday, my husband and I led a discussion during the adult education hour about gun violence.  We began with referencing our denomination’s resolution that called Disciples congregations to responsibility and action in working to reduce gun violence deaths and injuries.   The timing of this particular conversation was in the aftermath of the largest gun massacre in modern history – the killing of 58 people and injuring of 500 more at an outdoor concert venue in Las Vegas.

Sadly, just one week after our presentation, the need for the conversation was quickly back again, in our faces and breaking our hearts.  My husband and I lead an organization, God Before Guns. Through our work we are aware that a conversation about what to do about gun violence could happen on any given day.  It is the mass shootings that capture our attention, if fleetingly.  But on any given day, more than 100 people will be shot and killed. The numbers of gun deaths are climbing.  Twice that number will be injured, many with lifelong disabilities.

We expect what we get after a mass shooting.  This is not the time to talk about guns.  It’s too soon.  Don’t make this political.  It’s not the guns.  There’s nothing we can do.  It’s the price of freedom.  Our thoughts and prayers.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  Although this time we are already hearing from the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, who says that this is going to happen again and that more church members need to be armed for their own protection.  It is not the first, nor likely the last time we have been told that if only more people had been armed, a tragedy like this could have been prevented.

Compelling to consider?  After all, no one wants more people shot in church on a Sunday morning. Perhaps, but it’s just not true that more guns means fewer deaths.  Only 10% of all mass shootings in our country happen in gun-free zones.  That means 90% of them happen where guns are allowed.  More guns do not make us safer.  We might also consider that if only there had been a good guy with a gun, these shootings would not have happened.  That too is not supported with any credible evidence. More people armed in a situation can make it difficult for first responders to find who the actual shooter is, as happened most recently at the Wal-Mart shootings in Colorado.

But when we’re talking about church, this conversation takes on so much more than statistics or politics or any misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment.  Because my work and home are in Ohio, some of this is Ohio-specific.  For more about our stance on guns in churches, go to our website.  Please read on:

I am a Christian pastor who believes that faith communities have traditionally been – and must continue to be – places of sanctuary.   By definition:  Sanctuary is a sacred place.  By definition:  Sanctuary is a safe haven.  Church fits both definitions.  Church is where we go to commune with God, together with others.  Church is a house of prayer and encouragement.  Church must be inclusive of all persons.  Church is a place of love and acceptance where we learn how to be God’s active messengers of love, peace and justice in the world.

That message of love and acceptance and that place of sanctuary (both definitions) are especially important for our children and youth.  In the congregation I served in Cleveland Heights, I was pastor to a large number of middle school and high school youth and their parents.  Those youth attended several different school districts in Cuyahoga and surrounding counties.  To my surprise and shock, I became aware that every one of these children had been on school lockdown at some point in their schooling.  They not only knew the drill, they had seen it for real.  Some of our youth experienced the danger first-hand from that horrible February Monday when T.J. Lane shot and killed 3 high school students and caused lifelong injury to 2 others at Chardon High School.  Those teen-agers know the danger because they were there in cafeteria to witness it.  It was just months later when the Newtown massacre of first-graders happened, and as a pastor, I was once again faced with helping those kids deal with their fears and anxieties.  Our children know these situations are real.  They know they could be victims themselves.

It is especially critical now in these times of too much violence in our culture, that our children know church as sanctuary — definition safe haven.  A safe place where they can express their fears.  A safe place where they can freely talk about anything.  A safe place where they will not be bullied.  A safe place where weapons have no place.  From the advice of our local police department, we began displaying no weapons signs on all entry doors.  We did this to reinforce the current Ohio law in place that prohibits guns in places of worship — unless an individual church decides to permit them. In other words, no church that wants firearms is prevented from allowing them.  Legislation has been proposed to put the burden of responsibility on us to keep guns out.  With legislation that allows guns, even if we post No Guns Allowed signs, will they be ignored? Will churches need to go to the trouble and expense of metal detectors and bag inspection as a regular part of Sunday morning worship?  I pray not. 

In Ohio, there is no evidence that most churches want firearms on their premises.  There is no evidence that a majority of Ohio faith leaders are clamoring for more firearms in church.  And so, Ohio’s elected officials should not consider a new law that presumes that firearms are welcome in Ohio churches.  Nor should any new law force Ohio faith communities to take action to exclude them.  Instead, lawmakers in Columbus should consider the tens of thousands of people outside of the Statehouse who want their places of worship to remain places of peace.  Churches that are sanctuary – sacred spaces and safe havens – are a powerful presence that have positive and rippling effects on entire neighborhoods and communities.

Guns are dangerous.  The presence of a gun always increases the possibility of accidentally misplacing it and of accidentally discharging it.  The presence of a gun increases fear and the intimidation (whether intended or not) of other persons.  The presence of a gun increases the potential for deadly and injurious confrontation if the armed person loses his or her composure.  There are no compelling reasons to increase these dangers in churches because there is no credible evidence that churches with no guns allowed are any more dangerous than places where guns are permitted.  There is no credible evidence that allowing guns in churches will make people safer than they are without guns.  As to the rights of CCW permit holders to carry their firearms everywhere, these persons represent a very small minority of the adult population in Ohio.  Expanding their rights ignores the rights of all of the rest of us Ohioans who wish to have places where we can be free from being close to persons carrying concealed and loaded firearms.

As to guns being our protection:  A church looks to God as our ultimate source of protection.   As to wearing a gun in church even as we are passing the peace with others in the pews: As a follower of Jesus – as a Christian — I am called to a standard of loving my neighbor – a definition of neighbor that includes even my enemies.  It will take my lifetime to meet that standard.  If you are a Christian, you join me in that lifetime of work.  If we believe – and we legislate – that we can only safely interact with other people if we arm ourselves against them, we will never get even get close to that standard.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Jesus commands that we put away our swords.  Swords were the weapon of choice in the 1st century.  I believe Jesus would command us to do the same with today’s weapon of choice – a concealed carry gun.

There is no place for guns in our houses of worship.

Now, back to November 2017 and the call to arm ourselves in churches.  I call to your attention this portion of our denomination’s resolution:

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that congregations within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), along with the other expressions of the church, be encouraged to promote dialogue, cooperation, advocacy, and action that moves toward a reduction of gun violence and promotes anti-racist, pro-reconciling education in our communities and nations, and to consider making clear their commitment by openly declaring their properties gun-free zones where state and local laws do not already do so.

Nothing about arming ourselves as a solution.  I urge you to find out what your state’s existing laws are concerning guns in churches.  Find out if there is pending legislation and speak out against it.  Contact us at God Before Guns if we can be a resource for your congregation.

 

Rev Kristine Eggert

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Co-Founder of God Before Guns

Posted in Activism, Christian, Concealed Carry Guns, Ending Gun Violence, God Before Guns, Grief, gun safety, gun violence, Loss of Child, open carry guns, Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Stay Woke …

My response to the Las Vegas shootings and how people of faith must respond to the issue of gun violence in our country.

Posted in Activism, Ending Gun Violence, God Before Guns, gun safety, gun violence, open carry guns, Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A pulpit response to Charlottesville …

If I’d had more time between Sunday morning and the horror of Saturday in Charlottesville, I would have said some hints differently.  Here is my effort, raw and unedited.  You can see my pain on my face.  I’m wearing my aching heart on my face.

Pastor.  Parent.  Activist.  

Posted in Activism, Charlottesville, Christian, Ending Gun Violence, God Before Guns, Grief, gun violence, LGBTQ, Loss of Child, open carry guns, Racism, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tears and lamenting. Laughter and celebration. All while wearing orange …

18838916_824455191041370_3653423704376654261_nEarly in the week when we were nervously checking the weather for God Before Guns’ 4th annual Walk & Rally, there was a 100% chance of rain for the duration of the event.  By Friday, there was not a cloud in the sky.  Friday, June 2, 2017.  National Gun Violence Awareness Day.  And the color of that day is Orange.  

Why Orange?  We wear Orange in honor and memory of 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed on January 29, 2013 in Chicago — an unintended victim of gang-related gunfire.  This happened just two weeks after she had the honor of performing with her school marching band at President Barack Obama’s 2nd inauguration.  AFter her death, Hadiyah’s friends decided to wear Orange to commemorate her life.  Gun violence prevention advocates continue what they started.

 

Why Orange?  Hunters wear Orange to keep themselves safe in the woods.  To call attention to themselves to say I’m not the target.

Why Orange?  Because Orange demands to be seen.

18813199_10212980255962614_3627342373720250415_nGun violence is a huge issue in our country.  In the City of Cleveland where we live.  We walk across the bridge every year so we will be seen.  And on a Friday afternoon, we attracted the attention of hundreds of drivers heading home from the workweek.  With our signs held high for all to see, drivers honked in approval and agreement.   Anyone who stopped off after work for happy hour at bars and restaurants near the Rally18767373_824455394374683_7813527557637127062_n could hear the names read of the 32 young men, women, and children who died in our county this year at the wrong end of a gun.  They could hear the passion of longtime peace activist Khalid Samad who was at every single one of these funerals.  They could hear the distinctive, poetic, and authentically powerful voices of Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word.

If18893001_10212980255522603_379640938611489635_n these hundreds of drivers and bystanders didn’t already know that gun violence is an issue, they do now.  They saw us.  In Orange.  We were difficult to ignore.  That is the point.

If you couldn’t make it this year.  If you didn’t know about us yet.  No worries.  We’ll be back next year.  But we won’t be idle until then.  Gun violence kills more than 90 people every day in our country.  There is a life and death 18835939_824455314374691_8158205082212503911_nurgency to this work.  This is an every day of the year activism.   You’ll recognize us because we’ll be the ones wearing Orange.  We invite you to join us.  We’ll even make sure you have a Orange shirt.  All you have to do is ask.  Follow our posts and calendar on Facebook, and join us for our next event.

Yes, there could be tears.  Yes, you’ll be faced 18835883_824455351041354_266995122419934135_nwith an awareness when you might rather have your head in the sand.  But you will be in the company of some very courageous people who choose to stand up and speak out, even when they are grieving the violent loss of someone dear.  That will inspire you.  You’ll be surrounded by ordinary people like us who have come to believe that we must be seen and heard in order for God’s will for justice and peace to be realized.  That will challenge you.

Imagine that world.  Then, respond.  For your children and grandchildren.   For the children who are more at risk than your own.

18880167_824455224374700_1911859853440431659_oThat’s where the celebration comes in.  When we see each other.  When we realize that we are in this together.  That we can and must do this.  Together and with God’s help.

Pastor.  Parent.  Activist.  

Posted in Activism, Black Lives Matter, Children, Ending Gun Violence, gun safety, gun violence, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When Mother’s Day is difficult for you ….

It is for me.   I managed to avoid preaching on Mother’s Day for several years until this year. This link will take you to the video of what I had to say.   Maybe the day would be better served if we made it about children of mothers and listened to Small Voices.

Pastor.  Parent.  Activist.

Posted in Activism, Children, Ending Gun Violence, God Before Guns, Grandparents, Grief, gun violence, LGBTQ, Loss of Child, Mothers Day, Pastoral Ministry, Racism, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.

How to be people of faith who trust in and live as peacemakers in a violent world is difficult at best. I pray daily for the strength and focus I need to continue doing this work.   I’ve shared with you this week just a portion of the work that Christian mainline denominations are doing.  It’s not just Christians who are concerned activists against violence.  For more, click on this link.

From the Islamic Society of America:

The Quaran (5:23) says that the killing of one innocent person is tantamount to killing the whole human race.  This is exactly what we experience when scenes of massacres in Newtown, Boston, Aurora, and other cities in America are shown on television.  The deadening numbness that these horrific scenes have on all of us – individually and collectively – represents what this verse of the Quaran tells us.

From the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism

The Talmud teaches us that “he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and he who saves one life it is as though he has saved the universe.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).  The carelessness with which human life is taken by guns stands in direct violation of these affirmations of our tradition.

Buddhist Perspective from Thubten Chodron, Sravasti Abbey

In accordance with avoiding all wrong, the first precept the Buddha set forth is not to harm other physically, especially to take their lives.  Harming others physically is neither an appropriate nor a satisfactory way of dealing with conflict or threat.  Clearly guns are made to do this, so their proliferation makes it easier to transgress this precept when someone’s mind is overwhelmed by fear, anger, or misery (in the case of suicide).  Harming others also harms ourselves, since we are all interrelated.  Compassion can be a powerful force to resolve conflict and prevent violence.  Compassion is not wimpy or sentimental.  A mind with compassion is strong and can deal with difficult situations effectively because it isn’t clouded with fear and anger.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read what has been on my heart and mind during Advent Peace Week.  I close our time together with this prayer:

O Lord,

               Open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;

               Open my ears that I may hear their cries;

               Open my heart so that they need not be without succor:

Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong.

Nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.

Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,

And use me to bring them to those places.

And so open my eyes and my ears

That I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.

Alan Paton, Life Prayers: Affirmations to Celebrate

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Today’s prayer of non-violence

An early influence for us in the work we do was Rev. James Atwood, a retired Presbyterian pastor.  Rev. Atwood, an avid hunter and gun owner, devoted thirty-six years as a Presbyterian pastor to fighting against the easy access to firearms, after a gun ended the life of one of his dear friends.  His book, America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, was important to us when we first began this work.  Rev. Atwood says that preventing gun violence is a spiritual mandate from God, as ..

  • Each of us is created in the image of God.
  • Each of us is a child of God
  • Each of us is a brother or sister in God’s family.
  • Each of us is a neighbor whom we are commanded to love as we love ourselves.
  • The New Testament declares that our very bodies are “the temples of the Living God.”
  • We cannot love our neighbor, brother/sister, without caring deeply about that which hurts of kills them.

Prayer:  Gracious and merciful God.  We pray for the wisdom, compassion, and mercy to live our lives in the love and example of Jesus to:

Strive for peace within ourselves and to be peacemakers in our daily life;

Accept suffering in the struggle for justice rather than acting it.

Refuse to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;

Persevere in nonviolence of tongue and heart;

Live conscientiously and simply so that we do not deprive others of the means to live.

We ask this in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Adopted from Pax Christi, USA, “Renewal of the Vow of Nonviolence”

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