FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
WHAT CHURCHES CAN DO ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE
Behind every act of gun violence is a web of stories of people’s lives that were forever altered by gun mayhem. Here are a few snippets of my story.
When I was 12, my mother was shot and seriously injured by an estranged husband inside a car he was driving. Fortunately, she survived this vicious act of domestic violence. Twenty-four years later, in 1997, my younger sister was shot in her home by an unknown assailant. Hours later, she succumbed to her injuries.
In May of 2023, a 21-year-old cousin who I never had the pleasure of meeting was shot to death during a dispute with another young man with a gun.
As a pastor, I presided over funeral services for two congregants who were shot to death in their communities. One victim was a 17-year-old young man who was shot while standing on the porch of his house. The assailant used an assault rifle to destroy the body I had baptized just one year earlier.
While preparing this treatise for release, a disturbed man with an assault rifle killed 18 people and wounded 13 others in Lewiston, Maine.
These brief yet painful accounts illustrate the fact that at any time and in any place, our lives and those of the people we love can be forever altered by the ongoing menace of gun violence.
As a Christian, I believe it is important for the church to go on the record as believing gun violence is not consistent with the will or vision of God for humanity as made known through Jesus Christ. Here is why: A good number of people, including many Christians, believe every death, even when brought about by murder, is pre-determined by God and therefore consistent with God’s will. Many try to make sense of these violent deaths with expressions such as, “When it’s your time to die, you will die no matter where you are,” while others find comfort during tragic moments by proclaiming, “Everything happens for a reason.”
While I freely admit that I do not understand the mysteries behind life and death, I believe that “reason” behind gun violence is not linked to divine intent but the very real presence of personal and structural evil in the world that enables angry, violent, troubled, and hate-filled persons to gain access to guns.
If left unchecked, the popular yet perplexing excuses for occurrences of gun violence can lead to feelings of numbness, powerlessness, and helplessness, even among people of faith. Maybe this is why so many of us think the only helpful things we can offer to gun violence victims and survivors are thoughts and prayers.
To be sure, I value warm thoughts; I believe in the power of prayer, and I am convinced God can and does comfort those who mourn. Yet for us to conclude our concern over gun violence with thoughts and prayers may say more about our social fatigue and spiritual hopelessness than it does about the power and courage that churches can receive when they trust God’s vision for humanity and allow it to function as the GPS for their lives and ministries.
In my view, scripture refutes the theologically confusing explanations I mentioned above while providing us with a vision for how we must live if we intend to have a future worth striving for. In the Gospel of John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that people may have life, and have it abundantly” (NRSV).
This abundant, flourishing life is not just a promise for a heavenly afterlife, but a projection of the way life should be right here and right now. Stealing, killing, and destruction of life – this is what thieves produce. Abundant, flourishing life is what God provides.
I am convinced that as the church internalizes this vision of abundant, flourishing life for all, it will be provisioned by God to mount a hopeful and credible challenge to gun violence. It will be equipped and authorized to teach adherents and non-adherents alike that the attributes of this vision are not restricted to the heavenly realm, but ways of life we can work to realize on earth, as they currently exist in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Along with such an abundant, flourishing life vision, we church folks receive Holy Spirit power to marshal our God-given talents and abilities toward the creation of a culture of non-violence and peacemaking in our congregations and communities.
This, my friends, is how I view evangelism. It is not simply about getting people into heaven; it is also about getting heaven into people.
This vision, should we choose to accept it, would lead us to take some bold steps that have the potential to prevent gun violence. Here are some examples:
• Preach messages about nonviolence and peacemaking;
- Build Christian education programs that emphasize nonviolence and peacemaking as a way of living for adults and especially for children in congregations and their communities;
- Raise our voices in support of legislation that honors life by enacting “common sense gun laws,” including universal background checks, that make it harder for people with mental illness and histories of violence and hate to get and use guns;
- Speak out against statutes such as those that make it lawful for people to have concealed weapons on their person with no demand or obligation to disclose their possession even to law enforcement personnel;
- Join the call for a ban on high-capacity assault rifles that are intended only to kill as many people as possible, as fast as possible;
- Ask all gun owners to safely store and lock their firearms to prevent children and persons with suicidal thoughts from easily accessing them. (Churches could acquire gun locks and give them to gun owners.); and
- Debunk the myth that gun possession makes us safer – it does not.
I believe these measures to be clear and consistent with the abundant, flourishing life agenda of God made known through Jesus Christ. The writer of Proverbs tells us, “Where there is no vision, people perish.” People are perishing right now due to gun violence. No neighborhood is safe and no community is immune to gun terror. I, therefore, believe where there is a life-affirming vision, people flourish as they are less likely to use a gun to solve their issues. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr.
The Ohio Council of Churches
Below is a short list of faith-based gun violence prevention resources:
From the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles
From the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
From Faith in Public Life
From Pax Christi
From the Presbyterian Church USA
From the United Church of Christ
From the United Methodist Church
Below is a short list of resources for peacemaking and nonviolent conflict resolution:
From the Ashland Center for Nonviolence
From the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
From the Church of the Brethren
From the Disciples Peace Fellowship
From Fellowship of Reconciliation
From Guidepost Montessori
From the James Lawson Institute
From the Mennonite Central Committee