The bumper sticker read, “If you say guns kill people one more time, I will shoot you with a gun and you will (coincidently) die.”
This was an especially crude expression of a gun rights advocate’s opinion perhaps, but sadly not rare. We are a nation that feels very strongly about our gun rights. Yet, we are also a nation in which 10,000 children a year are injured or killed by firearms. If this were a disease or viral infection rate, we would raise huge sums of money. We would find a way to act.
If this would fit, I would like to see this on a bumper sticker:
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 above is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It resonates with me as we at Christ Church Cathedral dedicate our collective attention in 2016 to ending the tragedy of gun violence in our nation, and more particularly, in our city. As we go to press, we have lost 16 of our Cincinnati neighbors to gun violence, an especially violent beginning to the new year. These names have been mentioned on the news, of course. But nothing brings home the senseless gun violence quite like tracking these names daily on our website and mentioning them in the weekly prayers read at our worship services. The body count is all too apparent, with no chance to ignore it.
The problem seems overwhelming and intractable. On my recent trip to Great Britain, I was asked multiple times why Americans are so in love with their guns. I had no good answer. Many of my good friends and members of this congregation have privately expressed their sense that this is hopeless. The culture of guns is too entrenched, we say. There are too many out there; no legislation can ever make a difference. What can be done?
Let me first say what we will not do. We will not give in to a sense of darkness, despair, or doubt. This is not the way of Christ. We are called to be instruments of peace, and reconciling love and pardon. Our silence would be colluding with violence. An epidemic is a subject that crosses all boundaries of liberal/conservative, NRA member/pacifist. We can come together over an issue that is a matter of public health, public safety, and common concern. I believe that people of goodwill who want to fix a problem can fix that problem. We have seen the results over and over again when a critical mass comes together to address a problem.
Spirals of violence can be countered by spirals of peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). I want to be among the children of God. The spiral of peace begins in our own hearts, and in our own homes, and it begins now as we pursue education, awareness, prayer, and action.
I begin with the belief that people of faith can make a difference by uniting with people of different backgrounds and political persuasions.
In 2016, I have proposed several concrete ways we at Christ Church Cathedral can be instruments of God’s peace:
- Help finance gun buyback programs: These programs are instituted to purchase privately owned firearms. Compensation is usually paid in the form of cash or gift cards. The goal, when purchasing is done by the police, is to reduce the number of firearms owned by civilians, and provide a process whereby civilians can sell their privately owned firearms to the government without risk of prosecution. Christ Church Cathedral is partnering with outside organizations that manage these programs and is lending resources to this effort.
- Remember by name those whose have died from gun violence and offer grief and funeral support to their families.
- Host a web page as an educational and advocacy resource.
- Help fund anonymous eyewitness reporting of gun crimes.
- Create a public art installation in memory of the victims of gun violence (in partnership with Cincinnati Artworks and Chatfield College).
Will this be enough? Not by a long shot! But I am counting on this community to expand our efforts. What can you do in your own neighborhood? At a local community council meeting? How can your workplace join the effort? (For example, if you’re a physician, can you encourage a local network of doctors or your professional association to focus on this as a public health initiative?) Will you come out and march in our most violent neighborhoods the next time there is a ceasefire rally? Can you pray for peace and then move on to be an instrument of peace?