Last June 17th, we were all shocked to learn of the tragic shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people were murdered by a single gunman, a 21 year-old young man who had joined the group for a prayer service. While their families and the nation mourned these unnecessary deaths, many of us asked how we could have come to this as a nation. I know that though there is much divisiveness over the question of our nation’s gun laws, the issue here is not about taking away anyone’s guns but rather about how we can prevent future tragedies by appropriate regulations.
At our Diocesan Convention we have passed resolutions supporting thorough background checks for all gun purchases. Despite our very best intentions, unnecessary injuries and deaths continue. Just two weeks ago, 5 year-old Mariah Davis of Detroit found her grandmother’s gun under a pillow and fatally shot herself while Grandma was downstairs cooking. According to news sources, 6 children in the US have shot and killed either themselves or their parents since April 11th of this year. Clearly, we need to take gun safety regulations more seriously to prevent the senseless death of our children, our families and our friends.
The four Episcopal Dioceses of Michigan have taken an important step together. At last Saturday’s Diocesan Council meeting (May 21, 2016), Council passed a resolution prohibiting possession of firearms on church property:
Resolution: Prohibiting Firearms in Churches, Organizations
Keeping our Churches and Organizations Safe
The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan does not permit any person, including clergy, staff, clients, students, volunteers and visitors, to carry a weapon on the premises of any property or facility owned or operated by a church. This prohibition does not apply to certain exceptions as allowed by law.
The following are guidelines for keeping our churches and organizations safe:
- Churches and organizations should post a notice at every entrance to a building or campus.
- Churches and organizations may hire off-duty police officers. These officers are trained in how to respond to threats to safety, including from armed intruders, and understand the degree of force necessary in various situations. When an officer responds, at whatever level, he or she is serving in the capacity of a law enforcement professional, with the legal safeguards that apply.
- Churches and organizations may consult with local police departments to learn what measures should be taken to prepare for emergency situations, including when an intruder enters the building or threatens harm. The police can assist in the development of a contingency plan including periodic safety drills.
In all instances, churches and organizations should be mindful of safety measures that can minimize the risk of harm to persons entrusted to their care, and should undertake a careful review of applicable policies.
We firmly believe that guns have no place in our churches and other Episcopal-affiliated organizations. It is our responsibility as the church to promote peace and safety in our communities. The presence of firearms on church property is inconsistent with our vision of God’s dream for all creation.
The diocesan office will also be providing signs for communicating this on our buildings:
Here are a couple of other ways you can take a stand. June 2nd is National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The group Wear Orange has asked us all to raise awareness by wearing orange on that day. Their website says: “The color orange symbolizes the value of human life. Hunters wear orange in the woods to protect themselves and others. In 2013, teens on the South Side of Chicago asked classmates to honor their murdered friend by wearing orange. That simple call to action has grown into a national movement – and orange is becoming the symbol of gun safety.” Check out their inspirational video here – http://wearorange.org/ and wear orange! The Bishops United Against Gun Violence have joined the action, too. Their website has some suggestions for how you might participate:
- share the social media links below on Facebook and Twitter several times before May 30
- encourage others to have their pictures taken in orange garb on June 2
- encourage people in your dioceses and churches to post those pictures on social media using TWO hashtags: #WearOrange and #Episcopal. (We will then share these photos more broadly from the Episcopalians Against Gun Violence Facebook page and The Cross Lobby Twitter
- There is also a movement among some priests to wear orange stoles at church on June 5. You can read about that here, and if you decide to endorse that, please let us know.
You are encouraged to use the following social media link at least twice before May 30, and then follow up with your own posts on June 1 reminding everyone to wear orange the following day:
LINK TO SHARE
SUGGESTED TEXT: The noise around gun violence is loud. Orange is louder. Join us and #WearOrange on June 2nd.
Their website has a lot of very helpful information: http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/
The Rt Rev’d Thomas C Ely from the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont shared a message on December 13, 2015 at the interfaith gathering “A Moral Call: People of Faith Confronting the Tragedy of Gun Violence” held in Burlington, VT. In his opening remarks, Bishop Ely asked the question “how do we become our best self as a country in the midst of this current epidemic of gun violence?” He said the answer may be found “by setting in motion a ‘spiral of peace’ in our hearts and in our homes, and it starts now as we actively pursue all efforts to be instruments of God’s peace. It moves outward from there, circling family, neighbors, and our world community in compassion, education, awareness, and action, so that one day the vision offered by the prophet Isaiah when speaking about a restored Jerusalem might actually come to pass in our world; ‘Violence shall no more be heard in your land, wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.’” Here’s a link to the whole test of his remarks that evening –
On June 12th, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Oak Grove AME Church and Bethel AME Church will be presenting “A Memorial in Remembrance of Mother Emmanuel Church.” From their announcement: “During a year full of racist killings and gun violence, this [tragic murder of nine people] was truly horrific. Yet the community of Emanuel did not turn to revenge. In a beautiful display of Christian grace, they offered forgiveness. Where these acts of gun violence are much too common, the response of these AMEs is far too rare thus worth holding in our memories as an example of Christian love, a model for us all.” The event will be held at Bethel AME Church, 5050 Antoine St, Detroit, beginning at 5:00 pm. For more information contact Oak Grove at (313) 341-8877 or visit www.oakgroveame.org
I hope to see you all in your orange shirts on Facebook next week! Let’s raise awareness together!
Let us pray –
God of life,
Every act of violence in our world, in our communities,
between myself and others, destroys a part of your creation.
Stir in my heart a renewed sense of reverence for all life.
Give me the vision to recognize your spirit in every human being,
however they behave towards me.
Make possible the impossible by cultivating in me the fertile seed of healing love.
May I play my part in breaking the cycle of violence by realizing that peace begins with me.
In the name of Christ, who is our peace, Amen.
(adapted from St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, “Prayer for an End to Violence,” http://www.stethelburgas.org/prayer.html)
~ The Rev. Deacon Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review