According to the news reports, it all started over a place on a pew. One parishioner sat in someone else’s spot and then objected to moving. Another flashed his legally carried concealed weapon, apparently as an incentive to settle down his fellow church-goer. But it didn’t work that way, and a 27-year-old was shot to death in a Pennsylvania church in April.
There is so much wrong with what happened it is difficult to know where to begin. Because it was not a racially charged act of terror on the scale of Charleston, far fewer people seem to have heard about Robert Braxton’s death.
Because fatalities from grossly violent over-reactions based in stand-your-ground measures seem almost common place, our post-Trayvon Martin mentality is not as easily outraged.
So maybe we’ll start shooting at each other over pews in our churches the way we do over traffic disagreements and perceived disrespectful slights. Maybe we, followers of the Prince of Peace, will set arming ourselves in our places of worship as a default.
Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll stand up to the notion that faithful people need to arm themselves in the places where we pray, partake of the Eucharist, and pass the peace. Maybe we will stand against the idea that our church school teachers, ushers, and organists are better off worshiping together if they are carrying a state-sanctioned pistol.
And then maybe we can reconsider all the ways we have become a nation that relies on weapons first instead of words. Consider:
- The frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. has tripled since 2011
- The rate of firearm deaths for children younger than 15 is almost 12 times higher in the US than in the other 25 leading industrialized nations combined
- In domestic violence situation, women are 500% more likely to be killed if their abuser has a gun
- States with waiting periods to purchase firearms have 51% fewer gun suicides
As people of faith, let’s stand together against gun-related loss while working for responsible gun ownership governed by sensible laws. To that end, the Council of Churches is partnering with other organizations around the state to encourage faith communities to hold a Stand-Up Sabbath on the weekend of June 17-19 to mark the first anniversary of the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME. We are proud to be collaborating with groups like North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, the NC Justice Center, MomsRising, Moms Demand Action, the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, Wilmington Faiths Against Gun Violence, and others.
Over the coming weeks, we will post worship resources and other materials. But going forward, we will also provide information to help people of faith speak up for reasonable laws for gun owners and speak out against the senseless violence that has become our baseline.
We hope you will stand, speak, and work with us.