Summer/Fall  2000
Volume 5 Number 1

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Is Gun Control a Religious Issue?

 On Sunday, May 14, 2000, we stood near the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., pressed among hundreds of thousands of mothers…fathers…children…friends and united in the belief that guns kill dreams.

We all struggle with the thought of one of our children lying dead in a warm pool of blood at a Colorado school or on a Pennsylvania playground. But I fear we have been too quiet for too long and have accepted too much violence, as it roars through our cities and suburbs like the funnel cloud of a deadly tornado—indiscriminate as to the age or race of its victims.

So when Rabbi Eric Yoffle, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, stepped to the microphone on the Mall and said, "Is the need for sensible gun control a religious issue? You bet it is," the applause was more deafening than any bullet exploding from the barrel of a handgun.*

The congregation of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, formed a Violence Task Force in 1994, following the shooting deaths that summer of two young girls, ages six and seven, in Philadelphia. The headline of a moving editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, following six-year-old Michele Cutner’s death, read, "Will a shooting spur us to tears…or to change?" The writer went on to say, "When the anger is fresh and fierce, when our hearts clench like a fist with pain, we always think this is the time we will change." The writer’s wife was the social worker who had to notify Michele’s family, waiting in Children’s Hospital, that she was dead.

When I read of the second shooting, which took the life of Felicia Colon, I looked at the news photo of her mother, hunched over in nauseating grief on the steps of her home, and thought to myself, "What if that bullet had penetrated the brain of Elisabeth?" (my own six-year-old).

As pastors, as Christians, I realized we must no longer simply furrow our brows while reading about the funerals of completely innocent six-year-olds and then flip to the funnies without pausing to think: "Where does violence like that come from? And what can we do about it?" Enough is enough. It is time, as Bill Bradley phrased it, for "a national rebellion against violence." We must begin to un-numb ourselves to the violence that is ripping communities and families apart.

FBI statistics report that in 1996 handguns were used to murder (not counting suicides and accidents) 2 people in New Zealand, 15 in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, 106 in Canada, and 9,390 in the United States. Where do rights meet responsibility? Where does faith meet works? When does what we believe result in what we do?

Christ sacrificed his breath and body to redeem us from the bog of our existence. He has soaked us with a love that is so strong, so resourceful, and so far-reaching that our faith cannot help but spill out in the works of our minds and our hands. I thought about the bracelets our teenagers wear that ask "WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?" and realized it was time to answer that question with action.

Perhaps change can be motivated by the lively faces of our living children. Must we wait until your child or mine is ripped from time and space by a senseless bullet? This evening, as you say good-night to your niece or grandchild, remember that is the child who has the power to change us. Let it be so. We must rebel against violence for the sake of the living and not only for those we have lost.

Form a Violence Task Force at your church. Call the General Assembly offices for PCUSA action-information (502-569-5803). Join one of the newly forming Million Mom March chapters (800-746-4464 or email or write MMM, San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco, CA 94110). Call the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) and speak with your senator or representative. Pray. Speak up. Believe that you can help prevent guns from killing dreams and then act upon your beliefs in the hope that guns will no longer kill the dreams of innocent six-year-olds.

"Is the need for sensible gun control a religious issue?" It is time to answer that question with action.  

Patricia M. B. Kitchen (M.Div., Class of 1993) is associate pastor for education at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She is pictured here with her daughter Elisabeth.

Copyright 2000 Princeton Theological Seminary
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