Sunday, May 14,
2000, we stood near the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., pressed among hundreds
of thousands of mothers
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
tornadoindiscriminate as to the age or race of its victims.
So when Rabbi Eric Yoffle, president of the Union of American Hebrew
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 Cutners 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 writers wife was the social
worker who had to notify Micheles family, waiting in Childrens 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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.