Time for more than thoughts and prayers
Dear Edmonds UMC community ~
We can only imagine the overwhelming grief of the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas, as they sort through the loss of twenty-six lives to an angry and unhinged gunman. How can a community deal with the shooting of an 18-month old child, or a 14-year old girl, a pregnant mother, or eight members of an extended family? In a time like this there really is no alternative other than to trust in God's healing power to knit broken hearts back together again and to heal deep wounds and scars. With time and care and prayer we know there will one day be healing for this stricken community.
Nearly five years ago — after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting of another twenty-six innocent people — I stood at the pulpit of First Church Seattle and called the congregation to take action beyond prayer. I told them that our American gun violence problem was deep and demonic and that we needed a change in our culture and our laws in order to safeguard innocent lives. The church responded and became the heart of the faith community's efforts to pass Initiative 594 which required background checks for all gun purchases in our state.
Two years later, as pastor here, I was proud when our our Church Council voted to support Initiative 1491, a measure asking voters to approve Extreme Risk Protection Orders in which a judge could remove firearms from the possession of individuals at risk of acting out their violence through guns. The measure was approved by nearly 70% of Washington voters. I'm treasurer of the statewide organization, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, that led passage of the initiative and we work with local governments to implement it and save lives. These two measures make Washington State a leader among states fighting to prevent gun violence.
Contrary totoday's comments by a national leader, tighter gun laws would have prevented this and other mass shootings. That the shooter was able to pass a background check even with a criminal record shows the flaws of our underfunded and antiquated national background check database system. And if the assailant had lived in Washington State, our new laws would have allowed his guns to be confiscated by the authorities, an option that is not available in Texas and other states with lax gun laws. A combination of proliferation of guns and lax gun laws have combined to unleash our gun violence epidemic.
Our emerging problem is that we are becoming desensitized to gun violence and have begun to accept it as a normal part of life. We forget that gun violence occurs in America at twenty-five times the rate of other developed countries and that countries like Australia have taken strong action that has successfully reduced or eliminated mass shootings.
Meantime, lawmakers turn a blind eye and well-meaning people offer thoughts and prayers. After last weekend's shootings, Episcopal Bishop Robert Wright of Atlanta wrote,
"As someone who convenes and commends prayer for a living, what America needs now is less prayer and more action from her elected officials. When the doers of evil are foreign born, suggestions for policy and action flow forward. When the doers of evil are Americans with automatic and semi-automatic weapons we are invited to moments of silence and prayer. Silence is what we use to hear God speak, not a place to hide from our responsibility. Prayer is not a refuge for cowards. Prayer is where we steel ourselves to partner with God for good. Please do not invite me to pray in response to the horror of Sutherland Springs Texas, unless it is to pray courage over elected officials who intend to work for the ban of automatic and semi- automatic weapons."
Bishop Ward's words echo my sentiments exactly. I'm tired of empty sentiments following gun violence tragedies and I'm tired of business as usual while innocent people are injured and killed. I'm tired of this American problem, and I'm ready for change.
In addition to our thoughts and prayers, let's take action. Here are two ways you can do something today:
- Write our legislators -- In the last legislative session a proposal by our Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, sought to restrict availability of assault weapons, requiring the same restrictions for semi-automatic long guns as for handguns. The measure was defeated. I urge you to contact our legislators today and urge them to allow a hearing and vote on the Attorney General's proposal.
- Support a gun violence prevention effort -- My volunteer and financial support goes to our local Alliance for Gun Responsibility. There are many other strong programs that can become stronger with our support, programs like Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords.Org, and many more.
I'm asking our Congregation Care team to put together a Care Card this Sunday for the people of Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. Let's write them notes of comfort and support this Sunday, and in memory of their loved ones, let's promise them and ourselves that we will do what it takes to stop the problem that has indelibly changed their lives. Let's build a country where children and adults can worship in freedom — free from the threat of gun violence.
Blessings to you ~
Rev. Dr. Sanford "Sandy" Brown