At the time of writing, almost 14,000 people in the U.S. have died due to gun violence in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Verifiable mass shootings number 176, with 17 incidences of mass murders, the archive states. Zero days have passed, probably, since the last mass shooting, which makes sense; according to an April story by ABC News, there have been more shootings than days this year.
The New England Journal of Medicine reports that beginning in 2020, guns have become the primary cause of death for children. I have re-read that sentence many times, thinking the answer will change to another life-stealing cause, but instead, it’s guns.
We live in a country that has more guns than people, according to the Small Arms Survey.
Our need for something to change is clear, but substantive change evades us as the disagreement runs deep in this uniquely U.S.A. issue, and unity feels impossible even though we know a response is necessary.
I believe God is continually carving in us, as people of faith, the space and capacity to respond to this life-stealing issue. Specifically, the wisdom of the church before us can guide our witness in the present and into a just and peaceful future.
Recently, my faith community received news that the last winter shelter in our community closed. Then we heard that one of our unhoused neighbors passed away during a freezing winter night. We were experiencing a life-stealing issue but didn’t know how we could find the capacity to respond. It was in reﬂecting on the guiding principles of the Great Ends of the Church – specifically, “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God” – that we began to witness how God was carving in us the capacity to faithfully respond. We had space we could open at nighttime. We had community partners who wanted to collaborate, which bolstered the community’s capacity to respond. God truly was moving in and around our community, and our church launched a shelter for our unhoused neighbors. While life-stealing issues initially left us immobilized, God was carving in us the space and capacity to respond.
Mass shootings continue to be a life-stealing issue, but the church has the tools to find the capacity to prophetically respond. Our response can be grounded in our affirmation of “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” There is unity to be found in such a prescient statement, especially as resurrection people who are saved from life-stealing fear and are witnesses that the ﬂourishing of life is possible! Not because our faith is telling us something new, but that instead, we can be reminded of the wisdom that guides our witness in the present and into a just and peaceful future. I believe reﬂecting on the Great Ends can lead us from thoughts and prayers into actions and kin-dom building activity. We are called to keep all children of God safe today in the midst of ongoing mass shootings. And reﬂecting on the Great Ends can give us the space to discern how we create sanctuary for all in our communities.
Thanks be to God who sets us free to live as Christ did. For though darkness cannot drive out darkness, Christ is the light that has the final say. We can go forward remembering Christ did not defeat death and evil by equipping his followers with weapons. He told Peter to put down his sword. Instead, he gives his disciples more subversive weapons: the sword of truth, the power of love. A sword that when inspected is a plowshare, a spear that becomes a pruning hook. In this season, I pray you can know the capacity of a courageous faith that is pastoral in approach and prophetic in action.
As Christ’s body, may the church become an agent of healing and reconciliation. Though we continue to experience brokenness in our communities, we also witness how life comes from the One who was broken and yet reconciles us all. May we shelter and nurture all the children of God, until our prayers become true, “thy kin-dom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.”