Faith Leaders Take on Gun Madness at ‘God and Guns 2016’ Conference

Alan Storey leads Gun Free South Africa and says gun advocates’ cliches are meaningless. (Photo/Norman Jameson/BNG)
Alan Storey leads Gun Free South Africa and says gun advocates’ cliches are meaningless. (Photo/Norman Jameson/BNG)

Stop the madness.

So said organizers of the God and Guns 2016 conference. They are tired, they say, of wringing their hands, of changing their Sunday morning sermon after another Saturday night shooting, of gun advocates’ clichés and — worse — of expecting it to happen again soon.

If you don’t do something, “you are complicit,” organizers told participants who came from across the nation to Riverside Church in New York City Oct. 6-7.

According to Amy Butler, senior minister of Riverside Church and conference catalyst, those who do nothing are culpable in the 91 gun deaths every day in America, in ignoring the structural inequalities that lead to desperate acts, in denying the racism that fuels fear, and in trusting the false security of guns over trust in God.

Through survivor testimonies from Newtown to Ferguson, to political action plans, to providing tools for making sermons relevant to congregations reeling from the effects of gun violence, the conference was a “training” for ministers and other church leaders.

Organizers wanted to provide tools for them to start the conversation in their churches and communities that will lead to actions to lessen gun violence.

Riverside Church, jointly affiliated with American Baptists and the United Church of Christ, is a perfect location for such a conference, Butler said. It was built as America’s tallest cathedral in the midst of depression and social upheaval as testimony to the future.

Its pastors, like Harry Emerson Fosdick and William Sloan Coffin, advocated for social justice from the pulpit. Martin Luther King Jr. “stood right here and called out our country on issues of militarism, racism and social injustice,” Butler said.

“You are challenged to go from this place and do something. Anything. Preach a sermon, write a column, write your congressmen, talk to people in your circle.”

“Doing nothing means we are complicit.”

Tools for the tool kit

Interspersed with personal testimonies from people directly affected by gun deaths, organizers worked to educate participants about root causes for the social unrest that results in gun violence.

The two biggest issues, they said, are fear and racial prejudice, neither of which should be a part of a Christian’s makeup.

When the “social narrative” is that persons “of a dark hue” are to be mistrusted and are categorized as “something less,” it is easy to label them as “monsters,” according to Ben McBride, regional director for clergy development for PICO in Oakland, Calif.

“And what do you do with monsters?” McBride asked. “You kill them, cage them, remove them.”

McBride, who spent 40 days standing by protesters in Ferguson, said, “I wish people would be more upset about the conditions that set the stage for violence than they are about the tools of violence or the person who holds the tool.”

Friends asked McBride if he urged protesters in Ferguson to stop looting. He said, “I’ll ask them to stop looting when you ask the police to stop shooting us.”

Persons of faith cannot ignore the “fear of the other” that prompts people to arm themselves and upon which gun merchants capitalize.

Conference leaders such as Alan Storey, who chairs Gun Free South Africa that seeks to limit gun access, said that fear promoted by gun advocates is a lie.

“If you are afraid because of all the guns on the street and you think the solution is to arm yourself, that’s just putting more guns on the street,” he said.

He calls those “gun violence denialists” who refuse to link the proliferation of guns and their easy access to gun violence. “They use clichés that are completely meaningless,” he said, such as “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

“It’s people with guns that are able to kill far more people,” Storey said. “Their ideology says if we all have guns, we’re safer. We’re safe because we’ll be more polite. That is a lie. It denies gun violence.”

Talking directly to pastors, Storey said, “We’re called to love our congregations enough to tell them the hard truth. We have to love them enough to ask them to hand in their guns.”

The statistically verifiable truth is that “a gun in a home exacerbates the likelihood of gun violence,” he said.

Storey said that gun advocates use mental illness as a scapegoat 9 9 to turn attention away from the weapons. Mental illness is less a common denominator in violent incidents, he said, than is the fact that so many shooters are military veterans.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Norman Jameson

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