I was asked to give this Moment for Mission on gun violence as we continue to reel from the news of the Las Vegas shooting. At least 58 people died. This is also a date when we are moving toward the fifth anniversary of the killing of 20 children and 6 adults at Newtown. But this date is hardly so special. We could mark Orlando, San Bernadino, Charleston, and Aurora and still keep going. As a Scot, on all these occasions my thoughts always go to the 16 children and their teacher killed at Dunblane, Norwegians will surely think of the 69 young people killed on the island of Utoya and the French the 90 people killed at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris.
Our immediate response is grief, shock, anger, disbelief. But what do we do subsequently? We might campaign for gun-law reform, defend our rights, attribute blame. We might well look for guidance and leadership. For our church, Presbyterian Peacemaking, which is a mission of the Presbyterian Church USA, has available extensive resources which congregations and individuals can draw on as they work for gun-violence prevention.
This month the Session here at First Pres considered a motion which came from our Mission Committee, which was responding in turn to a request from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. The motion was that we display in the church a sign prohibiting the carrying of guns in our church. I think I can fairly say that all of us were clear that we did not want guns in our church, just as we don’t want guns in our schools, malls, movie theaters, or night clubs.
But we also thought long and hard about what it means to make a statement about being a church that excludes. When we turn to scripture for guidance we find a message of peace, but also of love, welcome, inclusion, and hope. We find in Matthew’s gospel Christ’s words “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The specific sign Session selected to display does not say “No Guns in God’s House,” something of a reassuring message that only we would see and hardly a statement we could enforce. I believe the sign we chose expresses who we seek to be as a community of faith – not exclusionary and fearful but resolute and hopeful of a better future. You will find it on the wall of the Copeland Room behind the Welcome Desk. It displays a gun, as the symbol of violence, superimposed by the symbol of peace, reminding us of the ultimate messenger of peace, superimposed in turn by words from scripture, from Isaiah 65,“They shall not hurt or destroy.”
The Minute for Mission can be a call to action. I will not make any political statements up here. You know what you can do as individuals, what is right for you and within your capabilities. But I will call on us as a community to pray, to pray for those injured, to pray for the friends and family of those shot, to pray for those who seek to prevent gun deaths, and also to pray desperately and fervently for those who choose to kill.
– Rona Johnston Gordon