Last week I attended the annual Christian Formation Conference held at Kanuga, a conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina outside Hendersonville (near Asheville). The conference theme was Hope in the Midst of Crisis: From Tragedy to Healing through Forgiveness. Plenary sessions and workshops largely focused on how we address the issues of hope, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing in a world that is often beset by tragedy on a national as well as personal level. From the events of 9/11 (World Trade Center) to 12/14 (Sandy Hook) to our cities today, stories were shared and processes for healing were shared.
I was invited to give a workshop based on a book that I compiled and edited, Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence (Morehouse, 2015) based on a conference of the same name held in Oklahoma City in April 2014. In preparing my workshop I hoped to broaden the conversation to discuss how many forms of violence (such as gun violence, inter-partner/domestic violence, bullying, and video-game addiction) are issues that need to be addressed and acted upon as imperative to our baptismal promises of “respecting the dignity of all human beings” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to turn the other cheek as well as speak out against injustice in our world.
While I was caught up short the two days before my presentation over lunch with some Christian educators who shared their opinions with me (as gun owners with licenses to carry concealed weapons), I knew I had to tell the truth (from my perspective) and focus the conversation on why and how we should be having such conversations in our churches. It is why I put the book together. And my angst following this lunch conversation showed me how much our church needs to engage in this conversation. It is not about being opposed to hunting, target shooting, and banning of all guns. It is about creating a world in which we can create safe places and promote the gospel of peace.
The Church can be a voice that is proactive about peace, not reactive about defense. We have an obligation to protect our children from accidental violence and give them the tools to reach out to one another – listening skills, mental health care, safety, and anti-bullying efforts. Violence breeds violence, peace breeds peace. Here is just one example of why this work is important. And there are many others.
This work is important. As we begin planning programs for the coming academic year in our congregations, I invite you to consider a series focused on “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace.” Choose an area in which you might focus, using the four pillars to build your program: prayer, education, advocacy, and pastoral care. Here are some organizations and resource sites to help you with each of these four areas:
- Episcopal Peace Fellowship
- Sandy Hook Promise (many resources and links)
- Bishops United Against Gun Violence (Episcopal bishops)
- Heeding God’s Call (an interfaith advocacy and prayer response to gun violence)
- Institute for Peace and Justice (children’s “Peace Papers” and many prayer resources)
- Faith Trust Institute (with a focus on IPV and domestic violence)
- Stop Bullying
- No One Eats Alone and Beyond Differences (anti- bullying resources)
- Video Game Addiction and Violence & Gaming
- Cross of Nails Community (chapters in North America)
- Daily Statistics of gun violence statistics
- Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN)
Download my presentation: Reclaiming The Gospel of Peace Presentation Slides. Let me know how you will engage your congregation, friends, or co-workers in discussing these issues.
UPDATE: June 19, 2015 in the wake of the shootings at Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Resources for speaking to children after violence has occurred:
- Storypath (children’s literature site) offers Peace is an Offering: Children and Charleston
- A piece I wrote for Building Faith, Another Tragedy, following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.
[Peace Cranes (image) is from the Melbourne Vigil for Japan Earthquake, Tsunami,and nuclear crisis held at the old GPO in Bourke Street Mall on March 17, 2011]