Disciples News Service

A letter to the Church re: violence

from members* of the College of Regional Ministers and the Cabinet of General Ministries

June 2016

In times of trouble, people of faith call upon God in prayer (Psalm 61:1-2) In these days, we pray for the families and friends of the 49 women and men killed and 53 wounded  – mostly LGBTQ Latinos and Latinas – in Orlando on June 12, 2016. We pray for the families and friends of those killed across the country and around the world each day whose stories we will never hear. We pray for an end to violence of all kinds. (General Assembly Resolution 1539) Sadly, this week (June 17) is also the first anniversary of the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. We pray Our Creator will bring peace to those who mourn, those who cope with the horrors they have seen, and those who will work for years to restore wholeness to lives shattered by violence. And we pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire us to act in powerful ways to build the Beloved Community.

Beyond prayer, people across the United States are asking how we can stop the seemingly endless parade of massacres. We are growing numb even as the numbers of those who have died grow larger and larger, too large to comprehend. We argue over the cause; we get angry and cannot find common ground, then do nothing. And by doing nothing, we become complicit when violence erupts yet again.

We, the undersigned, write to encourage Disciples to move beyond numbness and to turn our anger to a righteous cause. We can start with honest conversation – even spirited debate – grounded in the love and hope God gives us especially for times so disturbing and fearful. We can model civility and mutual respect even in emotionally charged conversations related to religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, race, and weapons. We can seek to share God’s love and welcome with others as God has with us, especially those on the margins who see violence as their only option. We can persevere in calling for justice.

The truth is that we are ALL God’s beloved children, and we must ALL learn to live together, honoring and respecting one another as fellow humans. We cannot let these hard conversations devolve into nitpicking about types of weapons or national origins or “liberal” vs “conservative” agendas.

Regretfully, the tragedy in Orlando has focused attention on the purported religion of the perpetrator, though the number of violent adherents to Islam are a miniscule percentage of those who claim the faith. We cannot be goaded into condemning all because of a few. The violence we have experienced is not about Islam. It is about hate and bigotry- as the shooting in Charleston was.

This is the moment for religious, civic, and political leaders – indeed, for all of us – to stand together, united, to denounce prejudice and violence directed toward any group.

It is also time for us to consider the violence itself. As a faith tradition that aims to welcome all to the table set by God, conversations about the rights, responsibilities, and consequences of gun ownership are challenging within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (GA 1521) But as the death toll rises, as Newtown and Aurora and Charleston and San Bernardino and Orlando become synonymous with the horrors of gun violence, it is clear those challenging conversations must take place. And they must take place now if we have any hope of stopping future massacres. Questions at the core of this conversation include:

  • What are the responsibilities and guidelines to determine who should be allowed to own guns and who should not?
  • What kinds of weapons should be available to people in the United States?
  • How do we communicate with lawmakers and other influencers when personal or political interest appears to supersede issues of public safety and basic human morality?
  • How do we help people see beyond violence? How do we help individuals who do not see hope in their lives? How do our communities respond to the marginalized?
  • How do we work with other peace-loving people to provide some measure of comfort for wounds that will always linger?

Ultimately, if these conversations are to make any difference at all, they must lead to action. We will undoubtedly find many different approaches to ending gun violence. This is actually an opportunity. Any tactic, public or private or sociological, that may reduce violence deserves to be tried, the results analyzed, and the best solutions implemented widely.

We have already waited too long to begin this work. The lives of children, women and men have already been lost, and countless more lives are at stake.

As Christians we are called to embody compassion and mercy in even the most challenging times, thus we offer prayer and hospitality to the wounded. We are also called to action, to courageously engage in the things that make for peace, starting with the difficult conversations that examine options and lead us toward solutions. Even as we denounce violence, bigotry and hatred, may we then actively seek to model peace-making, respect and love. May we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit among us, showing us the ways to end gun violence and address the root causes of all violence, bringing the wholeness and peace to which we are called in Christ Jesus. “Blessed are the peace-makers…”

Greg Alexander-CLEAN Signature, EdwardsLeeParker
Greg Alexander, KentuckyBill Edwards, OhioLee Parker, Virginia
 ThadAllen Dean-FullSig-CLEAN
Thad Allen, West Virginia/PennsylvaniaJennifer Garbin, CanadaDean Phelps, Central Rocky Mountain
 WilliamAlmodovar maryannglover reisinger1
William Almodovar, Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic MinistriesMary Ann Glover, NortheastRick Reisinger, Disciples Church Extension Fund
 manderson-300x79Signature unavailable KM_C284e-20160616090858
Mark Anderson, National Benevolent AssociationSusan Gonzales-Dewey, Pacific SouthwestJohn Richardson, North Carolina
 DeniseBell AVHarrisSignatureSignature unavailable
Denise Bell, GeorgiaAllen V. Harris, Capital AreaJuan Rodriguez, Florida
 jbrown-karimu Pamela G Holt wrose-heim
Julia Brown-Karimu, Division of Overseas MinistriesPamela Holt, OklahomaBill Rose-Heim, Greater Kansas City
 NadineBurton TJames Sig #1 pross-corona
Nadine Burton, Great River RegionTimothy James, Associate General Minister and Administrative Secretary of the National ConvocationPenny Ross-Corona, MidAmerica
 LaTaunya_Signature-250w-rotated Paxton Bsd Signature
LaTaunya Bynum, Northern California/NevadaPaxton Jones, KansasBill Spangler-Dunning, Upper Midwest
 Gilberto Collazo kidwell signature Richard L. Spleth
Gilberto Collazo, Hope Partnership for Missional TransformationGary Kidwell, Christian Church FoundationRick Spleth, Indiana
 rdegges Sotello Paul-Tche-Sginature
Ron Degges, Disciples Home MissionsSotello Long, South CarolinaPaul Tche, Council on Christian Unity
Signature unavailable CorethaLoughridge watkins signature
Don Dewey, Pacific SouthwestCoretha Loughridge, SouthwestSharon Watkins, General Minister and President
 BethDobyns bradlyons Denny Williams signature
Beth Dobyns, TennesseeBrad Lyons, Christian Board of PublicationDenny Williams, Arizona
 cdorsey SMessickSigSignature unavailable
Chris Dorsey, Higher Education and Leadership MinistriesSandy Messick, NorthwestDoug Wirt, Oregon/Southwest Idaho
 TeresaDulyeaParkerSignature unavailableSignature unavailable
Teresa Dulyea-Parker, Illinois/WisconsinCathy Myers-Wirt, Oregon/Southwest IdahoGeunhee Yu, North American Pacific/Asian Disciples
 Ruth-A-Fletcher Katrina M Palan Signature unavailable
 Ruth Fletcher, MontanaKatrina Palan, NebraskaEugene James, Michigan

James Hamlett, Pension Fund

*Please note: Sabbaticals prevented some members of both bodies from participating in this letter due to the very short timeline.


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17 Responses to “A letter to the Church re: violence”

  1. Thank you for writing this letter and sharing it with the wider church. I will be sharing your letter from the pulpit on Sunday in place of my sermon. Your brothers and sisters in Christ at First Christian Church Scottsdale fully intend to faithfully take part in this conversation and call to action.

  2. Emily Wheatley:

    Thank you for this letter. Knee-jerk reactions in agreement or disagreement do not and cannot sway my inspired prayer that the actual discussion take place. Too often we cling to our political agenda on all sides and frankly refuse to address and make DIFFICULT decisions. May God touch the hearts of all to listen to His guidance and work together in love to face our own responsibilities as God’s ambassadors.

  3. The link for GA-1521 did not actually include the substitute resolution that was passed; it can be found at http://ga.disciples.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/GA-1521-Substitute-Resolution-on-Gun-Violence-Revised.pdf

  4. Giovanna Arnold:

    I will be praying for the loving wisdom of God to hold us as one body in discussing this serious discussion process as we seek to find solutions to the violence that surrounds each one of us in this turbulent and reactionary world.

  5. Hebert Mallqui:

    Thank you for this letter. I will translate and share in Spanish.

  6. There is one glaring omission in your list of questions. When are you christians going to address those among you who perpetuate the hate? When are you going to deal with those among you who preach hate? You can talk about love and compassion all you want but until you clean your own house nothing will change.

    • Bill Brettschneider:

      What in particular would you suggest we Christians do to put our own house in order as you said? The bible says every one who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does does not love does not know God. The bible makes clear who is a christian, and who is not.

  7. I have a suggestion that may provide an answer to these questions asked in the letter:

    How do we help people see beyond violence? How do we help individuals who do not see hope in their lives? How do we work with other peace-loving people to provide some measure of comfort for wounds that will always linger?

    We do not know how to grieve well in community when intentional violence strikes. We shy away from from the pain it brings, and as a result, we fail to grieve our loss through to completion as a community. This leaves some aspects of our communal grief unresolved. We need deliberate and intentional ways of grieving in community that are winsome, sensitive to ours and other’s needs, and that inspires the wounded to seek healing through the development of survivor missions. This is my survivor mission, developed out of my own encounter with the daily threat of annihilation and the public tragedy that struck my community nine years later: A Gift of Music. There is a link to a paper written to support this ministry with music on the website above.

  8. Jim Blasingame:

    Dear fellow members of Disciples of Christ churches. As we follow the guidelines set out in the above letter regarding debate and decisions on, “… who should be allowed to own guns and who should not?” plus, “What kinds of weapons should be available to people in the United States?” let’s not forget to include who should be allowed to possess sharp knives, of the kind a student used to stab four innocent people at the University of California, Merced last year. And let’s not forget to include who should be allowed to own a pressure cooker like the kind used in the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013.

    Guns are neither good nor evil – they’re just tools, like a knife or pressure cooker. Only humans are capable of intentional good and premeditated evil. In a time when national polls show a decline in those who have a faith life, it seems to me that ministers have plenty to do to turn this tide, since it should be clear to any intellectually honest person that people kill because of what’s in their hearts, not because of what’s in their hands.

    Finally, ministers, spend more time talking to us about what should be in our hearts and less time asking politicians to save us with legislation. If you have time to debate who should have guns, I propose that time would be better spend contemplating why there were twice as many non-gun suicides in 2013 as there were gun homicides. I would ask you to focus more on those issues, ministers, because remember, a half century ago, when there were more Christians per capita in the U.S., there were fewer massacres like Newtown, Boston and Orlando, but there were plenty of guns.

    • John Fitch:

      I grow tired of the argument that compares a gun to any other item with the potential to cause harm. The fact of the matter is this: guns are created for a single purpose – to kill a living thing. Whether it be for protection, terrorism, law enforcement… guns are designed for the specific purpose of killing. Any “tool” that is created for such a specific purpose should be heavily regulated.

      We already regulate other “tools” of death (grenades, rocket-propelled ballistics, tanks, etc.) – why not guns, especially those models that are designed for rapid fire and quick reload? We heavily regulate other “tools” that are potentially dangerous and require their owners/operators to undergo extensive training: chemical handling, semi-trucks, aircraft… why not require gun owners to complete basic safety and training courses? (Something the NRA used to stand for and support, until it was forced to become a lobbying group based on a twisted interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.)

      Why not limit the size of ammunition clips? Why not advocate for and encourage our lawmakers to pass legislation that require background checks on ALL gun purchases? Why not prevent those deemed too dangerous to be allowed on a commercial flight to not purchase a firearm?

      Cannot these actions and pleas to our lawmakers for simple, popular, and sensible action come from the heart? As a Christian, I feel it is my responsibly to advocate for the safety of the larger body – no matter what faith or religious status they chose to maintain, and I don’t feel safe with our current gun laws. It’s time for a change and I applaud our leaders for the bold statement. Let’s get to work!

      • Twilla Ramsey:

        Thank you for this comment. It states so clearly what I believe, and I don’t think that I could have said it so well.

  9. Annell George-McLawhorn:

    Thank you for this letter.

  10. Chuck:

    We’re not really concerned about violence, which is obviously seen in our none attention to the daily killings in Chicago. This is not about “gun violence” either, this term (as everyone knows) is euphemism for “gun control.” This body will not be satisfied until guns are taken out of everyone’s hands … ultimate control.

    Finally, this letter is mere Democrat party rhetoric, heard by any Democrat politician after every tragedy (never waist a tragedy!) to further their political agenda. Again, the DOC is merely becoming the religious arm of the Democrat party.

    • Linda Wheat:

      Chuck, The letter is not political. If puts forward the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you are confused, Christ said it most simply: “Love your brother as yourself”. The letter requests and open a dialogue regarding violence and the use of guns. I pray that your heart is open and that your gun is not your God,

  11. Keith Evans:

    Gun violence will never be brought under control until national laws are changed to get rid of semi-automatic weapons, end concealed carry by unauthorized people, and register firearms the way we do automobiles. Anyone who believes that the mass murders and the daily slaughter of young people in all of our big cities can be cured without sensible gun control has evidently accepted the complete wisdom of the NRA.

    Advocates of gun control are not spouting Democratic party rhetoric. Only 30 percent of households in the U.S. have a gun on the premise. I am an independent and member of First Christian Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. I know many Republicans who are as frustrated with increasing gun deaths and the failure of our elected representatives to act. What’s more, we didn’t always live this way. The Supreme Court once recognized that the Second Amendment didn’t give every person living in the country the right to keep and bear arms. Even the recent Supreme Court ruling, gives wide latitude to national and state governments to control what kind of guns people can own, and how they use them.

    Concerned Disciples need to be active in electing members of Congress who are not afraid to go against the NRA, and their disciples. Churches are hindered by their fear that to advocate as a group will cost them their non-profit, tax-free status. But not being active in politics at least as individuals, will allow the killing to continue unabated.

  12. Nancy Ruiz:

    I agree with John Fitch’s comments. I would also add that we seem to be addicted to violence in our society. How many TV shows are on each day that feature gruesome acts of violence? How many movies and video games are released that are extremely violent? How we care for those with mental illnesses must also be considered. We had a recent murder in our community; the perpetrator had sought help for mental illness, but was denied treatment, I believe to inadequate resources.

  13. Joe Hodges:

    As a clergy and owner of handguns, shotguns, and rifles, may I suggest it is not the guns, but the aim that makes a difference. The aim of the gun and the aim of the heart of the user is what makes the difference. I have never shot a quail without aiming. I have never shot a target without aiming. My aim is important. If the aim of ones heart is off, regulations and laws will not stop inappropriate aim. Letters and resolutions will only divide our church. Such was the case at the Great River Region when a resolution was up for consideration. The resolution to take a stand against guns was voted to be dismissed from the ballot, and passed to be dismissed overwhelmingly. It wasn’t the aim to divide when a motion was made to dismiss the resolution. The aim was to NOT to bring up a resolution that would create a group of winners and losers within the region for a vote. Why divide ourselves? May our aim be love, may our aim be unity, may our aim be to influence hearts. May our aim be to stop letters and resolutions which divide. May our true aim be to win souls for Christ.