On Good Friday I attended a worship service in downtown Philadelphia that was held out on the street near a gun shop. A large and very diverse group of about 200 people were there to remember the death of Christ and to speak out against gun violence in the city and in this country. We were there to worship, pray, give testimony and also to call the gun shop next door to adopt a code of conduct to deter illegal purchasing and trafficking of handguns. This was not an attempt to stop people from owning guns or change the Second Amendment of our Constitution. It was an attempt to call for a crack down on “straw purchasing” of handguns by people who have clean records who then in turn sell them or give them to people who are unable to purchase guns because they cannot pass a background check. “Heeding God’s Call” is a new multi-faith movement whose aim is to prevent gun violence by calling people of faith “to protect our brothers and sisters and children.”
The United Methodist Book of Resolutions (paragraph 3426) calls us to be involved in advocacy that seeks to eliminate gun violence in our society. Included in that is a call to “visible public witness to the sin of gun violence and to the hope of community healing.” I was heartened to see a large number of United Methodists involved at the service on Good Friday.
Along with the group giving the public witness on Friday was another group of people who were opposed to this witness and they stood in front of the gun shop. During the service they voiced their opposition by shouting things while the Good Friday speakers were presenting. They waved many large American flags and sang “God Bless America” at the same time the service was being conducted at one point. Although there were clearly people with strong differences of opinion standing on the same street corner, I was pleased that there was no violence or verbal arguing between the groups. I was grateful for the presence of a large number of law enforcement officers monitoring the activity.
When I got up to speak there was relative quiet coming from the opposing group except for one comment. I held up a small paper cross that was given to me before the service. It had the name of a young person (age 28) who had been killed in gun violence in May of 2009 on the streets of Philadelphia. I held it up and said “he was alive last Good Friday when the first rally was held, but less than a year later he was killed by a gun on our streets.” Someone from the opposing group shouted “It wasn’t our fault.” It is true that no one in the crowd that day, I am reasonably sure, pulled the trigger on that young man last year.
But what is equally true is that when good people see harm happening and do nothing it is the same as condoning the evil. The sin of omission is seen when committed Christian people do not work toward the elimination of evil in our society. We can’t be saying it is not our problem, especially those who live in the safer, comfortable suburbs. It is our problem as long as someone, anywhere, is getting hurt. Apathy, greed, racism, ignorance and fear are huge issues we need to overcome. Many of our pastors bury young people on a regular basis who have died from gun violence. It is just too easy to do nothing and in doing so…it is our fault. What can you and your church do to speak out against gun violence? The more people who get involved the harder it is for this to be ignored.
Read more reflections on faith and life by Bishop Peggy Johnson in her Bishop’s Blog.
by Bishop Peggy Johnson