US Church leaders commit to challenging gun violence

Leaders across the US Episcopal Church have committed themselves to challenging gun violence as part of God's mission of reconciliation. The new commitment is a response to the shooting deaths of twenty children and eight adults in a Connecticut elementary school in December.

As the United States debates the need for tighter gun laws in the wake of the Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, representatives of both houses of Bishops and Deputies have spoken out about the need for something to be done to prevent gun violence.

In the last few days, the President and Vice-President of the House of Deputies—the body representing priests, deacons and lay people of the Episcopal Church in its General Convention—issued a letter calling on all members to repent for not having acted sooner to end gun violence.

"Since the day when twenty-eight people died in Newtown, more than 2,300 people in the United States have been killed by guns," the Reverend Gay Jennings and the Hon. Byron Rushing wrote. "Far too many of the dead are poor, young people of colour. They have been dying for years, too often unnoticed, on the streets of Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans, Newark and scores of other cities and towns.

"We have not been galvanised as we should have been by the cries of their anguished families and friends. As we work to end gun violence now, we must repent of not having done it sooner."

The Episcopal Church's Executive Council passed a resolution on February 27 reaffirming the General Convention's longstanding support of the restriction on the sale, use and ownership of guns and its commitment to adequate funding for healthcare.

Bishop of Connecticut, the Right Reverend Ian T Douglas, indicated that during the upcoming House of Bishops meeting, time will be given over to reflecting on this issue; one which, for a country where people have the constitutional right to bear arms, is not clear cut. Connecticut, for example, is not just the state where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located, it is also one of the oldest and biggest gun producing regions in the United States; so much so that the Connecticut River valley has been known as the 'Gun Valley' since the 19th century.

He and the bishops suffragan of Connecticut, the Right Reverend James Curry and the Right Reverend Laura J Ahrens, recently invited other dioceses to join clergy and lay people from Connecticut on the Monday of Holy Week for a Walk of Witness in Washington DC, the country's political capital.

"We are traveling to Washington DC to witness as Christians for the need to challenge violence in all its forms; as the Fourth Mark of Mission calls us to do. We will begin with the Stations of the Cross followed by a time of speaking out for comprehensive reform on gun legislation," said Bishop Ian who ministered to families who lost children in the school shooting.

"We are taking our witness to our nation's capital to say to our political leaders and to our country that we will no longer be silent while violence permeates our world, our society, our Church, our homes and ourselves. Our faith calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, to give voice to the voiceless and to strive for justice in the name of our Lord.

"The horrific slaughter of children and adults in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown in our home state, and the day-to-day shootings and deaths of our children and young people in cities and towns across our nation, call us to prayer and action and to work for peace."

This Walk of Witness follows a similar initiative led by the Bishops of Connecticut during Holy Week last year in Hartford, the capitol of Connecticut. That witness, covered in local and national media, contributed significantly to Connecticut's legislative decision to end capital punishment in the State.

These, and other initiatives such as New York diocese's petition for better gun control and Primate Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's Senate Testimony on gun violence, are clear evidence of The Episcopal Church's commitment to challenge gun violence in the USA.

In her testimony, Bishop Jefferts Schori wrote: "I urge lawmakers to press for comprehensive and universal background checks for firearm ownership, regardless of where and how a gun is purchased; for bans on the availability to civilians of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and for policies designed to better regulate the manufacture of guns. The Episcopal Church also supports the highest level of accountability for violation of all existing laws pertaining to violence in our midst."

This focus on challenging gun violence comes only a few months after the Anglican Consultative Council—the consultative group comprising Anglicans and Episcopalians from around the world—added to the fourth mark of mission the call: "to challenge violence of every kind".

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