Presiding bishop provides testimony on gun violence

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has submitted written testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, for the hearing on “Proposals to reduce gun violence: protecting our communities while respecting the Second Amendment.”

“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 Presiding Bishop states in her testimony. “The Episcopal Church also supports the highest level of accountability for violation of all existing laws pertaining to violence in our midst.”

The following is the full text of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s testimony.





FEBRUARY 12, 2013
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee:

On behalf of The Episcopal Church, a multinational Christian religious denomination of two million persons headquartered in the United States, I am grateful for the opportunity to present this testimony on the urgent task of reducing gun violence in our communities.

The United States has witnessed far too many public shootings in recent months and years.  Far too many lives have been cut short or maimed by both random and targeted acts of gun violence.  The school shooting in Newtown, CT horrified Americans and people around the world, yet since that day several times as many young people have died by gunshot.  Each year, gun violence claims the lives of more than 3,000 children in the United States.  The victims of each of these shootings are members of our families, religious congregations, and communities, and we continue to grieve for the living as well as the dead.

I commend the resolve of lawmakers who believe that the moment has arrived when our nation must come together to ask the difficult questions, and to discern what may be equally challenging answers, about how we can begin to break the cycles of violence that lead to massacres in suburban schools and routine death on the streets of our cities.  It is abundantly clear to me, as I travel to communities across this country and engage in conversation with people from many walks of life, that Americans have begun to find the resolve to grapple with the complexities of violence in our culture.

This is no easy task.  Just as the root causes of cyclical violence in our culture, and the ways in which that violence is expressed, are varied and complicated, so too are the solutions.   We must resist the temptation to use the present moment of national angst as a pretext for pre-formed political agendas or simplistic responses that are better suited for sound bites than for meaningful, long-term change.  We all share a responsibility to examine the many facets of cycles of violence in our society, and to discern equally comprehensive responses that will address the causes, means, and effects of violence.

I would suggest that we might start by examining three different levels of response.

First, we should fearlessly examine our underlying cultural attitudes toward violence, as well as the ways those attitudes are expressed, consciously and unconsciously, in our communities.  There is a dangerous paradox in how our culture treats violence, glorifying it on the one hand while also trivializing it.  Violence – whether physical, verbal, or mental – finds routine expression in our entertainment, recreation, politics, and our view of world affairs.  Violence and aggression, the polar opposites of civility and righteousness, come to be associated with strength, heroism, and success.  Once that connection is made, these attitudes insidiously reframe our views of family and community relationships.  Violence almost always begets further violence.

Society at all levels must take responsibility for building a culture that refuses to tolerate any notion of violence devoid of consequence or moral clarity, or any sense that any human life is exploitable or expendable.  Families, faith communities, schools, governments, the entertainment industry, and others all have responsibilities in this area.  As Episcopalians, we are committed to examining our own cultural attitudes toward violence through efforts in our own congregations and communities, to repent of our own roles in the glorification and trivialization of violence, and commit ourselves to another way.

I urge our nation’s leaders to encourage this same form of accountability in other aspects of our national life.  Examine entertainment and recreation, yes.  But also examine how civility is lived out in our national affairs, particularly the rhetoric that diminishes and demonizes those who hold competing opinions.  Examine how tolerance and understanding are taught in our schools.  Encourage each American to examine his or her own attitudes.  Let us challenge ourselves, as our Church declared nearly two decades ago in response to this same conversation, to “create sanctuaries for our children, so that all may come to identify and value themselves and others as the precious children of God that they are, and that they may come to know peace in their lives and to create peace for future generations.”

Second, let us think seriously together about psychological wellness in our culture.  Many have noted that the Sandy Hook shooter, like so many others in recent similar tragedies, appears to have been mentally ill.  We have become accustomed to hearing the acquaintances of a perpetrator express their lack of great surprise at his or her actions, given previous inappropriate behavior.  In many such cases, documented failures to provide adequate mental healthcare to at-risk adolescents or adults have become a routine part of the story.  In other settings, including many urban environments in which violence has become routine, access to mental healthcare is often essentially unavailable, or is so stigmatized or misunderstood as to be rendered meaningless for those at risk.

The Episcopal Church, like many other faith communities, has long called for a more serious approach to mental healthcare in America:  wider availability; the elimination of stigma associated with its use; and better adaptation to a variety of cultural, economic, and educational settings.  Social progress in this area has been slow.  Where can we now identify points for change?  How can we commit to welcoming the outcast and ensuring that all members of all communities have access to the full range of healthcare, including mental healthcare, needed for their full flourishing?

I challenge lawmakers to address this question as comprehensively and creatively as possible.  One promising approach is reflected in a new bipartisan legislation introduced last week by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) known as the “Excellence in Mental Health Act.”  That legislation seeks to create new community mental health centers and to upgrade existing ones, and to allow those centers to bill Medicaid and private insurance for treatment just as they do when providing physical-healthcare services.  I urge lawmakers to consider this and other such responses, and to treat mental healthcare as a budgetary priority as well.

Finally, I believe – as The Episcopal Church has said continually over more than 40 years – that the role of guns in our society’s culture of violence cannot be ignored. The easy accessibility of guns to those prone to commit crimes, and the danger posed by the increasingly lethal character of both the weaponry and ammunition available, are constants running through much of the recent violence in our culture.

I want to be clear that The Episcopal Church supports the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.  We recognize that law-abiding gun owners are not responsible for the crimes we are discussing today and should not be the focus of our responses to those crimes.  Nevertheless, our Church is clear that federal, state, and local gun laws and enforcement activities should focus their efforts on keeping guns out of the hands of children and those who would use them to commit violent crimes.  We also stand for tighter curbs on weaponry designed primarily to enable more effective killing of other human beings, such as what are commonly referred to as military-style assault rifles.

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.

As Christians, we believe that all God’s people should be able to live in peace.  As the prophet Zechariah dreams, “old men and women shall again sit in the streets…And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing.”  The prophet reminds his hearers that even if this seems impossible, with God it is not (Zech 8:4-6).

Today, I urge our nation’s lawmakers, and indeed all Americans, to commit to the work of making peace possible in every street and each community of this nation.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony, and please be assured of my constant prayers for you and all who undertake the costly work of public service.


  1. The Reverend Canon George I. Chassey says:

    Well stated and to the point.

  2. The Very Rev. Stuart Schadt says:

    I thank the Presiding Bishop for her leadership on this subject. I would add though that law abiding citizens do provide the guns used in the approximately 19,000 a year suicides. Every gun owner has a responsibility to evaluate the security of their gun and the wellness of their households.

  3. Karen Birr says:

    Some of this I agree with and some I do not. Speaking of the healthcare system; a person can only do so much to help others since the law states even family members cannot put other family members into a place establised to get help for them without their consent once they turn 18. Only if that person is going to kill themself or if that person (knowlingly) is going to harm someone else. This has nothing to do with the ‘economicis’ of the society. I wasn’t ask how I felt about what was stated, so please, don’t say ‘on behalf of the Episcopal Church. I am part of that and I don’t agree with all that you said. How about inforcing the laws that are already on the books? That would help alot.

  4. Howard Shute says:

    I agree with Karen. Situations that require disturbed subjects can only be admitted to the mental care system If they volunteer. I also agree with +Katherine.

    Another Episcopalion

  5. J.L.Boggess says:

    Gun violence has little to do with guns and a lot to do with violence. We as a culture must deal from the deck that we have not from one that we wish for. We have a lot of weapons in this country and we have 99.9% of them with no violence attached. The gun culture cannot be blaimed for the use of guns in violent situations, Contrarily it should be to this group ( legitimate gun owners) to assist in solving the problem of violent use of guns. The knee jerk reaction of blaiming high capacity magazines and “assault weapons”, whatever they are, is naive. The CDC and the FBI know that the gun violence is mostly commited with hand guns! Before we will ever get a consenses on what to do about gun violence we must start from a position that everyone understands is true, not motivated by politically or special interest groups.

  6. In 1791, when the second amendment came into being, if you turned up at school with a firearm, you would have been told to lean it against the back wall along with all the others that had been brought in that day. Young people in rural areas were expected to supplement what went on the family table with some hunting while going to and from school. If someone snapped, (help for the mentally ill was even less abundant in the 18th century) just one shot would have been fired and the perpetrator quickly disarmed while he was attempting to cram another ball into his weapon’s muzzle. If the framers of the second amendment had foreseen that one could carry out of sight, under a coat, a device capable of killing upwards of 10 people in under a minute, the wording of the document would have been different. It could well be they would have scoffed at the idea that the ownership of such a device could possibly be a right or even a privilege earned through careful procedure. The second amendment should not be treated like some sacrosanct text that can’t change with the times. We need only look at our own organization to see that difficult and often divisive adjustments can be made. How many pitched battles have we had over, revisions to the prayer book, ordination of women, inclusion of homosexuals and on and on and on. Change is constant. Adapt, lest ye perish.

  7. LLoyd Kerr says:

    Speak your mind. What a joke. If it doesn’t fit the agenda it shall disappear. WWJS!

  8. LLoyd Kerr says:

    You posted my last post so you have given me courage and I will try again – with my original (slightly edited) post.

    There are over 1,200,000 abortions performed per year in the US. vs.
    To quote: “Each year, gun violence claims the lives of more than 3,000 children in the United States. The victims of each of these shootings are members of our families, religious congregations, and communities, and we continue to grieve for the living as well as the dead.”

    I do believe that her balance is very tilted to the left. Where is her outrage against the true murderers of children? Also no where does she mention how many lives of children, and older people are saved from the use of guns for protection from criminal elements. And no where does she mention that the main reason for the 2nd amendment is to protect the citizens from the tyranny of government.

    Also as to her statement – To Quote: “As Christians, we believe that all God’s people should be able to live in peace.”

    I have this to say – Freedom is not free. The cost is high and those that do not protect and value it shall lose it. A people who will not fight for their freedom will lose it, and will live in fear and will therefore be robbed of any peaceful existance.

    Matt: 10:34 – Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.

    Luke: 22:36 – But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.

    Ecc: 3 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    2 a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    6 a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    8 a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    She does not speak for me. As I said before – I believe the Age of Grace is coming to an end. And Jesus will return as a Warrior to claim His Kingdom. He came in peace to spread love throughout the world – but the world has (for the most part) rejected him, rejected his love, and stolen peace from the earth. I believe God is determined and the storm clouds of war are gathering as we speak and all will be fulfilled according to His plan. Peace like a river will not flow until the blood of Saints has once again dug the channel. We live in interesting times.

    • Well said Lloyd, I could not agree with you more. I am an Episcopalian and even more so a follower of Jesus Christ and find this blanket statement from +Katherine to be more mislead by media hype and not so much by fact and the assumption of speaking for us all is not appreciated. Thanks for your courage and commitment.

  9. Jeffrey Parker says:

    This testimony was at a hearing for “Proposals to reduce gun violence: protecting our communities while respecting the Second Amendment.”
    The Presiding Bishop has no repect for the Second Amendment–the language in her presentation is a sham.
    I also don’t like that she purports to speak for our church. She certainly doesn’t speak for me. I feel a bit like a union member paying my dues, and union bosses spending it to support positions or candidates where I don’t agree.
    Immigration reform is another area where I feel many of the laity are misreprestented. I am particularly disturbed by the official statements of the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations. Why does the Episcopal Church need an arm to lobby Congress and other legislative bodies? There is often a huge disconnect between an authorizing resolution of the General Convention and the its interpretation and execution. Where is the transparency and accountability for interpretations that may be one of many possible? This can be a violation of process and the intent of General Conventiion.
    The Episcopal Church should be very cautious on supporting specific legislation or aligning with specific politicians or parties.
    Lastly, for those who are unhappy with it, there is an appropriate process for changing or extinquishing the 2nd Amendment; Article V delineates how to amend the Constitution. That is the course opponents should follow. Again, changes in specific legislation should not be promoted by the Church.
    In fairness, the first two levels of response promoted by the Presiding Bishop have merit. It is when she gets to level three, that she runs off the rails.

  10. Theron Patrick says:

    Evil exists. That is a bold and Politically Incorrect statement. The killing field in Connecticut is at point. An evil man killed his mother, 20 children and 6 adults. Note that I said an evil man. I did not say an evil system, a failed system, the government, an evil thing etc. It was the evil act of a man. His sole intent was to cause the most anguish and go out infamously. Evil cannot reside in an object. It cannot reside in a system. It can only reside in a soul.

    It is Politically Incorrect because somehow over much of the past century a part of the population has developed the belief that “the government” is responsible for and has the power to protect the individual from harm. To attribute this murder to a single evil man, who is dead signals a failure of “the government” to meet that expectation and robs the people of a target for revenge. A demand that the government “do something” is heard across the land. “If only the government would do ______” then this would not have happened” is the cry and is nonsense.

    Unfortunately there is damn little that “the Government” can do. The second half of new(ish) belief that “the government has the power to protect the individual, particularly the children, from harm” is not only wrong it is stupid. The primary persons responsible for our own security is We. That does not stop some from trying. The results are many times useless and often worse than doing nothing. With great fanfare the folks at local, state and federal levels as well as corporations and other institutions turned many places into “weapon free zones.” Of course the law and policy that prohibits guns, knives, pepper spray ect. in certain places means nothing to evil.

    The effect of this law and policy at the killing fields in Sandy Hook is that the courageous men and women that stood up to evil had been disarmed by their own state so that they had no chance of stopping him but could only sacrifice their lives to slow evil down and give the children a few more seconds to escape. But the cry goes out from a few people that we have to do something. They say it is the evil black guns that are the problem. They say it is the 30 round magazines that is the problem. They say it is the Mental Health system that is the problem. They say it is the video games that cause the problem. Nonsense. The gun control initiatives our Presiding Bishop has espoused, like the “weapon free zones” are simply politicians/ policy makers making noise so that they can say they did something. The Mental Health system could use some attention and cash, but not just because of Sandy Hook. Trying to censor video games and/or movies is a fool’s errand.

    Please don’t say “do something.” Join me and my brother and sister vets in saluting the courageous women of Sandy Hook who gave the last full measure of devotion and praying for the souls of the innocent. (I try to leave the judgment of the evil to Him.) Then proceed with caution, thought and prayer.

    I suggest that we stop looking for easy answers that do nothing but sound good. A lie is a lie. I suggest that much like we have done with pilots, we permit the staffs of our schools to be armed. In this area like many areas of the citizen’s life we need to get the government out of the way. (Not a new thought on my part, Mr. Jefferson expressed this concept many times and is most often quoted “the government that governs least governs best, because the people discipline themselves.”)

    Theron Patrick, Commander USCG (Ret.)

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