House of Bishops offers a word to the church

Godly leadership in the face of violence

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs — Press Release] The Episcopal Church House of Bishops, meeting in retreat in Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, North Carolina, offers the following Word to the Church.

A Word to the Church:
Godly Leadership in the Face of Violence

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen  (Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week.  Book of Common Prayer (BCP) p. 220)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Your House of Bishops has gathered in retreat from March 8-12 at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC.  The theme for our days together has been “Godly Leadership in the Midst of Loss.”  We have heard moving reflections on loss in the wake of: the shootings in Newtown, Hurricane Sandy, the ongoing struggles in Haiti, historical trauma experienced by Native Americans in South Dakota, and physical illness.  Being together in conversation, prayer and common worship, we have shared the reality of new life in the resurrected Jesus who has overcome death and redeems our losses.

Our time together has brought us to a new place of recognition with respect to how violence infects, and affects, our lives.  We have considered how the reality of violence in our world, our society, our churches, our homes, and ourselves alienate us from God and each other.  And we repent that we have too often neglected to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.  In this Lenten season we pray:  “Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.”  (From the Litany of Penance for Ash Wednesday, BCP p. 268)

We particularly grieve those killed by senseless gun violence in the many contexts from which we come.  We lament and have cried over the widely reported mass shootings in this country, recalling tragedies like Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown.  We are outraged by the too often unseen and unacknowledged daily massacre of our young people in cities such as Chicago, Newark, Baltimore, Port-au-Prince, and Tegucigalpa.  This carnage must stop.

As bishops of The Episcopal Church we embody a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with respect to firearms.  Many among us are hunters and sport-shooters, former members of the military and law-enforcement officers.  We respect and honor that we are not of one mind regarding matters related to gun legislation.  Yet we are convinced that there needs to be a new conversation in the United States that challenges gun violence.  Because of the wide variety of contexts in which we live and our commitment to reasoned and respectful discourse that holds together significant differences in creative tension, we believe that The Episcopal Church can and must lead in this effort.  In fact many in this Church are already doing so, for which we thank God.

At our ordinations as bishops we pledged to “boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience” of those we are called to serve. (BCP p. 518)  We call all Episcopalians to pray and work for the end of gun violence.  We commit ourselves to lead a new conversation in our nations as to the appropriate use and legislation of firearms.  And we further commit ourselves to specific actions to this end.

Praying and working together we can be instruments of God’s restoring and reconciling love for the whole world.  Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

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  1. Mark Bigley says:

    One item unaddressed in the polarization of the pro vs. con gun/people control debate is the assumption that Second Amendment backers are not against gun violence. Law biding citizens who posses or carry firearms legally are against gun violence. The idea that if you possess or legally carry that you are pro violent could not be further from the truth. Our founding fathers who authored the Second Amendment were spiritual people. They were wise enough to realize that one becomes more vulnerable to violence when one has no recourse to maintain a boundary of safety. Millions of people have been defensely executed when their own nations have disarmed them. The proposed changes that are now “on the table” disarm law biding citizens and make them more vulnerable to those criminals who will possess what is prohibited (prohibition did not work). Gun/people control leaves innocent people vulnerable. Little attention is spent on the more numerous lives that guns use in self defense save than are lost in mass shootings. Systems theory reveals that when inputs are placed into a system, that often the very opposite reaction than the one intended is created. External control never changes the inner person, but often creates more chaos. Our culture has been conditioned to look at symptoms instead of causation. Allopathic medicine focuses on symptom instead of causation. Gun violence is a symptom of something deeper which are wounds to the soul. Remove the guns (control the people) and the wounded soul remains, just as lethal with or without a gun (research the evidence). Anxiety creates an enmeshed mass that no longer can hear the wisdom of history. Part of “respecting the dignity of every human being ” in our Baptismal Covenant is loving others enough to allow them as capable adults the freedom to live their own lives and make their own decisions, not to control or to make their decisions for them. Spiritual conversion is an inner work or “inside” job that gun/people control doesn’t touch. Gun/people control is a shallow solution to a deeper spiritual problem that endangers the innocent.

  2. Patrick Bone, (The Rev. Dr.) says:

    As a former police officer, deputy sheriff, deputy marshall, captain of corrections in minimum, medium, and maximum security prisons and, finally, a parole and state police officer whose duties included running down fugitives, it has been my experience that increasing availability (legal or otherwise) of firearms in our states has increased the probability of lethal violence in our society. Those of us who have experienced lethal action ( including combat Armed Forces) know that the greater the distance from your enemy, the easier it is to distance yourself from the personal consequences that come inevitably when you shoot someone. It is never easy to pull the trigger until your body has desensitized itself from the reality and horror of the action. Sick humor is common among cops and combat soldiers. It is only one of many ways of masking the consequences of knowing that you have taken away a human life–sometimes lessened if you are attacked and must resort to lethal force to save yourself and others. But, greater is the consequence when you are ordered or compelled by the situation to shoot to kill. In Corrections, the comman is always “shoot to strike.” That does nothing to lessen what happens to human body once he or she has killed or maimed someone with a piece of lead. The most common consequences from both ends, from my personal and command esperiences, is PTSD, for certain to affect the shooter, but equally impacting others in the arena of the violence. In my experience, having both inflicted lethal force, and witnessed lethal force, the impact is not only horror, but a subsequent dulling of the senses which is a necessary bodily response allowing the shooter, victim, and spectators to carry on an illusion of normalcy, but which always creates an impact on the shooters’/victims’ families ability to relate normally ever again. Some animals are killers by need and nature and thus protected from the consequence. Human being are not in the category, and the proliferation of the options to kill as a means of self-defense have created an American society which is developing a virus of sorts, an illness of fear that eats on itself growing as surely as any organism that destroys itself from within. Is there an option to more gun, bigger magazines and capacity to kill quickly? The answer, for me, is twofold: Yes, from within, and from without. From within, I was able to teach the police and corrections officers under my command the incredible number of peaceful options that not only prevent use of lethal force, but which creat a community of trust and peacefulness. It started with the men and women under me, and spread to the community in which they served. In response, the community itself responded to the peacekeepers by relying on them rather that resort to use of a lethal weapon as an option of first resort. I could tell stories forever, examples of how peaceful options trumped firearms and led to a more trusting and peaceful community. But that is not the convenient message of those who sell guns and those gun owners who have no idea how impotent are their weapons to create a community of peace. This is not what most gun owners want to believe. The myth of security from gun-ownership is spread through media and sales promotion. Yes, a gun can kill your enemy. But, your enemy can also own a gun. From my perspective, we are heading in the direction of a form of societal suicide in which gun owners are each others’ worse enemies. This is a good time to pray for direction and hope there really is a power for peace about which we read in our Gospels and in which we profess to give our trust.

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