I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls salvation and your gates praise.Isaiah 60: 17b-19
Dear Companions in Christ,
Mass shootings have become common things in this country. When I looked up some statistics, I found that we need to go back to 1981 to find a year without at least one. Following the horrific shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people, including 19 children were killed, I flashed back to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 where 26 people were killed, including 20 children between six and seven years old. I remember thinking back then that if this appalling event did nothing to change the way we manage guns in this country we were condemned to fail in preventing more deaths. As I witnessed the shooting at the Robb elementary school, I initially felt helpless and overwhelmed with grief.
Gun violence is a symptom of the violence that is at the root of our culture. We must admit that we are steeped in violence from our beginnings as a country. We need more than gun control. We need a cultural shift, for our problem is not just gun violence, it is violence itself. The people who landed on these shores were violent people who believed that if they wanted something, they could take it. This violent beginning led to more violence because violence begets fear, and fear sways people to violence. Our ancestors, the colonists who came to take this country, were afraid of the native people and slave owners were afraid of their slaves. They feared these people would revolt against them. They were afraid of a deserved retribution knowing the brutal way they treated these people. Linked to this violence is a disregard for the dignity of non-European people. The Civil War proved that we are divided against ourselves as a country, and this struggle continues, evidenced by people brandishing the Confederate flag at the violent insurrection on January 6th, and still flying this flag at their homes. We are at war with ourselves. There are those who fear and distrust government and choose violence as a legitimate form of protest. Clearly, violence begets fear and fear begets violence, and now we are caught in a web of violence. The proliferation of guns is proof of this fear. I wonder, was the Second Amendment born out of and held on to out of fear?
It is past time to ask ourselves, what can we do to affect change? How do we get out of the mess we have made for ourselves in this country? During the Easter season we renewed our baptismal commitments. We heard again the call to discipleship and then we celebrated the coming of God’s Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are equipped to do something. It is time for mobilization. Let us all shift our focus from what we feel to what we can do to affect real change. Let us together search for ways to respond as disciples of Christ.
Here are some of my thoughts. Let us incorporate our concerns into our liturgies, for our liturgies help us experience what we believe. I have attached a couple items as resources and there are more to be found if you search. We also need to join with others in our neighborhoods at various liturgical events. We can work together as clergy and lay leaders to plan for and participate in these community events – vigils, marches, advocacy, and joint statements.
We need to oppose evil when we see it. Let us censure and deplore acts of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all ideologies that shatter and devastate the dignity of persons. The most definite charism of us Ecumenical Catholics is our inclusion of all those who have been disenfranchised and our respect for the dignity of persons. During Pride month we remember that Pride was born because people were on the receiving end of victimization and violence, and we celebrate Pride.
We are to stand with those who have no voice. Currently the voiceless are children as shootings are now the leading cause of death for children. We need to be their voice. Please watch and listen to this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/TBQMzrrhyIo. I found it to be as if the children who remain behind, traumatized by the killing of other children, were singing to me.
Let us advocate for gun violence prevention and not be afraid to confront and discuss
complicated issues such as safe storage of weapons, teaching gun safety, suicide prevention, increased assistance for mental health, and the banning of weapons most used for mass shootings.
Finally, of course, we need to continue to pray for an end to gun violence, and an end to violence itself. Prayer is effective for it serves to change our hearts and prepares us for action. May we find the courage to take up this challenge to prevent violence and at the same time wrestle with the root causes of violence in our country. I believe we have within us the remedy. Every time we create a community of peace, justice, and love we are changing the world. It doesn’t matter how small a community is or what kind of community it is – a faith community, a political group, a sports team, a group of friends, a family, a committee, a book club, a classroom, a group of coworkers, or a social network. Every group can be a community of peace, justice, and love that respects the dignity of all persons. Building communities of peace, justice, and love can be your goal as it is mine. Little by little we can change the world by replacing fear and violence with love, peace, and justice.
My beloved ones in Christ, let it be so.
A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Katherine C Keough