Church Leaders Express Heartache at Shootings, Call for Action on Gun Violence

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
“Act to End Gun Violence” reads a banner at the first Heeding God’s Call event in Philadelphia in 2009. Since then the organization has worked against “straw sales” and other activities that help put guns on the streets of American cities. Heeding God’s Call was started at a meeting of the three Historic Peace Churches–Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers–during the Decade to Overcome Violence.

Brethren leaders have joined others in the American Christian community in expressing sorrow and calling for prayer following shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin this past Sunday. At least seven Sikh worshipers were killed and three others injured. The gunman, who had connections with radical right racist groups, committed suicide after being wounded by police gunfire.

Statements have been made by Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger, along with Belita Mitchell who is a Brethren leader in Heeding God’s Call, and Doris Abdullah, the denomination’s representative to the United Nations. Ecumenical partners who are speaking out include the National Council of Churches.

Noffsinger shared in the grief of the families affected in this act of violence. He also expressed frustration with repeated incidents in recent weeks, referring to the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., as well as the daily incidents of handgun violence across the country.

“Loss of life through gun violence occurs every day in American society, one person at a time,” Noffsinger said. “Now we’ve had two larger events. How many people have to die in America before we come to the realization that there is a problem with assault weapons and handguns in our country? It is time for church and society to call for a thorough re-examination of the laws governing the purchase and ownership of guns and munitions.”

An “Ending Gun Violence” resolution from the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board is just the most recent call for Brethren to join with other Christians to work against handgun violence in particular. The statement was made in 2010 in support of the National Council of Churches Governing Board and includes links to relevant statements issued in previous years by the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference. Find it at www.brethren.org/about/policies/2010-gun-violence.pdf .

NCC calls shootings a ‘tragedy of violence’

In a release this week, the National Council of Churches (NCC) called the shootings in Wisconsin a “tragedy of violence.” Council president Kathryn Lohre expressed heartache for the Sikh community across the country.

“As children of God, we mourn the tragedy of violence wherever it occurs, whether in a movie theater or a house of prayer,” Lohre said. “We pray for healing and wholeness for all affected by today’s events and stand in solidarity with our Sikh brothers and sisters in this frightening time.”

The NCC noted that Sikhs originated in the Punjab region of India in the 15th century but now live all over the world, with about 1.3 million in the US and Canada. The release said that Sikhs are known for their devotion to peace, their belief that all persons are equal, and their belief in one God.

Brethren representative to the UN calls for prayer

A request for people of faith to join in prayer vigils with the Sikh community has been shared by Doris Abdullah, the Church of the Brethren’s representative to the United Nations.

“In response to the awful violent attack at their place of worship…one request calls for the faith community to show solidarity through prayer vigils,” Abdullah said. “I hope that we can extend their request to our greater community.”

Abdullah also represents the Brethren on an NGO committee related to the UN, the Human Rights Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism. She noted that the Sikhs have recently joined the group. “I have extended personal sympathy to them on the tragedy,” she reported. “Finding ‘common ground’ among the various faith traditions and beliefs is another one of the challenges put forward to civil societies by the UN to help eliminate racism.”

Abdullah shared a “United Sikh” newsletter that is calling the interfaith community to show solidarity by holding prayer vigils in their own places of worship. (Find her own prayer response at www.brethren.org/news/2012/have-mercy-on-us-prayer-response.html .)

Mitchell speaks on behalf of Heeding God’s Call, Harrisburg

Brethren minister and past Annual Conference moderator Belita Mitchell was quoted this week in a press release from Heeding God’s Call. She pastors First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., and coordinates the Heeding God’s Call chapter there.

Heeding God’s Call has been working against gun violence on the streets of America’s cities since its beginnings at a meeting of the Historic Peace Churches (Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers) in Philadelphia some years ago.

“We at Heeding God’s Call grieve for those killed and injured and their families, friends, neighbors, and co-religionists,” Mitchell said. “Americans believe that houses of worship should be places of safety and refuge, not places of carnage and terror. But, as long as we allow people intent on mayhem to gain guns with ease, often illegally, houses of worship will be as dangerous as so many neighborhoods and communities are now in our country.”

Heeding God’s Call is rapidly growing, the release said, and now includes active chapters in Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia, on the Main Line, in Harrisburg, Pa., Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C. For more about the organization go to www.heedinggodscall.org .