Response from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)From Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and Presbyterian Mission Agency Executive Director Linda Valentine; Pictured above: Sculpture of Rachel weeping for her lost children Also be sure to read Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo’s sermon, “Hope Has Two Daughters: Anger & Courage“
Once again we face the horrors of mass gun violence in the United States as, just this morning, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire. Reports are that 27 people have been killed, among them 20 children. It was only three days ago that a gunman fired into crowds of unsuspecting Christmas shoppers in the crowded Clackamas Town Center in Portland, Oregon, killing two and wounding one.
Today is a day of wailing and lamentation in our land. From coast to coast, Presbyterians weep with parents and grandparents, siblings and relatives, teachers and school workers, friends and neighbors. We cry out with mall workers and shoppers, security guards and crossing guards. There is no consolation for this tragic loss of life. There are no words.
But in the days to come we must speak and act, as Presbyterians are called to do. We must engage in a conversation in this nation about this unbearably ongoing and despairingly repeatable tragedy. Too many innocent lives are being lost. Too many Rachel’s are weeping for loved ones gunned down in senseless and increasingly commonplace acts of violence in places like schools and malls. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in both its policies and actions, is committed to addressing the plague of gun violence. Aware of the faith dimensions of this on-going tragedy and informed by our historic commitment to peace and non-violence, Presbyterians must do our part to responsibly end gun violence. We commend again to the church the 2010 recommendations of the 219th General Assembly “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call.”
Additionally we want to bring to the attention of all Presbyterians the recently released documentary Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence. Through the work of its first-responders to events like this week’s shootings, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has identified gun violence as a human made disaster. Trigger examines the impact of shootings on survivors, family members, the community and society. More information can be found at www.pcusa.org/trigger. Additional resources for congregational action and study can be found here.
On this day of great weeping and lament, we turn to God asking for comfort for people everywhere whose lives have been altered by senseless acts of gun violence. And we echo in prayer the cry of the Presbyterian hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette in the hymn God We Have Heard It:
God, we have heard it, sounding in the silence:
News of the children lost to this world’s violence.
Children of promise! Then without a warning,
Loved ones are mourning.
Jesus, you came to bear our human sorrow;
You came to give us hope for each tomorrow.
You are our life, Lord God’s own love revealing.
We need your healing!
Heal us from giving weapons any glory;
Help us, O Prince of Peace, to hear your story;
Help us resist the evil all around here;
May love abound here!
By your own Spirit, give your church a clear voice;
In this world’s violence, help us make a new choice.
Help us to witness to the joy your peace brings,
Until your world sings!
HERZLIEBSTER JESU: Johann Crueger, 1640 (Ah, Holy Jesus)
Hymn text copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Permission is granted for free use of this hymn in worship.
As congregations and as individuals, we can:
Offer prayerful vigil and make space for grief;
Resource: prayer litany for victims of gun violence
Resource: strategies for pastors creating children’s messages
Engage local education and organizing efforts to reduce gun violence in our communities;
Resource: Responding to Gun Violence website
Resource: The documentary, Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence
Resource: “America Held Hostage by Gun Violence: A Theological Expose” by James E. Atwood
Study and advocate for PC(USA) General Assembly policies on gun violence and hate crimes.
Resource: “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call”, adopted by the 219th PC(USA) General Assembly (2010)
Resource: Social Witness Policy Compilation on the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy website