Gun Violence and the PC(USA)
That’s how many school shootings have occurred since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012. That’s an epidemic. No, scratch that. That’s a crisis. A nation-wide crisis. In the year 2010, there were an estimated eighty-five deaths per day due to gun violence. Eighty-five deaths per day.
We’ve reached a tipping point. There has been no major gun reform or legislation since Sandy Hook. This week, the General Assembly of the PC(USA) is meeting in Detroit, a city that knows gun violence all too well, suffering almost 400 gun deaths a year. The Social Justice Issues Committee of the Assembly took up an overture calling on the denomination to strengthen its witness and work to enact legislation at the national level regarding gun reform, building upon the 2010 policy Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call. The overture passed overwhelmingly in committee and at the General Assembly level.
As a young adult, it concerns me how much our culture worships and idolizes guns. We’ve become a culture that worships at the altar of Smith and Wesson.
As a young adult, it concerns me how much our culture worships and idolizes guns. They’re everywhere. I grew up in Texas, a state that is well known for its love of guns and its use of them. People here and around our nation love their guns; any talk of having them taken away or even made safer sends them into a panic. We’ve become a culture that worships at the altar of Smith and Wesson. We’ve made guns into our idol and have mastered that idolatry into an art, even going so far as to demand the right to be able to carry them openly in public places because we believe that will make us feel safer.
I have to ask, though, do guns really make us any safer? Are our lives any better because of guns? I bet the 31,000 people who have died in the last year from gun violence would beg to differ. I hear the arguments from gun-rights activists about their second amendment rights and their right to safety and all of that but you know what else I hear? The tears of the mother grieving over the death of her son who was shot while walking home from the store. I hear the wails of mourning as another school shooting occurs because our politicians are too paralyzed by the gun industry and their threats to do anything about the situation. I hear a young boy who will never see his dad again because he was murdered in a drive-by shooting.
I worked at a church in Chicago during the year when I was a Young Adult Volunteer. Near the end of my time there, we had a memorial service for all the children in Chicago who had died due to gun violence over the last school year. The total? Seventy-six. Yes, you read that right. Seventy-six children were shot dead over the course of one school year.
There has been no major gun reform or legislation since Sandy Hook.
These are children in our pews. These are children in our neighborhoods. For those of us who are teaching elders, their parents are the people to whom we are called to pastor, to help them make sense of these devastating losses. This is why the church should be deeply concerned about gun violence. This is why the church should be doing more to end gun violence. This is why the church needs to be a prophetic voice for change and action with regards to gun reform. This is why the General Assembly’s adoption of this overture is so important and so necessary. By adopting this action, we send a strong message to our nation that we condemn the idolatry (which is exactly what it is) and worship of guns. We condemn the shameless loss of so many lives due to gun violence. We lift up the words of the prophet Isaiah who spoke of the day when, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4) Our denomination has to take a stand on social issues like this. Our children’s lives depend on it. Our lives depend on it. Our future as a country and as a denomination depends on it.
Speaking as a young(ish) adult, I have to say that I believe these issues of social justice are the most important ones that are currently facing our denomination. We are facing a world that, in large part, no longer finds the church to be relevant. People my age are leaving religion behind, believing it to be archaic, outdated, downright backwards, and having no relation to their own realities. A church that wants to attract and keep young adults needs to be willing to address the Gospel issues that weigh on the hearts of so many in my generation. Sooner or later, it will have to take a stand and declare its position on these issues. A church that pretends like social issues don’t exist, don’t matter, or aren’t relevant to the worship of God is a church that will cease to matter. Nowadays, there simply is no separation between social justice and the church if indeed there ever was. The two are interconnected and intertwined, and if we as the church don’t figure that out soon enough, then it will continue to see itself decline and eventually die off.
I believe that the repercussions of this Assembly will be felt for years. The 2012 Assembly was perhaps most notable for its lack of doing much of anything. The Assembly had the chance to make bold, prophetic statements on several issues but in many cases opted not to make any statements at all. This time around, we have the opportunity to correct that mistake. The Presbyterian Church has a chance to show that it is a church engaged in the world and taking prophetic actions.
A church that wants to attract and keep young adults needs to be willing to address the Gospel issues that weigh on the hearts of so many in my generation.
This Assembly can choose to make history. It can choose to make some bold statements that will not only improve what several people have pointed to as a tarnished image but will also increase its faithfulness to the Gospel. The 221st General Assembly is already proving to be a prophetic, historic one that will see the PC(USA) continue on the path of being the true church of Jesus Christ, one that includes and supports everyone and is willing to make bold, big statements.
That is what I hope for, at least. For me, that would truly signal a new era in the church. It would herald in a new day and a new time. It would make this an Assembly one we will never forget. It can happen. I can only hope it does!
AUTHOR BIO: Tad Hopp is a senior at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He served as a Young Adult Volunteer in Chicago before starting seminary. He is at the 221st General Assembly as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate.
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