Throughout our Wisconsin communities, men and women, young and old, mourn the tragic and senseless loss of life recently due to gun violence. Since the April 23 shootings in Antigo – which left two students injured and the shooter dead, there have been 10 other gun-related deaths in our state, including the bizarre highway shootings in De Forest, and the terrible murder/suicide of a thirty-six year old father and his two children, ages 3 and 5, in Wisconsin Rapids. Nationally, the slaying of eight members of the Rhoden family in Pike County, Ohio, raises anxiety levels and enlarges the circle of sadness. It is a sad and painful time.
This is not the world our God envisions, not a reality God condones. This is not simply a matter of guns and gun control, but a much larger, much deeper issue. We are living in a time of great hopelessness and despair, where people feel their only resource is to settle differences and disappointments with violence. We are seeing people who feel they are out of options, so they commit desperate acts. What can we do in such a world?
This is a challenge to our churches, but it is an essential reason that the church exists in the first place. In the growing darkness of gun violence and senseless acts of anger and despair, the church is called to be a beacon of light. Consider what it means to you and your congregation to view our church in these ways:
- We are to be centers of prayer – in all places, at all times, and in every circumstance we should be praying together that God might show us a better way. We pray for the victims. We pray for those who commit the violent acts. We pray for strength and guidance. We pray for God’s will to be done.
- We are to be centers of peace – blessed are the peacemakers, and the peace keepers and the reconcilers and the unifiers and the healers. We become prayer champions praying for peace, but also modeling peace with justice, mercy with compassion, and grace with patience. We make sure that our congregations are safe places where all can be welcomed.
- We are to be centers of hope – walking by faith and not by sight, we reject what the world says and we hold fast in faith to the promises of God. The “gospel” of the world is a “gospel of bondage.” We are prisoners to fear, distrust, anxiety, hopelessness, and a scarcity mentality, because we are told this is the way the world is. But our God tells a different story. Ours is a “gospel of abundance.” We are a people of the good news that God will provide. There is enough for all. We should welcome the stranger and make them family. We should work together to build trust, respect, tolerance, acceptance, and a beloved community large enough to include everyone.
We are living in difficult, trying times. But we do not lose hope. Pray with me for all the lives touched and damaged by violence, done by guns or any other means. Pray with me for the communities suffering loss and grief in the face of such unspeakable brokenness. Pray with me that we might seek and find better ways to deal with differences, disagreements, and deep hurt. Pray with me that the love, grace, and peace of Jesus Christ might prevail, and we no longer have to lose another precious child of God to gun violence.
Grace and Peace,
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).