“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”
As I come home from a wonderful trip to Korea, Bangkok and China, my heart breaks for the victims of gun violence, most recently in El Paso and Dayton, but for those across the country almost daily. According to USA Today, there have been 250 mass shootings in the first 215 days of 2019. People are picking up assault weapons to randomly shoot and kill innocent victims. This is tragic, this is terrible, and this is wrong. We must acknowledge that many in our society are succumbing to “a corruption” and they are “filled with violence.”
But it is important not to demonize the shooters. In many cases, these people are suffering a breakdown of sorts. They are examples of an illness of spirit and mind that is prevalent in our culture. Beyond the gun violence, hate crimes and violent demonstrations that are becoming the acceptable norm in our United States, there is an undercurrent of anger, fear, rage and resentment. It is difficult to feel good about a country where so many citizens see violence as their only choice, and where so many live in fear of others.
In a Wisconsin University study, 61% of Madison citizens surveyed feel safer having a gun. However, in the same poll, 87% feel less secure knowing that others have guns. I anticipate that this call to pray for healing for the victims, families, friends (as well as shooters and their families and friends) will cause some to be very angry that I oppose gun violence – each time I write a call for prayer concerning mass shootings I receive messages from upset people defending guns – but this isn’t about “guns” in general. I am not saying people shouldn’t be allowed hunting rifles or even handguns for home self-defense, if that is what people desire. However, our American culture has gone weapons crazy. In a New York Times article, it is reported that over 40% of all guns currently in America have been obtained illegally, are automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons, and they are only used for attack. These are the weapons that I oppose. Including such things as rocket launchers, grenades, bayonets, machetes, knives, and other weaponry in addition to guns, Americans spend $13 billion each year (NBC News). Placing this in perspective, in our United States all Christian mission giving combined is about $5.2 billion a year.
But much of this is beside the point. Guns and the way they are abused in our culture is a huge issue that will not be resolved easily. Underlying the fact of gun violence is an abject despair and hopelessness, combined often with anger and a sense of helplessness and injustice, that leads people to lash out in hurtful and hateful ways. In most cases these people aren’t “monsters,” but are merely seriously ill or desperate people who lack relationships that help them cope in non-destructive ways.
Violence, in all its forms, is evidence of the brokenness of our humanity and indicates the deepest meaning of sin – separation from God. We are failing to live fully into God’s will and God’s vision for all people – unconditional love and acceptance that makes sure there is a place for everyone, and that no one “fall through the cracks” into a dark place of depression and despair.
So, what can we do? There are many small ways that we can act and do what is within our power to work for a solution. First, and always, pray. Pray for victims and their families. Pray for the communities impacted by acts of hate and violence. Pray for those who act with violence and destruction and their families. Pray for people living in fear of violence, and for those who consider violence as an acceptable course of action. Begin to write to our governmental representatives and to the NRA to ban the sale and ownership of weapons of war. It is one thing to own a hunting rifle or a handgun. It is something quite different to have an AK-15 or AK-47, or an AT4 rocket launcher. When we make ownership of weapons of mass destruction normative in our culture, we cannot be surprised when such weaponry is used.
Our Christian witness should always be one of peace. In the face of violence, in the face of division, in the face of aggression, and even in the face of war, Christians call for God’s vision from Isaiah 2:4 –
“He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
So, my beloved siblings in Christ, pray for peace. Pray for healing. Pray for reconciliation. Pray for true community and inclusiveness, so that no child of God will lose hope, will despair, and will pick up a weapon to cause harm to another beloved child. Pray for an end to violence and to every contributing factor. Blessed are the peace-makers; thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Read the World Council of Churches Statement, Latest gun violence in US poses challenges for churches
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).