Dear Friends in Christ,
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more”(Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18).
Like many of you, I awoke this morning to the news of gun violence in Las Vegas, Nevada. News outlets are calling it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. There are over 50 people killed and over 500 people wounded. These are people… our people: spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends.
As I write these words from a hotel room in Chicago (I am at the Conference of Bishops’ Meeting), photos and stories of people under fire are beginning to emerge. Strangers who dragged the wounded out of the line of fire. Police officers moving in while everyone else is racing away. Paramedics setting up places of triage, doing their very best to save as many as they can.
In March of 2013, the ELCA Conference of Bishops composed and adopted a Pastoral Letter on Violence. I have included that letter (in bold) for your study and contemplation.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Every faithful caregiver who sits with victims of violence knows what we know – as God’s church, we are called to reduce violence and should, in most cases, restrain ourselves from using violence. Whether or not statistics show that overall violence has declined in recent years, every person wounded or killed is a precious child of God.
As bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we lament the tragedy of gun violence in our country. We are grieved by the way violence threatens and destroys life. We affirm the current soul searching and shared striving to find a way to a better future. While the church grapples with this call to reduce violence, and make our communities safer, we recognize that before God we are neither more righteous because we have guns nor are we more righteous when we favor significant restrictions. Brokenness and sin are not somehow outside of us. Even the best of us are capable of great evil.
As people of God we begin by confessing our own brokenness – revealed in both our actions and our failure to act. We trust that God will set us free and renew us in our life’s work to love our neighbors. In this time of public attention to gun violence, local communities of faith have a unique opportunity to engage this work.
We begin by listening: listening to God, to Scripture, and to each other. Providing a safe place for people to share their own stories, together we discern courses of action. Together we act. And together we return to listening – to assess the effectiveness of our efforts to reduce violence.
In the Large Catechism Luther says, “We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting.” Violence begins in the human heart. Words can harm or heal. To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation.
Yet, guns and access are keys to the challenges we face. We recognize that we serve in different contexts and have different perspectives regarding what can and should be done. But as we live out our common vocations, knowing that the work will take many forms, we are committed to the work of reducing and restraining violence. This shared work is a sign of our unity in Christ.
We invite you, our sisters and brothers, to join us in this work:
- The work of lament – creating safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one another, and sharing the hope in God’s promise of faithfulness
- The work of moral formation and discernment – listening to scripture, repenting, modeling conflict resolution in daily life, addressing bullying, conducting respectful conversations, and discerning constructive strategies to reduce violence
- The work of advocacy – acting to address the causes and effects of violence, knowing that we are not saved by this work, we undertake it trusting in Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the world and who calls us to be peacemakers, to pursue justice, and to protect the vulnerable.
In this, as in all things, Christ is with us. Thanks be to God.
- Please continue to pray for those who grieve and for those in need of healing.
- Pray that we would repent of our obsession with violence.
- Pray that we would become a people dedicated to the pursuit of peace.