Caroline Guy | April 24, 2018

“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

One month ago, on March 24th, 2018, people all over the world came together to say “Never Again” will there be another mass shooting or another victim of gun violence. These rallies and marches put the spotlight on youth, with young organizers, speakers, writers, musicians, and activists all at the forefront of the day.

This was an important and controversial day for many, and Lutherans in Northwestern Ohio saw the March for Our Lives as an opportunity to put their faith into action and live out what they believe. Many rostered ministers and lay leaders marched, and several congregations opened their doors to provide rest and relief to march participants.

While the day held overarching themes and goals, among both organizers and participants, it was clear that every participant was involved for their own reason. To understand the perspective of Northwestern Ohio Synod participants, we asked some questions about the March for Our Lives and their faith.

What Bible verse represents your experience or reason for marching?
How does the March for Our Lives movement connect to your faith?
How does the March for Our Lives movement impact your role as a leader in the church?
What do you hope this movement teaches the youth of our synod?
If you could say anything to the youth who participated in, and are leading this movement, what would it be?
If you could say anything to adults about this movement, what would it be?
What was the most memorable moment from the march?
Anything else you would like to add?

Q: What Bible verse represents your experience or reason for marching?

Mark 10: 13-16
“Jesus lifted up children – those who were seen as inconsequential and worthless – as beloved and important in his sight. Too often, we dismiss youth because we say they are not old enough to have an opinion, or that their opinion is influenced by their naiveté and lack of experience. But sometimes, youth have a better grasp on the issues than some of us “older folk”. Rev Kelley Ketcham

“I have always tried to be involved with the youth of my church. They ARE the future of this world. I try to support and encourage them as much as I can. They inspire my so much and have so much to offer. We just need to engage them and really listen to what they are saying.” – Vicki Boesch

Isaiah 11:6Rev. Phil Gardner

Matthew 5:9Rev. Mark English

Exodus 20:13
“One touchstone that stands out for me, is from the Small Catechism, the Fifth Commandment:

‘You shall not murder. What is this? Or What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.’

As a Lutheran Christian, I find Luther’s approach to be very instructive. In examining the law, in light of the teaching of Jesus Christ, it is not enough to merely say, ‘I have not killed anyone’. But we have an obligation, to proactively help to protect our neighbor in their physical needs. I see making it harder for people to use assault type firearms with high volume clips and things like bump stocks, will help reduce who gets killed.” – Rev. Jim Wenger

Jeremiah 1:7-9
“So often young people, especially in the church, feel like we do not have the skills or ability to take on the things we feel called to do. Church members want young folks in their parishes, but so often don’t utilize the gifts and talents that young people bring to the church. Leading up to the March I heard many people talk about the qualifications of the youth who planned and participated and who are speaking out. But the strength and perseverance those youth showed reminded me that if we work to do God’s will, there is no reason to fear and every reason to pursue peace and justice.” – Caroline Guy

Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd. The valley of the shadow of death are the funerals and grave stones of all the people I have known who have died of gun violence. The valley is filled with the silence of good people who do nothing because mourning the dead is easier than doing the work needed to prevent or end the killing. The rod and the staff are the people who march along with me – they make the cup overflow with abundance. They enable the anointing.” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: How does the March for Our Lives movement connect to your faith?

“Too often we focus on what we will lose if we allow others to have basic rights, such as attending school without fearing if today will be the day that they encounter a mass shooting.” “But our faith tells us that life is communal. We are not to live our lives as if our life is more important than the lives of our siblings in Christ. Our call as followers of Jesus is to lift up those without a voice, to stand with those who are oppressed, and to remember the command of Jesus, to love God and love our neighbor. And sometimes, loving our neighbor means letting go of some of the things that we hold on to so tightly and so dearly.” – Rev. Kelley Ketcham

“It demands respect for life, against a society that so readily devalues life.” – Rev. Phil Gardner

“When humanity had done its worst violence to Jesus, God stills responds with life and love.” – Rev. Mark English

“March for Our Lives is a movement of peace and protecting the vulnerable in our society. This is our calling as disciples of God, and this is my calling as a person of faith. Every time an issue of social justice or human rights comes into debate, I remember Jesus’ greatest commandments: Love God and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. If we look at the March through this lens, it becomes easy. In order to love my neighbor as myself, and as God loves me, I must work to ensure the safety and wellbeing of my neighbor. And my neighbors include everyone in Parkland, Akron, Las Vegas, Orlando, Columbine, Newtown and beyond.” – Caroline Guy

“In its most basic definition, discipleship is imitating the works of Jesus. There are two connections between discipleship and March for Our Lives.

The first is that Jesus taught his disciples to be prophets. In other words, he taught them how to listen for God’s calling, speak the mind of God, and help people respond appropriately. When Jesus knocked the tables of the money changers down in the Temple during Passover, he was teaching his disciples how to use direct action as a means for encouraging people to respond appropriately to the mind and voice of God.
The second connection to my faith is the actual issue itself: the regulation of weapons. The Constitution includes the phrase, “Endowed by their Creator.” And so I understand the Constitution to be a theological document – something we say about who God is and who God says we are. Therefore, it is possible for me to evaluate the Constitution according to the model and teaching of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, the disciples ask if they should acquire more weapons than the two swords between them all. Jesus says no, that two is enough for the twelve. Regulating access to weapons is as much a part of our faith story as it is in the Constitutional right to bear arms.” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: How does the March for Our Lives movement impact your role as a leader in the church?

“I believe participating in the march was me living out the call in my letter of call that says, ‘to speak for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed’ and ‘to equip us for witness and service.’ Supporting the youth of our nation who are using their voices to speak out for those who are suffering is a call to justice. And living out that in word and deed (both in what they/we say and do), is living a life of witness and service to those who need our service.” – Rev. Kelley Ketcham

“It has given me opportunity to voice concerns over the dark side of America’s gun culture and the violence and civil indecency that seems so prevalent among us.” – Rev. Phil Gardner

“Am I all talk? Or some action?” – Rev. Mark English

“Contrary to what we have learned in our churches, Martin Luther had much to say about politics. There is a book by Luther historian Roland H. Bainton called Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. In it, he talks about Martin Luther believing that pastors and bishops should be the moral conscience of government leaders. Martin Luther was opposed to violent rebellion against ruler and the state. However, he believed that the pastor’s calling includes keeping leaders of peoples in moral check. I think March for Our Lives is not only an important moment for youth, but also for leaders in the church to embrace a more “Lutheran” approach to social justice.” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: What do you hope this movement teaches the youth of our synod?

“I hope that this movement teaches youth that their voice and witness is important – not just in our country, but in our congregations and our synod as well. And I sincerely hope that our congregations are ready and willing to listen to their voices.” – Rev. Kelley Ketcham

“That there are adults willing to listen to their concerns and give their concerns the legitimacy they deserve.” – Rev. Phil Gardner

“I think this movement shows them that they should never be afraid to step up and be heard and never give up. That they should let adults know how they feel and what their fears are.” – Vicki Boesch

“They are the Church now. There are adults who support them.” – Rev. Mark English

“I think the youth are teaching adults more than anything. They are frustrated with society and, instead of waiting for someone else to fix the problem, they are taking charge and working towards a solution themselves. I hope in the process of organizing this movement they have learned what their values are and what is important to them. And I hope they have learned that there are adults who are listening to them and are willing to take a step back to let youth lead.” – Caroline Guy

“The youth are figuring it out. It’s the adults who need the teaching. I think the biggest learning will happen in the next three to five years” “Will this march now simply be a moment of character building – something to put on a resume or post on a social media channel – or is this the beginning of a life-long commitment to making the world a better place? Direct action – public protest – was strong in the years before and after September 11, 2001. However, worries over terrorism and the Great Recession consumed people’s attention and fears. Is this the future for the youth too? Are youth simply going to follow their grandparent’s generation of youthful rebellion and then give up to recreate the oppressive systems youth are responding to today?” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: If you could say anything to the youth who participated in, and are leading this movement, what would it be?

“I would tell them that I am incredibly proud that they are speaking up, both for themselves, and for those who do not have a voice. And I would tell them that I will have their backs.” – Rev. Kelley Ketcham

“Don’t stop.” – Rev. Phil Gardner

“We heard you. They made it clear that they are not trying to take guns away from good gun owners or blast the second amendment. They just want to be safe at school! I was so proud of them all!!” – Vicki Boesch

“I am pleased to see that those youth directly affected by gun violence in our own country are saying enough is enough and will not accept thoughts and prayers any longer with no action. Reasonable gun control rules and regulations are long overdue and it is time to stop letting a powerful gun lobby use fear and misinformation to keep the rest of the country at the mercy of gun manufacturers.” – Rev. Jim Wenger

“Blessed are you.” – Rev. Mark English

“Keep going! So often we see marches like this come and go, with no real outcome. Don’t let that happen. You’ve organized a successful movement and gotten the attention of the world. Use that momentum and don’t let people (especially politicians and leaders) forget about you. Keep going and keep working towards peace. But also remember to take care of yourselves and take care of each other. People will fight you every step of the way and that will start to weigh on you (if it hasn’t already). Remember to take a step back, breathe, have fun, and be there for those working alongside you. A great deal of responsibility has been placed on you very quickly, but self-care is very important in order to keep this movement going.” – Caroline Guy

“I am a veteran organizer of direct action. The Toledo march was textbook, on point, and well done! Everything from the gathering space, to the call to action, to the final rally at One Government Center was a move in the right direction. It was great to be a part of it! In just a few years, you will vote. You will join the ranks of adulthood. Which means this: if your efforts now result in failure in the future, you will be the adults who will be blamed. Rallies, demonstrations, and voter registration drives alone won’t make the changes you seek. There is much work to do behind the scenes: letter writing, meeting with government leaders and lobbyists, gathering signatures, and building relationships with allies of all ages. If you are serious about change, you must stick with it for the long haul. It was good to see both suburban and urban youth represented in preparation for the march. Race and class are as divisive instruments at preventing gun control as any other excuse, so make sure all victims of gun violence are included. For example, how are you reaching out to rural youth?” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: If you could say anything to adults about this movement, what would it be?

“Do not discount the voices of our youth. Just because they do not have as much life experience as we do does not mean that what they are saying is any less important.” – Rev. Kelley Ketcham

“Pay attention.” – Rev. Phil Gardner

“We need to fully support these kids and do something to show them that we do.” – Vicki Boesch

“Even the young shall prophesy.” – Rev. Mark English

“I know that this is NOT a popular position to take in my congregation or county. However, I have greatly appreciated the honest and open conversations that I have been able to have with people in our adult bible study class and other members of my congregation. I find that we can have very reasonable and informative conversations without the hyperbole often accompanied by emotional and impassioned arguments that may offer lots of heat but little light.” – Rev. Jim Wenger

“So often we see youth as the ‘taught’ and adults as the ‘teachers’. But the young people in our synod and our country have a lot to teach us, if we are willing to listen. They are saying things that are not easy to hear. They are pointing out the faults in our society, our culture, and our values and are demanding change. But if we are willing to open up and listen, instead of putting up defenses and clinging tightly to possessions, we can create real change in the world. It will be hard, but it is long overdue.” – Caroline Guy

“Moses was eighty when he challenged the Pharaoh. Jesus was 12 when he challenged the Temple authorities in Jerusalem. The problem is not your age, the problem is your failure to take responsibility for the democracy you have been given.” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: What was the most memorable moment from the march?

“The number of youth who participated in the march and seeing so many people from various walks of life gathering to support the youth of our community.” – Rev. Kelley Ketcham

“The young lady who spoke of her four year old brother who has a disability and what would happen to him and others who have disabilities if an attack ever happened to them. Also memorable was the fellow Christians at a church we passed who applauded as we passed by.” – Vicki Boesch

“So many people and ages united for good.” – Rev. Mark English

“Seeing people of all background and identities show up. Having the entire rally be led by high school and middle schoolers, with only one adult speaking the entire time. Recognizing and honoring eight young people in Toledo whose lives were cut short by gun violence this past year. Seeing the love and respect for one another shine through the anger and frustration felt by those marching. The entire day gave me hope.” – Caroline Guy

“We acknowledged the eight youth in the Toledo area who have been killed by gun violence this year. Representatives from Black Lives Matter marched. Black lives have suffered the most from gun violence in America. Someone came up to me, saw my poster of a child parishioner of mine who was murdered with semi-automatic weapons, and gave me a hug.” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

“I was pleased that as many people as there were came out for the march. But I know that chants and signs mean little unless it is backed up by a determined, informed electorate. The real work I have in front of me is my involvement or disassociation with other groups in which gun rights and gun ownership is often considered something akin to a sacred right and sadly, a misreading of our constitution.” – Rev. Jim Wenger

“Quotes from Martin Luther cited in Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther:

‘Christ has instructed us preachers not to withhold the truth from the lords but to exhort and chide them in their injustice. Christ did not say to Pilate, ‘You have no power over me.’ He said that Pilate did have power, but he said, ‘You do not have this power from yourself. It is given to you from God.’ Therefore he upbraided Pilate. We do the same. We recognize the authority, but we must rebuke our Pilates in their crime and self-confidence.”

‘We should wash the fur of the magistrate and clean out his mouth whether he laughs or rages … We will suffer what you do to us, but to keep still and let it appear that you do right when you do wrong, that we cannot and will not do. We must confess the truth and rebuke the evil.’” – Rev. Rob Johnson

Thank you to Rev. Kelley Ketcham (Augsburg, Toledo), Rev. Phil Gardner (Trinity, Sandusky), Vicki Boesch (Zion, Sandusky), Rev. Mark English (St. Paul’s McClure/Hospice of Northwest Ohio), Rev. Jim Wenger (St. John, Deshler), and Rev. Rob Johnson (Holy Trinity, Toledo) for contributing their stories and responses.