United Methodists will need to both pray and act to end the scourge of gun violence, says a letter the Council of Bishops released Sept. 1 to the wider church.
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“As people of prayer, we followers of Jesus are called to be ‘counter-cultural change makers,’” the letter says. “To that end, we must reject the idolatry of guns and the distorted attachments to our right to own guns without safeguards for the communities of the world.”
United Methodist bishops unanimously adopted the letter Aug. 26 during the final day of their online summer meeting. Only active bishops vote on Council of Bishops actions. However, all United Methodist bishops signed the document.
The statement also will form the basis of a letter the bishops plan to send to the U.S. Congress and White House.
In a denomination with more than 12 million members across four continents, the bishops also stress that gun violence is not just a U.S. problem. The bishops’ statement cites Amnesty International, which reports that about 2,000 people are injured and 500 people die by gunshots every day.
United Methodists — long committed to transforming the world to be more like Christ’s example — have a role to play in addressing the crisis, the bishops said.
“This is a call to prayer, beginning this September, for all who follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace,” the bishops’ statement said. “This is a call to action for all to weep with those who weep and demand, insist on, and push for positive change from our elected officials.”
The statement goes on to urge congregations to collaborate with ecumenical and interfaith partners in their public witness. The statement also encourages the use of United Methodist resources for Bible study and advocacy in efforts to reduce gun violence.
The bishops decided to take up of the issue of firearms following deadly massacres at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York; a church in Laguna Woods, California; an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; and a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
Beyond the horror of headline-making mass shootings, the U.S. also has experienced a rise in gun deaths overall. More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In all, 45,222 people in the U.S. died that year in homicides or suicides involving firearms.
Gun violence also has taken a personal toll on United Methodists. The bishops spent part of their August meeting mourning the death of the Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, a district superintendent and former episcopal candidate fatally shot in an apparent carjacking in Memphis, Tennessee.
Immediately after the deaths of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton called on United Methodists to “go on the offense” to stop mass shootings.
Those words echoed throughout the U.S. annual conference season this spring and summer. More than a dozen of the denomination’s regional bodies took a public stand to address gun violence when they met this year.
The bishops’ letter also calls for an assault weapons ban. The U.S. previously banned assault weapons from 1994 to 2004, and the number of mass shootings fell during that time. Since the ban expired, the U.S. has seen a steep rise in mass shooting deaths.
Trimble said that by making a stand, the bishops are being faithful to The United Methodist Church’s commitments and obedient to their own prophetic and teaching roles as episcopal leaders. The bishops are hoping their words will influence at least some U.S. senators, six of whom are United Methodist.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UM News
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