A Call for Sanctuaries to Become Sanctuaries
Psalm 20:7 (NIV)
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
One of my main objectives in beginning this blog was to provide a space for reasonable discussion of a healthy separation of Religious Institutions and State. I believe people of faith and secular society each benefit from a healthy separation of powers. But I would not be a good historian if I didn’t acknowledge that there have been times when people of faith have crossed that separation in the name of justice and done so for the betterment of everyone. There are times when a righteous voice should be spoken into the public sphere and even civil disobedience done by people of faith and faith communities for the sake justice for all.
Gun Violence is one of the instances where I pray for Faith to invade the Public Sphere
In the case of gun violence in the U.S., I pray for a serious violation of church and state. I pray for churches, mosques, and synagogues to become true “sanctuaries” against violence. That no weapon would be allowed within their premises, not even those of local or federal officials. That even the criminal, who is running from the scene of his/her crime, can lay down their weapon and know that the police who will arrest them will do so without weapons. Law officials would say we are harboring criminals, which would be true, but we would do so for the sake of peace and justice.
If not us, who? If not now, when? What other institution can serve such a radical purpose than the multitude of “sanctuaries” across this nation?
This is not a “political” issue. The nature of politics in the U.S. wants to divide every philosophy/theology/ideology into a political issue to divide us into conservatives or liberals (or the imaginary, saintly “moderate”). In enforcing our places of worship to be true sanctuaries any political statement that can be made is arbitrary, or tertiary. We are not acting in response to gun control, gun rights, or crime, but in response to how we understand God’s will for humanity being based in protection of the powerless and in defense of non-violent justice.
Yes, of course the horrible tragedy at Aurora is heavy on my mind as I write this. Some will say that you can’t make generalizations from one incident. This is far from one incident. The fact that Holmes bought a $15,000 arsenal online, paid for expedited shipping, and all of it did not raise any red flags and was considered 100% legal is just sickening. Holmes is only the latest of these events which relfect that the U.S. is suffering from a culture of redemptive violence (see L.A. Time’s list of deadliest mass shootings in America).
Redemptive violence is the misled belief that violence can bring about ultimate good. In the short-term perhaps an act of violence can stop more violence from happening, but it encourages the perpetuation of more violence, rather than an end of all violence. (See below for two excellent articles on the “Myth of Redemptive Violence).
The other thing on my mind is the forces of evil that pervade our “system”. The 2nd Amendment is touted to be virtually equal to the Bible in terms of holiness and rightness. This fetish with personal gun ownership led some individuals in Georgia to petition their government to allow them to bring guns into places of worship regardless of a church’s specific position. Fortunately, the state’s understanding of personal property trumped their loyalty to the 2nd Amendment, so the appeal was rejected. If you think this is only the desire of an extremist group of gun fanatics, check out the forums in the “Further Reading” section on Open Carry. There’s also the pastor in Kentucky who invites his congregation to bring their guns to church and receive weapons training. With instances like the accidental shooting death of Hannah Kelley in a church, this type action and legislative activism is incomprehensible, let alone illogical.
Besides the religious purposes behind using sanctuaries as sanctuaries, opposition to gun violence should be an obvious norm for every American. Studies have shown that gun ownership increases one’s chances of a violent gun-related death. Further, there are many many examples of non-violent resistance being effective. Father Gregory in Los Angeles is one of the most famous examples, but I love the relatively recent story of the Sisters of Saint Francis Holy Eucharist chasing down an armed robbery suspect in their sandals that helped lead to his arrest. There have also been many community efforts to collect guns from the street and turn them into “Peace Angels”. Stories like this exemplify the possible, illustrate the realistic, and challenge all of us who hide behind our mistaken trust in “chariots”.
I would love to see the sanctuaries of the U.S. functioning as a safe haven for all seeking refuge. And truthfully, I would love to see Imams, Rabbis, Pastors, Priests and nuns getting arrested for demanding that police officers remove their weapons before entering their property. The civil disobedience itself may be a violation of church and state, but the message would be that people of faith have separate values that should not be impinged upon, or violated. I honestly believe that this kind of action is what it would take for society to recognize how extreme our dependence on weapons and violence has come.
I believe that honest, and exemplary gun owners in the U.S. truly believe that their weapon will help defend their families. I believe people when they say that they want a gun only to defend themselves against someone else with a gun. But, I personally do not want to put my trust in my ability to shoot better than someone else. I personally do not believe that better marksmanship makes for a safer society. I do not want my children to believe that violence will save them from anything. They are smarter than that, they are better than that. We are better than that.
I signed the petition at www.wearebetterthanthis.org, which calls for both Obama and Romney to make public safety from gun violence a top issue in this election. I pray that you would sign it too.
Just saw this before posting, looks like Obama is listening to the wearebetterethanthis campaign. Hope this is one of the campaign promises that he not only follows up on, but also fulfills.
For Further Reading:
Georgia Ban on Guns in Places of Worship
- Georgia overturns appeal to allow weapons in church
- here’s the ruling:
Various Guns in Church Articles
- The accidental death of Hannah Kelley at a Church property
- Pastor invites congregation to bring guns to church
Articles About and Against Redemptive Violence:
- Walter Wink:
- Ched Meyers article on “The Passion of Christ” and it’s false gospel of redemptive violence:
- This article came out earlier this week and inspired the theme of this blog, and truthfully says a lot of what I’d like to say as well.
Open Carry Issues
Many gun advocates believe that if legally registered gun owners were able to publically carry their sidearms that crime would be seriously lowered.
- USNews has a great public article debate on open carry as crime deterrant:
- Private Forums discussing this, as well as carrying in church:
- The Pew Center says more people want to protect gun holders now than enforce gun control: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2251/social-issues-gun-rights-gay-marriage-abortion-presidential-campaign
Some Churches Doing Something About it
- Wisconsin Bishops Express Concern Over Conceal and Carry Laws
- ChristianPost.com article on Bishops statement: http://global.christianpost.com/news/wisconsin-bishops-tell-church-worshipers-to-leave-the-guns-at-home-60120/
- Huffpost article on bishops statement: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/wisconsin-bishops-guns-home_n_1072329.html
- Mennonite Central Committee Provides many resources on training your congregation in “Restorative Justice”
This is their “Preventing Gun Violence Guide” (PDF)