Putting an End to Prayer Vigils

Jewish synagogues have been defaced with swastikas.  Latina women have been threatened.  Muslim women have been forced to remove their hijabs.  On Veterans Day, Marie Boyle, a U.S. army veteran from the Philippines, was told to “Go back to Mexico.”

I do not want to go to another vigil.  Sometime soon someone will easily obtain a gun no hunter would ever use.  He will open fire in a room full of innocent people.

Clergy will organize a vigil where we read the names of the victims.  We will grieve for the families of those who died.  We will read scripture.  We will pray for an end to gun violence.

We will give anyone paying careful attention the impression that we are not sure that God and God’s people working together can stop or even slow gun violence.  The ministers will not offer concrete suggestions as to how we might prevent the next tragedy.  The ministers will either be afraid of offending someone or they will not know what to suggest.  Does a prayer vigil that leads to no action make us complicit?

The temptation right now for those who have worked against the easy availability of guns is, if not to give up, to stop trying so hard.  But this is not the time to—as one of my dear friends put it—binge watch The West Wing and eat ice cream.  This is the time to be vigilant.

This is the time to work to make it harder to die from gun violence.  More than 30 people in our nation are murdered by guns on an average day.

Gun violence is a domestic violence problem.  In an average month, 51 women are shot to death by a current or former husband or boyfriend.

Gun violence is a child abuse problem.  The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 126 classrooms of 20 students each.

Gun violence is a mental health problem.  21,000 suicides are committed using guns each year.

Gun violence is a safety problem.  More than 45 people are shot accidentally each day.  (Statistics are from faithinpubliclife.org, everytown.org, and childrensdefense.org.)

Gun violence is a faith problem.  Christians have to be broken-hearted by the gun deaths in our country.  We have to be more concerned with the sixth commandment than the second amendment.  We may want to say that gun violence is as prevalent as it is because politicians are afraid of losing their jobs, but it is also true that Christians have not worked as we should to end the violence.  We cannot pretend we cannot do anything.

We can work to strengthen background checks.  40% of the guns sold legally in the United States are bought without a background check.  No records are kept.  No questions are asked.  Criminals buy guns online from unlicensed sellers.

We can insist that background check laws work.  Connecticut improved their background check laws and cut gun deaths by 40 percent.  Missouri repealed their background check laws and gun deaths increased by 40 percent.  Common sense demands we keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and those adjudicated as mentally ill.  We can regulate guns as closely as we do cars.

We can require locks that make it harder to pull a trigger and lower the number of accidental shootings.   We can work to ban the automatic weapons that seem to have no purpose other than mass shootings.

Christians disagree on how best to address the epidemic of gun violence, but we cannot disagree on the tragic nature of gun violence.  We have to do something.  Support courageous politicians.  Complain about the ones who are not courageous.  Speak up for common sense gun laws that make our streets and sanctuaries safe.  Defend the right of families to walk their neighborhoods without the risk of being shot.

Pray for an end to prayer vigils.  Pray for the time when we have no list of victims’ names to read.  Pray that we will have the courage to speak up.  Pray that we will realize that, especially in hard times, God expects more from us.

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The column in which I tell you how to vote

This year’s presidential campaign has been depressing for many of us.  There are major religious issues facing our country that do not seem important to either major political party.

Caring for the poor is a religious issue.  While both parties argue over the middle class, no one is putting forth courageous policies that offer a real chance to poor families.

War is a religious issue.  Jesus’ call to be peacemakers and love our enemies would seem out of place in either party’s platform.  Do people even remember that we have troops in Afghanistan?

Telling the truth is a religious issue.  After each debate, media outlets print lists of lies each candidate has told.  Both lists are getting longer.

Neither of the major parties is making a serious effort to consider how free trade could be used to alleviate hunger, how basic medical coverage could be adjusted to lessen suffering, or how scrupulous concern for justice in the international arena could alleviate anger towards our country.

Christians are smart enough to consider issues beyond the last ridiculous punchline.  Immigration, prison reform, and the environment matter to Christians because our faith has something to say about hospitality, revenge, and creation.

When Dorothy Day was criticized for what observers saw as the inconsistency of her “radical” political life and “conservative” religious life, she responded, “I don’t act politically on the street or worship in church to fit in with people who are radical or people who are conservative.  I read the Bible.  I try to pay attention to the life of Jesus Christ.  I try to follow his example.  I stumble all of the time, but I try to keep going—along the road he walked for us.  I belong to a church, and when I made the decision to join it, I knew my whole life would change.  For me, everything is religious—politics and the family and work, they all are part of our obligation to follow our Lord’s way.”

Imagine the good our country could do if Christians followed “our Lord’s way” and took God’s concern for the poor, peace, and honesty into the voting booth.  What wonderful things would happen if our values were derived from the life of Christ rather than political partisanship?

Sincere Christians can choose to vote for different candidates for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.  We can and do disagree on how to enhance human rights, protect children, promote racial reconciliation, and support gender equality.  We may also share frustration that our politicians tend to appeal only to individual interests, national interests, and special interests.  Faith leads us away from narrow-mindedness to act for the good of others.

Ours is a remarkable country with lofty, worthy goals.  Participate in the process, pay attention to more than the superficial, and vote with concern for all people.  On November 8, I will walk to P.S. 8 to cast my ballot.  I will vote with appreciation for the privilege and disappointment at some of the choices we have been given.

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