EPPN Alert: Lent - Changing our Culture of Violence
As we reach the climax of a Lenten season in which the Episcopal Public Policy Network has examined cycles of violence in our culture from a variety of perspectives, today we specifically consider the issue of gun violence that has grasped the attention of so many Americans. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in Senate testimony earlier this year, the victims of gun violence "are members of our families, religious congregations, and communities … We all share a responsibility to examine the many facets of cycles of violence in our society, and to discern equally comprehensive responses that will address the causes, means, and effects of violence."
In addition to the Presiding Bishop's recent testimony to Congress, The Episcopal Church and its leadership have said a great deal about gun violence in recent months. In February, the Executive Council passed a comprehensive resolution urging American policymakers to examine cultural attitudes toward violence, create meaningful federal support for mental healthcare, and pass common-sense gun laws. In the wake of that action, the President and Vice President of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and the Hon. Byron Rushing, wrote to all deputies urging leadership on these issues from a variety of standpoints. Finally, the House of Bishops issued a "word to the Church" on gun violence earlier this month urging churchwide conversation and action on these issues.
We urge you to read and pray upon each of these important statements. Once we’ve done that, how might we respond? Three specific steps come to mind.
First, consider how you might join the effort of the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, who are coming to Washington next week, Holy Week, for a public undertaking of the ancient Stations of the Cross between the White House and the Capitol. The procession will stop at memorials, government buildings and works of art to offer prayers for an end to violence, the culture of violence, and the economic conditions that spawn violence. We expect that bishops, clergy, and laity from across the United States will come to Washington to join the observance. While it may not be possible for you to join this observance in person, the bishops of the Diocese of Connecticut have made the liturgy available online. It can be used in local congregations, in small groups, or for private devotion. For Christians, prayer is always the appropriate grounding for all action!
Second, tell Congress that it must do a better job to support mental healthcare in the United States. This means making it accessible and available without stigma to all Americans, including those who have suffered trauma as a result of exposure to violence or violent environments as well as those suffering from mental illness. The approach represented in the bipartisan "Excellence in Mental Health Act," introduced recently in the Senate -- providing community-based mental-healthcare providers the same opportunity to access federal funds as providers of physical healthcare -- is a promising place to begin.
Finally, tell Congress to pass common-sense gun laws that respect the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns but seek to keep weapons out of the hands of children and those who would use them to commit violent crime. As expressed by the Executive Council resolution last month, the Episcopal Church supports all three measures passed recently by the Senate Judiciary Committee: tightened restrictions on military-style assault weapons, more comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, and a curb on federal trafficking of guns. Unfortunately, reports this week indicate that the full Senate may be permitted to vote only on the final of these three provisions. Urge the Senate – as well as the House – to adopt a different course and allow all three common-sense measures to come to a vote, and urge lawmakers to support their passage.
The Prayer Book collect for Tuesday in Holy Week addresses God, who "by the passion of your blessed Son…made an instrument of shameful death the means of life." Though our hearts have been broken in recent months by the depths to which violence harms our communities, and though our minds have often struggled to see redemption in this midst of this brokenness, let us honor the living as well as the dead with action that seeks to bring life, and to bring it more abundantly.