Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
Anti-gun Violence Liturgy - October 20, 2019
St John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
We’ve entered Stewardship season, and we’ll be distributing pledge packets after the service. But Stewardship is much larger than just pledging money to the church. Stewardship is about taking care of everything that God has given us, about valuing it and protecting it, and investing in it so that it will grow to become everything that God dreams it can be. We practice investing in St John’s by pledging our time, talent and treasure.
But this sermon is about Stewardship of lives - children’s lives, women’s lives, Black lives, the lives of people in despair and hopelessness, and even the lives of people who commit crimes. One hundred people per day die from guns in America, and more than double that number are injured. The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries. In Boston, 78% of homicides are committed with guns.
This sermon is about stewarding all of God’s children, valuing them, and investing in them. It’s about protecting them from dying from gunfire, and protecting them from the trauma of active shooters and even active shooter drills in their schools. Yes, it would be wonderful if we would eliminate all violence, and that can be our goal, to ensure that children and adults learn to settle their disputes through non-violent means, but until that day we have to at least protect them from guns. An assault committed with a gun is at least five times more likely to result in death than an assault with a knife.
When we talk about gun violence, we’re not just talking about the mass shootings that we see on the news. In fact, two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicides (10x the rate of other high income countries). So even as we are trying to improve mental health services, if we can limit peoples’ access to guns when they are depressed and feeling hopeless, they won’t have as great a chance to complete suicide. Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than five percent will result in death. But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death.
Guns also play a major role in turning domestic violence into murder. Access to a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. And because of that, three million American children witness gun violence every year.
When Ellen and I lived in San Francisco, we were foster parents for an 11-year old African-American girl. Social services was still trying to reunite her family, so sometimes she would spend the weekends with her mother and sisters. They lived in a very rough housing project, and most times when we dropped her off, there would be a brand new memorial set up on the sidewalk for another person who had been shot by a gang, and often the victim was not affiliated with a gang. Hearing gunshots in her neighborhood was something Mari had become accustomed to because, while firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens, they are the first leading cause of death for Black children and teens. Gun homicide is most prevalent in racially segregated neighborhoods like hers, with high rates of poverty. Although African Americans make up only 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 57% of gun homicide victims in the United States.
In addition to the human tragedy, gun violence strains public services like law enforcement and medical care, and it depresses economic growth by lowering property values and driving residents to leave their communities. In high-crime areas, houses can lose as much as 40 percent of their value. And an analysis of eight major American cities found that violent crime imposed total direct costs on them of $3.7 billion per year.
So, how do people of faith tackle such a daunting issue? First of all, we can pray that Jesus, who came to heal and free us, might heal us of our violent tendencies and free us from our fears. And we can be advocates for victims, and potential victims.
Last year, a handful of us from St John’s participated in the March for our Lives, following the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas HS in Florida. There are on-going opportunities for this type of witness.
We can teach young people about alternative methods of conflict resolution beyond violence.
We can encourage responsible gun storage so they aren’t found by children or stolen and make their way into the black market.
We can demand gun buybacks by police and municipalities to reduce the number of guns in our communities.
We can call for a ban on high-capacity weapons, so that when a shooting does take place, fewer people will be killed.
We can advocate for universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness, domestic abusers, or those with criminal histories. This needs to be applied to private sales and gun shows; not just those by licensed dealers. It’s not cheap or easy to buy a gun on the street, the quality of firearms is uncertain, and conducting the transaction poses substantial risk of harm or arrest. So when the underground market for guns is suppressed, gun violence falls as a result. A 30-year study in Boston found that when fewer handguns were on the streets and recovered by cops, fewer gun homicides took place. And most of the guns recovered from gang members in Boston came from southern states or New Hampshire and Maine, which have weaker gun laws than Massachusetts.
So, pray, act, show up to witness, and as Emma Gonzalez says, call BS when you hear it. “Register to vote, contact your local congress people; give them a piece of your mind; and death will have no dominion.” Amen.
*Statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety - https://everytown.org/