By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
My father liked to hunt pheasant in Montana. My son-in-law grew up hunting deer in northern Minnesota. Though I can’t imagine shooting a gun, I can imagine the suspense and even excitement of waiting in the bushes for a bird to come into view. And I am well aware that the pheasant shot by my father is no different from the chicken I ate last night killed by a local farmer.
But all of that is profoundly different from what happened on February 14.
In the wake of the school shooting in Florida, Peter Marty, ELCA pastor and publisher of The Christian Century, takes a provocative stance on guns: We’re “in golden calf country here, elevating a loyalty to the gun over a fidelity to God’s desire abundant life.”
“Protect Minnesota’s website states ‘We are not anti-gun; we’re anti-gun violence.’”
With 15,592 gun-related deaths last year and no federal legislation in response, Marty may have a point. And his article continues: Our idolatry isn’t only manifested by the reality that it’s “harder to obtain a passport or buy pseudoephedrine than to purchase an AR-15 magazine-fed rifle,” it is revealed in the powerful sway that the gun lobby has on our legislators.
Ten U.S. senators have received millions of NRA funding during their careers (between $1.7 million and $7.7 million to be specific). As Marty laments, “what started for many of them as a respectful decision to cherish one understanding of Second Amendment rights has morphed into a colossal idolatry of lethal weapons, including rapid-fire assault rifles.”
CLOSER TO HOME, ELCA Pastor Nancy Nord Bence serves as executive director of Protect Minnesota, an organization whose mission is to promote a culture of health and safety for all Minnesotans by preventing gun violence through effective laws, policies, and community education. Its website states “We are not anti-gun; we’re anti-gun violence. We support common sense legislation that will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous and suicidal individuals, and prevent the unintentional injury and death of children. We believe gun ownership should be ‘well regulated,’ the way car ownership is.”
“Peter Marty, ELCA pastor and publisher of The Christian Century, says we’re ‘in golden calf country here, elevating a loyalty to the gun over a fidelity to God’s desire abundant life.’”
Protect Minnesota suggests congregations, synods, and denominations consider passing a resolution which includes the words “BE IT RESOLVED, that (Name of congregation or denomination) urges our congressional representatives and state legislators to support gun-violence prevention measures.
Although not a Lutheran, Abraham Lincoln was a trustee at one of our colleges (Carthage in Kenosha, Wisconsin). At a debate about slavery in 1858, he said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently [the one] who molds public sentiment goes deeper than [the one] who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. [They make] statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”
AS LUTHERANS, WE KNOW there is no perfect public policy, no unambiguously good civic action. But, the cries of 15,592 people killed by guns last year challenge us to ask if there is more we can do. One way to begin is to have intentional conversation in our communities of faith. I suggest we use the resource is “Can We Talk about Guns? A Conversation Guide.”
Another possibility is to contact the Minnesota Council of Churches to facilitate a “respectful conversation” on gun violence in Minnesota.
In this Lenten season, may we all be prayerful about the violence in our country and world – and be prayerful about how God may calling us to act in response.