As the news trickled in that yet another school shooting had occurred with mass casualties, I couldn’t help but wonder would we, as a country, offer more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims’ family and community.
My hope as a minister is that as the country regretfully adds Santa Fe, Texas, to the grim list of mass school shootings that already includes Parkland, Florida, and so many others, we discover how to do just that — go beyond ‘thoughts and prayers.’
Where the country collectively goes from here should be a call to action that begins in our churches. Clergy on behalf of denominations and churches alike need to lead the political charge for sensible and dutiful gun legislation. The silence and inaction by us as clergy around gun violence in schools has endured too long.
Unfortunately, clergy inaction is nothing new. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously called out clergy for their inaction during the civil rights movement in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
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At the heart of today’s inaction is the blatant misinformation campaign about gun rights in America. To continue down the current path of inaction combating this misinformation campaign is to willfully surrender our children to fate rather than address the alternative facts and fake news around sensible and preventative gun control legislation. The shootings at Santa Fe High School remind us that our lack of action is costing the lives of our youth and their teachers.
The failure of clergy to truthfully influence the consciousness of weekly devotees concerning gun rights is a dereliction of our duty as citizens and an abomination to our calling as advocates of peace. Yet, because of consistent weekly attendance and a stable membership, there is no better demographic to target than our faith communities. Through town hall-style community gatherings, churches and other gathering spaces can be central hosting locations where citizens can endeavor to create a better climate with which to exchange ideas.
According to a Quinnipiac poll in February 2018, people 18 to 34 supported the Democratic Party’s position on gun control 62 percent to 27 percent. What used to be an issue for wonks is now turning into a wedge issue.
I also implore clergy across the country to politically mobilize their congregations and faith communities. Clergy should find local-partner organizations that will aid in that mobilization.
In North Carolina, the Poor People’s Campaign led by the activist Rev. William Barber, Jr., is a prime example of how grassroots organizing with local churches can mobilize its citizens around a meaningful cause. As mid-term elections approach, churches should encourage members to register to vote and fully participate in the democratic process.
Tragically, gun violence doesn’t just affect suburban schools, but urban areas as well. While shootings with mass casualties occur less frequently in inner-city schools, clergy in wealthy suburbs and in poorer inner-city neighborhoods should find meaningful ways to unite over the policy issue of gun control legislation.
My fellow clergy, you are in a unique position to affect not only policy, but also hearts and minds. Philosopher and theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously remarked, “When I marched in Selma, I felt like my legs were praying.”
The merger of faith and politics is a time-tested marriage that nets results. This is the clarion call to my fellow clergy: the time is now. We have the power to offer more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ and it’s high time we do so.
The Rev. Joshua Lawrence Lazard is the C. Eric Lincoln Minister for Student Engagement at Duke Chapel.