|Commentary: Church must be 'place of hope' amid rising U.S. violence|
A UMNS Commentary
By Bishop Hee-Soo Jung*
Aug. 4, 2008
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
The three simple rules of the United Methodist way remind us that we
are called to "do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God." These
are rules that ground our faith and hold us in covenant with all of
This summer, we have been challenged in the church's Northern Illinois
Annual (regional) Conference to live these rules in the face of mounting
death tolls and violence across our state. Even before summer arrived, a
record number of teenagers and young adults had lost their lives in
acts of violence. Since Memorial Day, some 70 children, youth and young
adults have died in shootings in Chicago and surrounding communities. An
additional 140 shootings of children, youth and adults have occurred,
some with life-threatening, life-altering injuries.
The numbers are staggering. The violence reaches beyond the urban areas
and touches many across our conference. Some of these deaths are gang-
or drug-related. Some are random acts. Others are innocent bystanders
caught in the crossfire. Children are dying on their front porches, in
their homes, while riding their bikes, on the way to or from school or
while playing with friends.
In the United States, eight children and teens are killed by firearms
every day, according to the 2008 Children’s Defense Fund report "Protect
Children, Not Guns." In 2005, there were 3,006 children and teens
killed by firearms—the first increase in deaths from gun violence since
1994. The 2005 data also marks the first increase in such deaths since
Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire in 2004.
In July, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that municipalities cannot enact
sensible and necessary gun restriction laws. The Supreme Court’s
decision stands in direct contrast to the stance of our denomination in
actions taken at the 2008 General Conference to condemn gun violence and
seek greater restrictions on gun ownership and use.
This epidemic of violent death is growing so quickly that we cannot keep
the statistics up to date. We become desensitized to the news stories.
We feel overwhelmed and hopeless, frightened for our own children’s
safety, for the future of our youth.
As a place of hope, the church must respond. We should not stay on the
sidelines and silently witness the devastation. Now is the time for our
congregations to be in dialogue—discerning ways in which we might offer
safe space for children and teens, nonviolent models for conflict
resolution and alternative channels for anger. As individuals and as
churches, we must witness to the need for gun control, model peaceful
resolution to our own conflicts and offer support for struggling and
single-parent families. We must extend a word of grace—providing
resources and encouragement to those caught up in alcohol and drug
abuse—and become a place of welcome and meaningful engagement for
“As a place of hope, the church must respond. We should not stay on the sidelines and silently witness the devastation.”
What will your congregation do to make a positive difference in the
midst of this epidemic of violence? Investigate the options in your
community. Join with parent groups, other faith communities, schools,
community-based organizations and local law enforcement. Provide safe
space and constructive activities. Engage in the legislative process and
speak out for gun controls.
Today another child in northern Illinois will die as an innocent
bystander to gun violence. We must unite in our efforts to protect our
children and improve the world so they might live without fear that this
day will be their last.
Let us prayerfully respond to the needs around us. You can make a
difference as you join in the three simple rules of the United Methodist
way: "Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God."
*Jung is leader of the United Methodist Church in the Chicago Area.
News media contact: Kathy Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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Children's Defense Fund: Protect Children, Not Guns
Board of Church and Society
Northern Illinois Annual Conference
General Conference 2008