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Don’t just grieve. Do something.

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On Sunday, December 16, The Very Rev. Stephen E Carlsen, Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral gave the following sermon, which can also be heard online:

Gracious God, you see your children growing up in an unsteady, confusing and sometimes dangerous world: We pray for all those who are the victims of violence, especially today for the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Receive them in the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of eternal peace. Let your compassion surround the survivors, the children, the parents, the members of that community. Protect all children, our schools, their teachers and each community from acts of gun violence. Do not let evil and fear color the minds, hearts and souls of our children and youth. Instead give them them inquiring and discerning hearts, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

In my 16 years as a priest, how many times have I had to climb into a pulpit and preach after a mass shooting. How many times have you gone to church after the same shootings? What do you expect to hear today? What do I expect to say? To what effect?

We do mourn the 26 dead, the children and teachers, so brutally shot on Friday. But it was only in September when we were jolted by the shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, 10 injured or killed. It was July when we were reacting with horror to the 12 killed in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

We don’t even really take note of mass killings anymore with 10 or fewer victims:

  • on Tuesday of this week, there two were killed, one wounded, in a shooting spree at a mall in Portland, Oregon.
  • on Sept 27, 8 injured and killed at a Minneapolis work place by a disgruntled employee
  • on May 20, in a Seattle Café, 7 injured and killed
  • on April 2, 10 injured and killed at a university in Oakland, California
  • on February 22, 5 injured and killed in a sauna in Georgia.

That all from this year. I won’t be exhaustive for previous years.

  • But remember Representative Gabrielle Giffords, shot on Jan 8, last year? Total killed or injured, 19.
  • 2009, Ft. Hood, Texas, 43 killed and injured.
  • That was on Nov. 5 of that year, which was preceded with 18 injured or killed in Binghamton, New York at an immigrant center on April 3rd
  • Do you remember in 2008 the shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, 27 injured or killed?
  • What about 2007, Virginia Tech, 56 injured and killed?[i]

These are all since I began as your pastor. These actions have become so common that some of them were not even mentioned in our sermons or I am ashamed to say in our prayers.

The same was true of my previous positions, mass shooting after shooting, I remember the first time I had to rise to the pulpit after a mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Our schools, work places and malls are, statistically, very safe places to be. It is no more unsafe to go to a grade school after a school shooting, than it is unsafe to fly after a plane crash. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around this, but its true.

We see another school shooting and think this is the problem, but that’s like saying that a dangerous coal mine has a canary problem. We can keep reacting to these mass shootings, the canaries. Or we can clean out the mine.

The problem at hand is not school shootings; this problem is not our youth today;

this problem is not lack of morals or religious belief; the problem is gun violence and our acceptance of it.

This issue is not even a partisan issue any more. No major party or politician has discussed it for years. Neither of our presidential candidates dared touch it.

The gun lobby has won out.

More facts, for those who have ears to hear:

“The US has more guns in civilian hands than any other developed country and more firearm related death as a result: more frequent massacres… and day after day, more accidental firearm deaths, more domestic homicides, more homicides in the streets, and more firearm suicides.”[ii]

Ours is not an unsafe country, looking at crime generally. But looking specifically at gun homicide, ours is not even a 1st world country.

“15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States…In second place is Finland, with two entries.”[iii]

Our rate of gun related death is

  • 6 times that of Canada
  • 30 times that of Australia
  • 100 times that of Great Britain.

But it gets worse:

  • The rate of gun death is nearly triple the national average in the South.
  • Triple the national average in Los Angeles.
  • Eight times the national average in Miami, and
  • Twelve times as bad in Detroit[iv]

Why? Are Americans crazier? More violent? No, we have most of the guns. There are 270 million firearms in the US. Nine guns for every 10 people. Internationally, next on the list is Yemen with just over 5 guns for every 10 people.

On Friday, 26 people died in Connecticut at the hand of one shooter. Yesterday, more than 3 times that number died from gunshots. Today another eighty.  Tomorrow the same. More than 30,000 people every year. Several times a year there is a mass shooting, but the majority of death is one by one:

  • a drug-fuelled, drive-by shooting.
  • an altercation between neighbors,
  • an abusive husband killing his wife,
  • a depressed person taking his own life (most on impulse)
  • someone cleaning an unknowingly loaded one,
  • a child playing with a gun.

We go to great lengths to childproof our houses when we have kids. Having a gun in the house, even if unloaded and locked away, is by far the most dangerous decision you could make for your child.

Do you want to learn more about this? Don’t read what parties or politicians or lobbyists write. Read what public health experts have to say.

By nature I am not prophetic in my preaching. I prefer to be pastoral, to be theological. I have come to the conclusion that I am a poor pastor if I merely ascend this pulpit after these shootings, one after another, and merely comfort, merely mourn, merely sooth. I’m done with that.

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So, with many other exhortations, [John the Baptist] proclaimed the good news to the people.

The Good News is not always comforting. Sometimes it provokes us to change our ways. That is the Good News for us on this sad occasion: not just to comforted, not to soothed, not to mourn, but to provoke. We need to mourning but not stop there—to go on and work at stopping this carnage. We can start by common sense measures.

My son just got his learners permit to drive a car. We had to fill out much paper work, to register, to show proof of insurance. He had to pass an eye test and a written test. He needs to keep a log of his driving. Six months later, he can get his license after a driving test, but it will still be restricted for along time afterward. No driving friends for months. He like us all must wear his seatbelt If we accept this level of regulation to drive a car, why not restrictions on guns?

No one needs assault rifles, large capacity ammunition clips, hollow point bullets—not for sport, not for hunting. Get rid of them. Letting nearly everyone carry concealed handguns is lunacy. Letting them in school and universities, and in bars, was approved by the Michigan legislature on Friday, is bordering on evil.

Even Christians, even Episcopalians are not immune to the lure guns. This fall, at our Diocesan Convention, a resolution to make our Episcopal Churches in the Diocese of Indianapolis gun-free, failed to pass. It is forbidden to smoke in any Episcopal Church, but guns are still OK in many. Even Episcopalians have become entranced by this culture of death.

Don’t just grieve. Do something. This is not a reality that we must accept. Start today.

I use my authority as Rector today to declare that guns are not welcome in this sanctuary. You can secure your own homes also. Turn your assault weapons in to the police for disposal. If you hunt or shoot as a sport, unload and lock away securely any firearms. On the public level, pressure timid politicians to enact common sense laws. Learn, speak out, vote.

You brood of vipers! John said. This is going to happen again. I will again ascend this pulpit and speak out until this scourge, this culture of death, this cult of violence is purged from our land.


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