...[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken....
[W]e will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. (Micah 4:b3-4, 5b)
In Micah's day, the gravest threat to the people came from the Assyrian empire which slaughtered children, men, and women and took thousands captive. Blood ran in the streets and the people longed for a day when there would no longer be war among nations.
Today, there is a different kind of war that is taking the lives of our children and holding others captive in fear. Over the past 50 years, three times more children and teens died from guns on American soil (160,000) than U.S. soldiers were killed in action in wars abroad (52,820 killed in action in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.) Nearly three times more children and teens were injured by guns in 2010 (15,576) than the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action that year in the Afghanistan war (5,247), as documented in the recent Children's Defense Fund (CDF) report, Protect Children, Not Guns 2013. It is time to end the undeclared gun war that is taking the lives of our children day in and day out.
This weekend from Maine to Hawaii, Washington state to Washington, D.C., Minnesota to Mississippi, thousands of religious congregations across the faith spectrum are focusing their worship services, education programs, and activities on ending gun violence and child poverty as part of the 22nd annual National Observance of Children's Sabbaths celebration, "Beating Swords into Plowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty."
Sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund and endorsed by hundreds of religious denominations and organizations, the Children's Sabbath weekend aims to catalyze new, long-term action to seek justice and protect children. Those long-term efforts will include advocacy for greater gun safety measures, mental health care, and other prevention, outreach to serve and support children who are most impacted by violence, encouraging schools, congregations and communities to teach conflict resolution and peacemaking skills, and family engagement to counter a culture that glorifies violence with values and skills for nonviolence.
In Washington, D.C., Washington National Cathedral is hosting a Children's Sabbath forum on gun violence featuring Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman, Cathedral Dean Gary Hall, and three leading health experts -- former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, and American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Tom McInerny will look at the moral and public health crisis of our nation's continued gun death toll. Among those present will be Gina McDade from the Newtown Action Alliance and Nardyne Jefferies, profiled in Faces of Courage, whose only child, Brishell Jones, was murdered with a gun in 2010. Ms. Jeffries recalls,
"[T]ime really doesn't make it any easier -- I feel like it just really hurts just as much for me three years and some months later as it did then, because you think about what could have been, and what was supposed to have been, and what should have been... Enough is enough. I don't know how much more bloodshed has to be spilled on these streets . . . We have to come together. This definitely is not a Black thing, it's not a White thing, it's not a gang thing, it's not an inner-city thing. This is a human thing. And too many humans are losing their lives to gun violence."
Ms. Jefferies, Ms. McDade, Marian Wright Edelman, and Dean Gary Hall will have the opportunity to strike a blow for the end of violence as they join blacksmiths on the Cathedral grounds who will be transforming guns confiscated by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department into garden tools, in a modern day, symbolic re-envisioning of the prophet Micah's words. When citizens own 310 million guns (compared to the 4 million guns of military and police officers), clearly our intent is not to literally beat every weapon into an agricultural tool. (Even Micah's own language was more figurative than literal, according to some biblical scholars.) Instead, the goal is to capture our imagination and awaken to new possibilities: what would it mean to turn away from a culture of weapons and want and create a new culture of peace and plenty? What would happen if we worked to create security not through more weapons but through more economic stability for families?
In Philadelphia, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and other religious leaders will guide the city's twentieth annual community-wide Children's Sabbath service. One of the lead organizers lost his grandson to gun violence just weeks before last year's Children's Sabbath. The concern is personal and the call to us is for both pastoral and prophetic response to end such tragedies that take the lives of seven children and teens across our nation each day.
In Rochester, N.Y., more than 80 different places of worship are celebrating Children's Sabbath according to their own unique traditions but united in a shared concern and commitment. For instance, Rochester's Presbyterian churches are coming together to view Trigger, a documentary on gun violence produced by the denomination, and for an evening session "Educating the Traumatized Child: What Works." A local Catholic parish will have a young person from a teen empowerment program deliver the homily, another Catholic parish will have a speaker on early childhood development. On the morning of the Children's Sabbath, many will gather to pray in front of the city school district headquarters before heading to Children's Sabbath celebrations in their own congregations where some will collect letters on funding for early childhood investments to deliver to the County Executive.
"If we are to teach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have to struggle; we won't have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering."
On the Children's Sabbath, we will "begin with the children" -- affirming the blessing that they are, celebrating their gifts and leadership, listening to their voices. And on the Children's Sabbath, we will commit anew as adults to protect the children God has entrusted to our care and working faithfully to end the undeclared gun war and the suffering of child poverty that takes a daily toll on our nation's children. The passage in Micah doesn't end with the achievement of the vision; instead it ends with the promise and the resolve to keep working, to keep walking toward the goal. We will keep working faithfully for our children, and walking alongside them, so that one day, in the words of the prophet Micah, "no one shall make them afraid."