"Be bold. Be courageous." Those were the words former Representative Gabby Giffords spoke -- slowly, with difficulty, and, yes, with boldness and courage -- at the conclusion of her testimony during the congressional hearing on gun violence today. She read haltingly and spoke with a childlike directness and simplicity not related to intellect but to traumatic injury from gunshot wounds. Giffords said, "Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important: Violence is a problem. Too many children are dying."
Rep. Giffords' charge to be bold and courageous sounds a familiar note. In the New Testament book of Acts, Peter heals a person who is crippled and begging. Soon after, the authorities arrest Peter along with John, and bring them before the rulers.
"Now when the rulers saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition." (Acts 4:13-14)
Peter and John were sent away from the council while the leaders conferred about what to do.
"After threatening [Peter and John] again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened." (Acts 4:21)
After their release, Peter, John, and the people joined in prayer, concluding,
"And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31)
My prayer is that we, as congregations, communities, states and a nation, will indeed act with boldness and courage to end gun violence that takes the lives of more than 21 children every three days. It is worth noting that in Acts the rulers did the right thing not because they wanted to, but because of the witness of one who had known harm and come to healing and because of the pressure of the people. It is time for us, as people of faith, to provide witness and pressure until our leaders do the right thing.
We must speak God's word of love with boldness.
We must be bold and courageous to keep guns out of the hands of children and those who would use them against children through sensible gun safety measures, requiring consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns, banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, requiring background checks on anyone purchasing a gun, and providing resources that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal agencies need to keep our children and communities safe. It takes courage to raise difficult and often divisive topics in religious congregations, but we must engage in these important conversations with love. It takes boldness to speak up about public policy, to call legislators and urge their leadership to keep children safe from gun violence, but we must be that faithful voice that speaks with and for children.
We must speak God's word of healing with boldness.
We must be bold and courageous in calling for stronger support for children facing violence in their communities and families and for children with unmet mental health needs. It takes boldness and courage to acknowledge that your child is struggling with a mental health need, and it takes strength to seek help when the paperwork or expenses are daunting. Religious congregations should be sources of spiritual strength and practical support for parents facing these challenges, and communities need to invest resources to ensure that mental health care is affordable and accessible to all children who need it.
We must speak God's work of peace with boldness.
We must be bold and courageous as we work with parents and schools to ensure they have the resources, support, and tools they need to survive and work against the culture of violence, in which family violence is epidemic, child abuse and neglect are widespread and children are exposed to television, movies and video games that glamorize guns, bloodshed and brutality. It takes parental boldness to say no when your child asks for a violent video game, to turn off a program your child likes but which portrays violence as funny or entertaining, or to deny permission to go to a violent movie with friends. Join with other parents to take a stand together, and talk with your children about why violence is not entertaining.
We must speak God's word of hope with boldness.
People of faith and religious congregations are called to be bold voices for non-violence and courageous voices for healing, to be bold witnesses and courageous advocates. We must not despair at the challenge of creating the change that children need. For the sake of our children, for the sake of those like Rep. Gabby Giffords who have suffered gun violence, it is time for people of all faiths to be bold and courageous.