Preaching Gun Safety, in the Pews and at the Polls

On Wednesday, April 17, the U.S .Senate filibustered a bill to expand background checks on gun sales. The next day, more than a dozen Americans were felled by gun violence. One was 26-year-old Sean Collier, the MIT police officer killed by the Boston bombing suspects. And there were other, unsung, tragic stories that day. A teenage brother and sister were shot to death in Richmond. A New Jersey 19-year-old was killed in a drive-by shooting. Four people were found shot to death in a house in Akron, Ohio. Across the country, families of those killed or injured by guns had to make decisions about hospitals, therapy or funeral services. Across the country, members of the clergy worked to console and to heal.

In many African-American communities, the toll of gun violence is ever-present. Every year, over 100,000 Americans are killed or injured by guns. According to recent Centers for Disease Control statistics, black Americans are ten times as likely as white Americans to fall victim to a gun homicide. Each one of these deaths is heartbreaking. For African-American clergy, they have become all too familiar. Too often, we bury a young person who we all too recently baptized, we pray with a wife at the bedside of a husband who was in Sunday morning service and is now in the ICU, we are called to be the first responder to a suicide.

Last week, African-American faith leaders from 22 states and the District of Columbia and from every major African American denomination came together in Los Angeles to launch the African American Church Gun Control Coalition. We signed a covenant, drafted by People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, vowing to increase our efforts to prevent gun violence in our communities, including conversations in our congregations to advocacy in Washington. And we will take our covenant on the road to include local pastors and faith leaders in the implementation of our strategies. Many of us have been on the battlefield for a long time. We recognize the need to move the spiritually and physically wounded to a place of advocacy and victory.

We have heard the voices of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who have lost loved ones at movie theaters, elementary schools, in drive-by shootings. We have heard the stories of those whose loved ones have simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time. And we have grieved for members of our own families, like my cousin Eugene, who lost his life to gun violence one week before graduating from high school.

I feel I can safely say that every man and woman of faith knows someone who knows the pain of gun violence. So in this time, when our elected officials in Washington missed an opportunity to make history, we will help strengthen the movement to stop gun violence. We will speak out about our experiences and encourage our congregations to do the same. We will continue to call on all our elected leaders to adopt common-sense gun violence prevention measures and encourage our communities to do the same. Now is the time for a revived movement that starts in the pews and ends at the polls, a movement to change the future for all American families.