With heavy hearts the people of Myers Park Baptist Church pray for the victims of violence in Sutherland Springs, Texas and we grieve the loss of so many lives. In this state of lament, we remember these words and continue to work for another kind of world:
“It is the enormous loss of life that gets to us. We are not interested in the same old tired arguments where people talk past one another. Cliché’s like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” need to be retired. Not a single mass shooting in America has been foiled by a civilian with a gun. Another cliché that needs to go is “the more guns we have, the more safe we are.” But the statistics show a much different picture. Access to guns makes people less safe, especially vulnerable people like victims of domestic violence, those considering suicide, and children, of whom 7,000 are injured by guns every year. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with owning a gun, but why 47? Why does someone need to buy 33 in one year?
As painful, divisive, and uncomfortable, as this issue is in America, we cannot stop talking about it. Innocent people are dying every day at an alarming rate every day. We’re in an emergency situation.
We refuse to be numb. We refuse to live in denial and despair. We refuse to believe this world is inevitable. We refuse to believe this is the way things have to be.
We have hope that another world is possible.”
– From Rev. Benjamin Boswell’s sermon “A New Normal” on October 8, 2017
The Lord Be With You.
My heart is breaking for the people of Sutherland Springs TX. What happened at First Baptist Church is every Pastor’s worst nightmare. There are no words to comfort those who experienced such horrific tragedy, senseless violence, death, and devastation. But we know that in their darkest hours that God was near and our hope is in the promise of God’s presence. We pray that God will be with those who are suffering as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We pray that in their grief, the people of Sutherland Springs will cry out in pain and that God will hear their laments as God heard the cries of Israelites in Egypt, and come to deliver them and all of us from the scourge of violence that is wreaking havoc on our nation.
We are at war with ourselves. I know this, because every news outlet who called me for an interview this week asked me about security. They asked, what measures are we going to take this week in response to the shooting in Texas? Do you have a security team? Will you call the police? Will you have armed guards on campus or metal detectors in the Narthex? Will you invite your members to bring their guns to Church? The only topic they wanted to talk about was security.
I understand the concern for security. People are afraid. We are afraid because we believe churches are supposed to be the safest places in our lives. We are afraid because our children are there. We are afraid because like Charleston and Pulse, our sanctuary has been violated and taken from us. The sanctity of our holy space has been stolen and we are right to grieve. We are right to grieve because there are no more safe places in American society. No one is safe from the disease of gun violence. No one.
In our grief and fear it is natural to long for security, but before we move too quickly to security, let’s stop for a moment, and remember that security is what got us here. We asked for security and the military industrial complex that feeds the Pentagon’s demand for efficient killing machines infected our society with military grade weapons. We demanded these weapons of war for our security abroad and they are now in our cities and our homes. We have militarized our police forces and our neighborhoods. Now there are more guns than human beings in America today, because of our concern for security. Security is what got us into this mess in the first place!
There is no security plan that will save us from an AR-15 assault rifle. There is no security plan that could have prevented that tragedy in Las Vegas or Texas. The problem we face is not security but gun violence. Since 1968, 1.5 million people have been killed by guns in America, more than all the wars in American history combined. Since 1980, twice as many people have been killed by guns in America than died from AIDS. Gun violence is an epidemic…a uniquely American epidemic and we must do something about it. We must change, but the change we need is not in the level of security at houses of worship, but in the way we think about guns.
If we want true security, we must not fall victim to the fear that calls for false measures of security which don’t really make us safer but simply assuage our anxieties and ignore the real problem. We must reject all forms of false security and work for true security. Let’s talk about true security. True security is a world without automatic weapons. True security is a world without domestic violence. True security is a world without toxic masculinity and patriarchy. True security is a world without homophobia. True security is a world without white supremacy and racism. True security is a world without hatred, dehumanization, and oppression. True security is a world without economic disparity. True security is a world without politicians in the pocket of the NRA.
True security is a world where the poor and hungry are given jobs with fair wages instead of automatic weapons. True security is a world where children are given a world class education instead of world class firearms. True security is a world where the sick and mentally ill are given health care instead of guns. True security is a world where our veterans are given a new purpose to help build the common good instead of a new battlefield on which to fight their fellow citizens. True security is a world where domestic violence offenders are given treatment instead of ammunition. True security is a world where people are engaged in active peace instead of negligent violence.
Let me get a little closer to home as I conclude. True security will come when the people of God pray with their hands, their feet, and their money instead of paying lip service to God with their “thoughts and prayers.” God desires mercy and not sacrifice, and when our prayers have no action behind them they will always fall on deaf ears. True security will come when the people of God get up off their pew cushions and act instead of living in the despair that says, “nothing can be done.” True security will come when the people of God care more about life, peace, and justice than they do about losing a few people in their congregations who are holding on more tightly to their guns and their greed than they are to the gospel of Jesus. As the prophets said, true security will come when the people of God beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and their guns into garden tools for the cultivation and the beautification of God’s Creation.
Dr. Peter Wherry and Mayfield Memorial Baptist Church and we at Myers Park Baptist Church will be working with North Carolinians Against Gun Violence to plan an inter-faith conference on guns this Spring, and I offer you this invitation. Dr. Wherry and I would love for any of you who are interested in life, in peace, and in justice to partner with us and to join us as we seek to create true security in our city and our world.
Reverend Boswell has been interviewed by local media since the shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Here are some of those interviews: