This morning, I spoke at a rally sponsored by the Palouse Peace Coalition on responsible gun control.  Here is a draft of my remarks.  Let me know what you think!

Remarks for the Rally Against Gun Violence

March 23, 2013

 

Good morning.  Thank you to the Palouse Peace Coalition for organizing the event.  Thank you to the people who took time out of their day to be here and reflect on this important issue.

On Sunday, July 27, 2008, a man named Jim David Adkisson walked into the Tennessee Valley UU Church (a church not that different than the church I serve, right up the street).  He carried a twelve-gauge shot gun in a guitar case, and partway through the service, he pulled it out and started shooting.  Why? In a statement to police, Adkisson said he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country.  Out of work and out of luck, he blamed the Democrats, asserting that they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets.   Members of the congregation immediately responded by tackling Adkisson and taking his weapon away.  Two people were killed, and another six were injured. 

It was a horrible tragedy.  But it might have been much, much worse.  The service that day was a play put on by the children.  If Adkisson had been carrying an assault weapon, like, for example, a Bushmaster AR-15, the gun used in Sandy Hook this December, who knows how many casualties there would have been?

Gun control is a hot topic here in Idaho and across the nation.  Less than two weeks ago, the Idaho House of Representatives passed a law making it a crime for state and local police to enforce new federal firearms restrictions.  (The senate has tabled it.)  There’s a paranoid fiction that the government is going to come and ‘take people’s guns away.’  Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

The current conversation on gun control offers a golden opportunity for people to come together and address this complicated issue.  Together, we can find some common sense measures that will make our country safer.  

This is a state chock-full of responsible gun owners.  I know a number of people who hunt, who like to go target shooting or skeet shooting.  I know people who carry guns for protection.  They are law abiding citizens.  It is already a crime, here in Idaho, to carry a weapon ‘with intent to assault another.”  It’s also against the law to carry a concealed weapon while intoxicated or on school property.  The gun owners I know have no problem abiding by these laws.  None of the additional gun control measures we are proposing here today would interfere with responsible gun ownership.  They are designed simply to make it harder to perpetrate a mass shooting.

15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place here in the United States.  In second place was Finland, with 2.  Even one mass killing is too many.  We know that in our bones.

While it is true that guns don’t kill people…people kill people… guns do change how people kill people.  Guns make it a lot easier, and that is not a good thing.  The choice to aim a gun at a human being and pull a trigger might need to be made quickly, but it should never be made lightly.  Human life is sacred. 

Reinstating the ban on military style assault rifles and ammunition magazines with more than ten rounds would make our country safer.  Both of these proposals enjoy wide-spread support, including among responsible gun owners.  Let’s be honest:  short of military combat or a zombie apocalypse, can any of us come up with a scenario where one person would need to pull that trigger more than ten times in a row in self-defense?

Polls show that the third proposal, universal background checks, is supported by 80% of the people in this country.  These days, can you think of any other issue that 80% of us can agree on?  Other ideas that have been proposed include safe storage laws, requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance (similar to car ownership.)  “Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence” (a group of 24 different national religious bodies) recommends that in addition to the restrictions on high capacity weapons and ammunition magazines and background check, gun trafficking be made a federal offense.

The power of the democratic process is that it allows everyone a voice.  I can’t figure out on my own which measures will make the biggest difference.  But together…that’s another story.  Harvard ethicist Arthur Dyck, in analyzing both law and morality, emphasizes the relationship of rights and responsibilities.  For every right we have…including the right to bear arms…we must be willing to accept responsibility.  The freedom to bear arms carries with it the responsibility to make sure that those arms are not used to harm innocent people.

The shooting in Tennessee Valley UU Church in 2008 was a tragedy; no one wants anything like that to happen here.  The shooting in Sandy Hook in December was an even greater tragedy, in part because of the kind of weapon the shooter used.   We owe it to the victims and families of the fallen to do everything in power to keep this conversation open and moving forward.  We owe it to the victims and their families to make this country a safer place for our children and our children’s children.  Thank you.

My coleague, the Rev. Barbara Pescan, asks in a poem, “Who are we at Easter?”  Who indeed?

Few Unitarian Universalists believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ. Even fewer see the resurrection as the most important part of the Christian story. We are far more likely to focus on (and learn from) the parables, stories, and lessons Jesus offered while he was alive.

Some congregations, then, celebrate Easter primarily out of habit. I’m not sure whether folks are nervous about the story of Jesus’ resurrection or simply uninterested, but I’ve attended (and even led) Easter Sunday church services that are basically generic spring celebrations, with Easter-egg hunts and de-Christified hymns and nary a mention of the risen Christ. One of my colleagues even asked his congregation if they’d like to skip Easter altogether.

I found my own perceptions about Easter challenged and eventually transformed by my participation in interfaith Easter Sunrise Services. We would gather at a memorial garden, sing the traditional hymns, and hear the traditional story and some stellar preaching from my (mostly progressive) Christian colleagues. In my fourth year, it was my turn to preach, and I found myself connecting with the Easter story in new and powerful ways. I find in it universal themes that are more than worthy of reflection.

All human beings fear death, and Easter invites us to face that fear and move beyond it.  All human beings spend time ‘in the tomb,’ trapped in grief or depression.  All human beings need help to ‘roll aside the stone’ and find their way back to joy and life.  And most importantly:  love lasts, even beyond death.

I also experience on Easter a sense of connection to- and gratitude for- our Christian roots, as well as the broader Christian community.  Though many of my co-religionists are ‘come-outers,’ I am a ‘stay-inner.’ Raised Unitarian Universalist, I don’t have a lot of baggage, nor do I suffer from ‘cross cringe.’  For me, Jesus’ legacy is a source of strength and inspiration.  It is not the only source, but a significant source, nonetheless.

I wonder sometimes if we do ourselves a disservice when we locate our faith outside of the broader Christian community.  Many of the mainline protestant denominations and many progressive Catholics are becoming more and more simpatico with Unitarian Universalism.  They are embracing world religions, free thought and other progressive causes.  There is more than enough common ground to hold us all.

What changes if we understand Unitarian Universalism to be on the leading edge of progressive Christianity, rather than a fringe faith that has largely rejected Christianity?  What changes in us?  In our congregations?  In our interfaith relationships?  In our world?