A PASTORAL LETTER TO THE IOWA ANNUAL CONFERENCE
August 5, 2019
My heart was heavy this morning at Epworth Assembly in Ludington, Michigan, when the American flag was lowered to half-staff. It was a gesture of both mourning and respect for the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio over this past weekend. I have been at this summer resort with Methodist roots for several days of preaching and teaching.
At an open forum this morning, we shared deep grief for the families of the twenty-two people killed and twenty-six wounded in El Paso and the nine people and twenty-seven wounded in Dayton, including the sister of the gunman. A mass shooting is defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed. There have now been 251 mass shootings in the United States in the first 216 days of 2019. That is more than one mass shooting per day. The FBI had been warning about the potential danger of domestic violent extremist attacks, and their concern proved to be justified.
At our forum this morning, we lamented that this level of violence has almost become routine in the United States. We prayed for the families of all the victims but also had an honest conversation about how each one of us can work to create a safer country and world for all people, especially our children and youth.
- We noted a relationship between gun violence and racism and mental illness and admitted that the mental health systems in many parts of our country are poorly funded or even broken.
- We talked about the necessity of sensible gun restrictions, particularly around military-style weapons. It was a member of the National Rifle Association who suggested this to the group.
- We acknowledged that there is much less of a sense of belonging today in America than in years past. Those present agreed that the church must play an important role by being a welcoming and safe place for all and reaching out to those on the margins with hospitality and hope.
- We also agreed that when the church mirrors the political polarization of our country and we spend much time and energy fighting rather than serving each other, we lose the power of our witness and ability to be a healing presence in our world.
May God grant each one of us the wisdom and the grace to be difference makers and peacemakers as we embody God’s shalom for all. “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) May we all pray and act as did St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life