It’s time for church leaders to stand up and be heard on the issue of gun violence, a group of pastors said Thursday evening during a prayer gathering in Arlington.
Those attending the event, at the Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church in Arlington, also donated funds for the families of Sutherland Springs who have buried friends and relatives killed in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
Kennedy Jones, pastor at Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Arlington Ministerial Alliance, said the church has a moral responsibility to speak truth to power and protest policies that lead to the loss of life.
“For too long the church has been silent in the face of gun violence,” Jones said. “From Sandy Hook to Las Vegas, from Mother Emanuel to Sutherland Springs, not mention the horrific carnage of Las Vegas or Orlando, the church as an institution has seen but not engaged the public discourse on the culture of guns that is uniquely American.”
The church must be outspoken on the issue of gun violence but thread the needle with dialogue that is political but not partisan, said the Rev. Kate McGee, who leads Westminster Presbyterian Church in Arlington. The country is so divided, she said, that the faithful’s first response should be to come together in prayer and turn that prayer into action. Unified churches can change the world, McGee said.
“Jesus often took political stances,” McGee said. “He took stances against violence and oppression, and we can follow Jesus and bring people together. It comes back to starting in prayer and seeking unity among churches. My sense is that we cannot be quiet about this anymore.”
The country even has problems stopping the mentally ill from obtaining guns they use to commit suicide, Jones said.
“Looking at the fact and figures over the past 10 years one can come to only one of two conclusions,” Jones said. “Either we, as a people, are the most barbaric to have ever inhabited the face of the earth, or our philosophy on firearms is deeply flawed.”
“The church has not made this a high priority,” Jones said. “We made women’s suffrage and civil rights a priority. I think that this is a fight we can’t afford to walk away from.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has offered to pay for the funeral services for those who died in Sutherland Springs, according to reports. But other costs to families who have lost their breadwinners still remain, said Dennis Wiles, First Baptist Church of Arlington pastor.
Pastor Steve Langford of First United Methodist Church of Arlington said the gathering had come about out of anger, fear, grief and bitterness, but he prayed that God would change their outlook.
“We want to respond out of who you are, not what the world is,” Langford said in prayer. “Help us to rest in your deep love. Open us to how you would have us respond to the tragedies of this world. We want to respond out of who you are, not who the world is.”
Pastor Jack Crane of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth said that once the preachers in the pulpit get right, the nation would get right.