By Marian Taylor
“We don’t have a problem with violence. We have a thousand problems with violence.” Jan Arnow, one of the speakers at the Sept. 26 event “Sowing a nonviolent city” surprised us with these words.
But she was right. There are many causes of the very high level of violence that is made so deadly by guns in the U.S.
The roughly 200 persons who gathered at the Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in downtown Louisville were convened by a diverse faith-based network called “Sowers of Justice.” (See sowersofjustice.org for more information.) The Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry was among the event’s endorsers.
As we explored the roots of gun violence, we were especially keen to understand the spiritual dimension and the special roles of churches. In fact, one of the keynote speakers, the Rev. James Atwood, has published a book entitled “America and its Guns: A Theological Exposé.”
A “wailing wall” for posting prayer intentions was centrally located and much used.
Many of the “thousand problems” Jan Arnow referred to can be clustered in these three groups:
- Poverty and trauma: Parents who work multiple low-paying jobs, or who lack health care including for mental illnesses, raise children in highly stressed and often under-supervised environments.
- Easy access to guns: The arms industry and its allies have systematically weakened the ability of law enforcement agencies to keep guns and assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.
- Mass incarceration without rehabilitation: Far too many people are jailed, mostly those who cannot afford good lawyers and mostly persons of color in whose neighborhoods the war on drugs is more heavily enforced. Then, re-entry to society is made extremely difficult as returnees are banned from public housing and from many jobs.
Major forces like these make some parts of our communities into tinderboxes. And a fearful response leads even many well-off homes to arm for self-defense. Tragically, these guns are much more likely to be used in an angry domestic moment, in a teenager’s suicide or a child’s innocent accident, than they are ever likely to be used against an armed intruder.
The role of faith communities is partly to make childhood within struggling families easier. Most churches already do that. Churches must also, however, address issues like gun access and the prison railroad.
Although Catholics and some other traditions are clear about forming consciences for a role in public life, there are still parishes and congregations where there is push-back against addressing gun and prison issues at the policy level.
This is why our event took place in a church and why we reflected on Scriptures such as “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Many of us made personal covenants and commitments to act. Mine included applying for a seat on my local human rights commission, offering my services as an English-Spanish interpreter to state social workers and helping contact legislators.
A thousand-faced problem such as violence can only be addressed if everyone makes at least one personal commitment to act. If you would, please pray about which of your own commitments to strengthen, and perhaps one new commitment to add.
Marian Taylor is a former executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, an ecumenical entity in which all four of Kentucky’s Catholic dioceses participate as members.