March for Our Lives

Cameron Park, La Crosse, Wisconsin                    Saturday, March 24, 2018


I am ready for the letters, the calls, the emails, the text messages:

– Bishop, haven’t you heard of the separation of church and state?

– Bishop, stay in the pulpit. Stay out of the park.

– Bishop, you need to be serving Jesus.


My responses are ready.

–  I serve Jesus as a bishop in a church body that has chosen to be a public church, to speak for those in need, to protect the innocent. Today I speak for the innocents who are no longer safe in our schools.

– I am a member of a Conference of Bishops. We have condemned gun violence for the evil that it is.

– Along with 65 other Lutheran bishops, we have confessed that we have waited too long to publicly respond to all the young voices who cry for safety in our schools – Latino voices, African American voices, white voices, the voices of children belonging to the first nations of our land. We bishops have promised to support all the students who are tired of watching our children die in their schools, all the students who march for their lives, all the students who cry out for action to end gun violence in our country.

I know there are folks ready to dismiss me when I use inaccurate firearm terms to beg for action. But the four-ten shotgun I used to shoot roughed grouse did not prepare me for the language of AR15s. My thirty-ought-six deer rifle didn’t prepare me for assault rifles created for only one purpose – killing many, many people in a short amount of time. My hand gun practice qualifying me to work as a security guard didn’t prepare me for rapid fire armaments brought into our schools to kill. For this moment I am going to use one term and let it stand for all – assault rifles. No civilian needs to own an assault rifle. Our students are meant to live.

There are politicians who say what we really need is better mental health care. They are right. And I hope we will fund it. BUT I have worked in adolescent psychiatric care. I know health comes slowly. May the months and years ahead lead to healthy minds. In the meantime, no civilian needs to own an assault rifle. Our students are meant to live.

There are well meaning people who say what we really need is to walk “up” instead of walk “out.” We need to create more welcome for all students by all students. They are right. BUT I have spent my whole life in work designed to build community. It does not happen overnight. Let’s work for it. In the meantime, no civilian needs to own an assault rifle. Our students are meant to live.

There are those who say, “Keep the students in school. Keep them off the speaker’s platforms. What do they know? They are only kids.” Those who try to silence the youth are wrong. Our young people are the vulnerable ones. They have watched others their age die from senseless violence. They have a message we need to hear. AND, they are meant to live. No civilian needs to own an assault rifle.

As a Christian pastor I serve one who we call the Lord of Life and the Prince of Peace. In the names of the God I serve I call out for change. I call for legislation that protects our students. I beg for legislation that rids our gun cabinets of assault rifles, legislation that has us register our firearms, legislation that makes access to gun ownership rigorous enough to match the responsibility of possessing a gun. No civilian needs to own an assault rifle. Our students are meant to live.

Finally, as a pastor I pray for mutual responsibility, for community, for peace, and for life. Our students are meant to live.


4 thoughts on “March for Our Lives

  1. You have said everything I agree with! I support the youth in speaking out. I agree with legislation and mental health. And we all need to Walk Up. Not just the youth. Thank you!


  2. Thank you, Bishop Arends, for speaking clearly Public Church: students are meant to live.

    Floridians have endured great suffering so that assault rifles remain on the consumer market. With the students we can end the sale of weapons of war.

    Lutheran Urban Parish of Tampa
    Florida Council of Churches


  3. Prince of Piece member here. I have to say that I’m disappointed that you have chosen to focus on a single firearm in relation to this topic. I’m even disappointed that you are speaking out on this topic at all as there are literally hundreds of other things killing people at a higher rate than school shootings. Not that I don’t care about school shootings but I like to see effort where the most impact can be made. I just read a statistic that 118 teenage DWI deaths have taken place since the last school shooting.

    Roughly 5000 people die each year from work related incidents in this country. That’s more people than we loose in some of the wars we have participated in. Why aren’t we marching on the capital for this alone?

    The firearms you mention tell me that you should understand that any semi-auto firearm can do as much or more damage than an AR-15. I’m actually surprised the perpetrators aren’t using semi auto pistols in close quarters such as schools, they certainly have the capability to do as much or more damage as an AR.

    As a former mechanic/millwright I’m an advocate of using root cause analysis to solve problems. In every type of root cause analysis I can think of… none will point at the firearm as being the root cause. Yes, the firearm is part of the equation but never the root cause. Root cause analysis finds the true problem so an effective prevention method can be implemented. Stopping half way through a root cause analysis and focusing on a contributing factor in an attempt to fix the problem isnt the most effective method yet this is exactly what many are doing. Because literally thousands of different firearms exist, removal of a single variation is far from a logical solution for this problem. Implementing controls is part of my current job as a safety manager. The way I see it… something similar to TSA or the types of security you see at large events is needed in our schools. This combats all firearms and any other sort of weapon, not a single variation of firearm.

    Safety professionals implement control methods in the following order. First, eliminate or control the problem by engineering the problem out. Second, write policy / procedure. Last, implement PPE. In this regard I’m glad those marching are not advocating all our kids wear bullit proof vests in school. I do recognize that you are supporting an engineering method (removing AR’s) although it’s flawed approach when viewed from a root cause analysis perspective. Implementation of increased security controls not only focuses on the AR, it focuses on all weapons.

    Next time you look to help a cause… please speak out for workplace deaths and injuries. Statistically this would benifit more people.


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