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.