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Welby addresses gun culture in the US

11 April 2014


THE Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the Episcopal Church in the United States to challenge a culture of violence by being reconcilers.

Speaking at a peace conference in Oklahoma on Thursday, Archbishop Welby said that the Church should neither pretend violence was not happening, nor be compromised by being drawn into it. Instead, he proposed a "prophetic response to violence which accepts the world as it is and seeks to bring redemption and salvation".

He told his audience at the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace conference, in Oklahoma City, of how the provost of Coventry Cathedral had begun a reconciliation ministry, following the destruction of the cathedral and much of the town in German bombing raids during the Second World War.

Archbishop Welby worked as a canon at the cathedral for five years, and said it was essential to recognise the evil at the heart of humanity and how violence "damages the soul", if the Church wished to speak out against it.

"Reconciliation and an end to violence is something that can only be achieved by sacrifice and by a prophetic stand. There are no shortcuts and no cheap options."

Speaking of how the US Church should respond to violence, he cited the shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook, where 20 children and six teachers had been killed at a primary school, as well as the bombing of a US government building in Oklahoma in 1995, which killed 168 people.

He acknowledged that, coming from a different culture in the UK, it would be "discourteous" for him to tell Americans what to think.

"What does [reconciliation] look like in the USA where there are people who are faithful Christians on all sides of the debate about guns?" he asked.

"What it does not mean is to shout louder from your corner in the conviction that you are right and everyone else is stupid. Rather, a Church committed to the reclaiming of the gospel of peace looks like those who join their enemies on their knees.

"Here in the USA you look at questions of gun law and violence. Perhaps part of the answer is not only advocacy, and that must happen, but being on knees together with the poorest and the most vulnerable in your local communities."

The Episcopal Church has been increasingly drawn into the national debate on guns in America in recent years. Earlier this year, the law in the state of Georgia was changed, making it possible for churchgoers to bring firearms into church for the first time.

Bishops and clerics expressed their discomfort with the idea of parishioners carrying weapons in the pews. In an open letter opposing the new law, the Bishops of Atlanta and Georgia, the Rt Revd Robert C. Wright and Scott Anson Benhase, remarked that supporters of the Bill "claim that if only the 'bad guys' have guns, then the 'good guys' cannot stop them.

"Our Christian faith has a more complex understanding of 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. Our biblical understanding of human sin informs us of this universal truth. This Bill solves nothing, and it only creates the potential for more gun violence, not less."

Separately, a group of more than 30 Episcopalian bishops have started a campaign to introduce stricter gun regulation.

Called Bishops Against Gun Violence, the group lobbies for expanding the system of background checks on those buying firearms, ensuring that guns are stored safely, and improving access to mental healthcare.

The three bishops who convened the group said: "We will no longer be silent while violence permeates our world, our society, our Church, our homes and ourselves. Our faith calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, to give voice to the voiceless and to strive for justice in the name of our Lord."

Full text of Archbishop Welby's speech here

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