US bishops speak out after mass shootings

09 August 2019

A protester calling for gun reform takes part in the “Rally against White Supremacy”, near the White House, on Tuesday

A protester calling for gun reform takes part in the “Rally against White Supremacy”, near the White House, on Tuesday

A DEADLY mix of “white supremacy and gun violence” is coming to define this era of the history of the United States, Bishops United Against Gun Violence (BUAG) have said, after 31 people were killed in two mass shootings in the United States last weekend.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the group of almost 100 bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States said: “Today we are weary of witnessing the slaughter gripping our country. But we are no less determined to continue speaking, even when it seems our words make no difference; to continue praying in order to gather our strength to act; and to follow Jesus in speaking truth, especially when it seems that truth is out of season.”

One of its members, the Bishop of Rio Grande, the Rt Revd Michael Hunn, said on Saturday that the US needed to come together across the conservative-liberal divide to seek a middle way between “everybody having guns, or nobody”. He was speaking after a gun massacre of 21 people in his diocese on Saturday.

Police linked the incident in the city of El Paso, Texas, where the majority of the population is of Hispanic descent, to white nationalism and anti-immigrant hate speech.

A 21-year-old white man, Patrick Crusius, a resident of Allen, in the Dallas area, has been charged with murder.

At an interfaith vigil on Sunday, Bishop Hunn said that the people of El Paso loved their neighbours on both sides of the Rio Grande, which marks the border between the US and Mexico.

Nine more victims were left dead after a gun massacre in Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday morning. The motives of the gunman, Conor Betts, 24, who shot and killed his sister and eight other people before he was shot dead by police, are not known.

Another BUAG member, the Bishop of Southern Ohio, the Rt Revd Thomas E. Breidenthal, wrote on Facebook: “My heart is heavy this morning with the tragic shootings yesterday in El Paso and last night in Dayton.

“Please join me in praying for an end to the epidemic of hate and violence that is sweeping our country.”

PAA boy looks at tributes and toys left for children killed in El Paso

On Saturday evening, President Trump condemned the El Paso shooting as a “hateful act”. On Sunday, after the Ohio massacre, he said: “I want to extend our condolences from El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. They’re incredible people, they’ve been through a lot.”

He said that “perhaps more has to be done” to prevent mass shootings. “Hate has no place in our country, and we are going to take care of it,” he told reporters. “This has been going on for years, for years and years in our country, and we have to get it stopped.” He linked both attacks to a “mental-illness problem”, and said: “If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness. These are people who are very, very seriously mentally ill.”

At a press conference on Monday, President Trump said: “In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”

On Sunday, however, Beto O’Rourke, who is running to be the Democrat candidate in next year’s presidential election, said that President Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants lay behind the El Paso attack. He said: “He is a racist and he stokes racism in this country, and it does not just offend our sensibilities, it fundamentally changes the character of this country and it leads to violence.”

The BUAG statement said: “Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and our government holds asylum-seekers on our southern border in inhumane conditions.

“The President of the United States uses racist tropes and inflammatory language to incite crowds against people of color, refugees, and immigrants; and hate crime reports have increased for three consecutive years. The hatred and fury that drives mass shootings can also be turned inward, where it fuels the invisible and growing death toll of gun suicides.”

It continued: “As Christians, we must work actively to dismantle the systemic racism that is part of our country’s founding narrative and that continues to fuel mass shootings and urban gun-violence today.

“We must insist that both our fellow Christians and our elected leaders repudiate white supremacy and white nationalism, and embrace humane immigration policies that follow God’s command and the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst.”

REUTERSREUTERS

Speaking in a video message on Saturday, Bishop Hunn said: “We, in the US, have to figure out what we’re going to do about guns. Too often the debate is framed about everybody having guns, or nobody having guns.

“We in the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church are a people of the middle way, the via media, and we’ve got to come together, conservative and liberal, in order to find a way to both preserve our second-amendment rights, while also preserving the safety of our public spaces in this country. We should be able to go to the movies, or to the mall, or to dinner, or to school, without the fear that we might get shot.”

He continued: “As the bishop of a south-western diocese, let me be clear, I don’t feel safer if everyone in the movie theatre has a gun, and I don’t feel safer if everyone in the restaurant is carrying, and I don’t feel safer if the teachers are carrying. . . Let’s come up with a solution that’s better than that. . .”

President Trump did not endorse gun control measures, but said: “mental health and hate pull the trigger, not the gun”. He called mass shooters “mentally ill monsters”.

He criticised “gruesome” video games and the internet for spreading violence. He said: “It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately.”

In his Sunday address, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of the two attacks, who, he said, had been “defenceless”.

The president and general secretary of the US National Council of Churches, Jim Winkler, said on Sunday that assault weapons should be banned. He argued: “The combination of readily available weapons of mass destruction and a toxic white racist nationalist ideology is a recipe for disaster. If we cannot confront these two evils, far greater violence and social disruption awaits our nation.”

A statement released by the council on Sunday read: “Racist, inflammatory rhetoric must be replaced by words and deeds that create beloved communities, ones that embrace ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.”

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
With Sam Wells, Catherine Fox, Mark Oakley, Suzannah Lipscomb and many others. 
See the full programme

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Theology Slam is back, continuing its search for the most engaging young voices on theology and the contemporary world. Find out more

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)