By Rick Wolcott*
Resolution 3428 in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2016 urges “congregations to advocate at the local and national level for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence.”
The General Board of Church and Society Board of Directors stated at its March 16 meeting that, “Our hearts are broken at the number and frequency of mass shootings, and for the victims and families whose lives have been forever altered by these tragedies. We also know that in addition to mass shootings, gun violence in many forms impacts communities every day in the United States. Young people have been stepping forward leading a movement to end gun violence. We, as the General Board of Church and Society Board of Directors, encourage our churches and conferences to be supportive of this movement.”
“Gun violence is one of the biggest issues that affects our daily life. Nothing has been done for the past 19 years and we think that has to change,” said Andrea, an Olmsted Falls High School senior and a member of Strongsville United Methodist Church (North Coast District).
She and thousands of others gathered in Cleveland’s Public Square on Saturday, March 24 to participate in a March for Our Lives rally, one of more than 800 such rallies held across the country on that day. The rallies took place only 10 days after thousands of high school students across the nation walked out of class on the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“When will it be time to talk about gun control?” Kevin, a Shaker Heights junior, asked the crowd in Cleveland before reciting how much time has passed since shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, Chardon High School, the Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Pulse night club, Las Vegas, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas. “It has been time for far too long. It is never too soon to talk about gun violence, only too late!”
“I’m tired of growing up in this world where we are just used to these shootings happening. It’s the norm, and that’s just not right,” said Eric, a Normandy High School junior and member of Strongsville UMC.
Carson Markley was one of the organizers of the Youngstown March for Our Lives rally. The Youngstown State University student and member of Canfield United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District) said, “Throughout my Christian upbringing I have been taught to love my neighbor and take care of my fellow Christians but I can’t do that if we’re letting our neighbors, and our friends, and our kids die from gun violence.”
Mahoning Valley District Superintendent the Rev. Abby Auman wore her clergy robe in the march and carried a sign that read “Prayer Leads to Action.”
“Marching today felt like the beginning of Holy Week,” she said. “While we often and rightly celebrate Palm Sunday as one when people proclaim Christ’s kingship, we should remember that it was also political street theater protesting oppression and brutality. ‘Hosanna!’ does not mean, ‘praise the Lord!’ – that’s ‘hallelujah.’ ‘Hosanna’ means ‘God save us.’”
Auman marched with her daughter.
“I took her in the hopes that this is the moment when we turn from ‘thoughts and prayers’ to ‘prayers and actions,’ so that I never have to make the choice of removing her life support as Jaelynn Willey’s parents did after last week’s shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland.”
“Kids are genuinely scared,” Andrea said at the Cleveland rally. “I can’t remember a time at school when we haven’t practiced lockdown drills, or had a teacher say, ‘if it comes down to it, I would take a bullet for you.’ Not only should teachers not have to say that, but students shouldn’t have to think about it. There is so much to learn in school and we genuinely want to focus on that.”
At the March for Our Lives rally in Akron that drew more than 1,000 people, Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) Secretary Anna, a member of Wadsworth United Methodist Church (Canal District), said she doesn’t think adults understand what it feels like to go to school every day and be afraid.
“Every time I hear a loud bang, I jump,” she said. “When I walk in a room, I look for an alternate exit, survey the room, and look for items I can use in self-defense. Adults do not understand what that feels like, they need to understand we do know what we are talking about and we are asking for safety in our schools.”
“It warms my heart to see teens standing up for something they strongly believe in,” Kaye Wolfinger East Ohio Conference director of Young People’s Ministries said at the Akron rally. “The church needs to see that teens will stand up and take action for something they believe in.”
Pastor Kyle Gould of Oak Chapel United Methodist Church (Mid-Ohio District) attended the Ashland March for Our Lives rally.
“I was there because I know God to be a God of life and love,” he said. “I’ve grown incredibly concerned over the senseless violence we’ve seen in our world, and, especially with a son of my own, I had to do something. Our youth should be supported in speaking out for their own safety.”
Rev. Tom Snyder, retired, also attended the rally that began at Ashland Christ United Methodist Church.
“I realize that there are strong feelings on all sides of the gun issue, but the choice to participate in an event like this, knowing the opposition it might engender, reminds me of a favorite quote by the 19th Century English novelist, Samuel Butler: ‘People are equally horrified by hearing the Christian faith doubted and seeing it practiced,’” he said.
At the March for Our Lives rally in Avon Lake, one of the featured speakers was the Rev. Paige Boyer of Lake Shore UMC (North Coast District).
“‘No more of this,’ that is what Jesus said as he healed the Roman soldier’s ear that had been cut off by one of the disciples the night Jesus was arrested,” she told the hundreds who lined Route 83 outside of Avon Lake High School. “Today, we are marching against gun violence and saying ‘no more of this!’”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.