Grief & Loss, Holiday — June 17, 2022 at 12:13 am

Juneteenth is a Chance to Rethink Our Gun Culture

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Christians should work together to address our nation’s hate-motivated gun violence.

Two women at a memorial honoring the victims of the Tops shooting across the street from the store in Buffalo (Image by The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Two women at a memorial honoring the victims of the Tops shooting across the street from the store in Buffalo (Image by The Washington Post/Getty Images)

On May 14, I joined a group of pastors from Brooklyn leading a march through Chinatown, Manhattan.

I’m a member of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council—also known as the “GodSquad”—which has long worked to prevent gun violence in our neighborhood of East Flatbush through street engagement, education, leadership training, neighborhood organizing, targeted interventions, victim services, and more.

That day’s march was focused on standing in solidarity against hate and racism toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, while acknowledging the discrimination that flows in multiple directions through our neighborhood’s ethnic and religious communities. We wanted to make it clear that it was both un-Christian and un-American to engage in racist hatred.

While we were marching, we found out that a white nationalist had shot 13 people—10 fatally—at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo.

This was an act of hatred and cowardice by a man with an irrational fear of the “great replacement,” who reacted in violence against the Black community of a city 200 miles away from his own hometown. This has scarred the Black community of Buffalo and of the United States in ways that will require deep healing, accompanied with a great cry for justice.

More than that, this has scarred the churches in Buffalo. Heyward Patterson, 67, was a deacon and singer at his church. Pearl Young, 77, went to the supermarket right after a prayer breakfast that Saturday morning. Other victims had deep roots in churches and communities, and now these social havens will be in an ongoing state of grief.

After the mass murder in Buffalo, our country experienced another act of nationalistic violence against a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California; a horrible massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; a deranged attack at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and a series of other tragic shooting incidents.

Our country is increasingly drowning in gun violence—in everything including suicide, interpersonal violence, and mass shootings. As Charlie Dates noted in his recent article for CT, gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in this country. And while not all gun violence is racially motivated, it too often is.

In recent years we witnessed the racist mass shootings against the Asian community in Atlanta, the Latino community in El Paso, and the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. A racially motivated hate crime was also at the heart of the vigilante violence perpetrated against Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in 2020. Black Americans are killed by police at a much higher rate than white Americans, and many instances of unarmed shootings remain unaddressed by authorities.

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Juneteenth is a national holiday celebrating the actual liberation of the last of our nation’s enslaved Black population from the oppression of slavery in Texas, nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was passed.

As such, this day a unique opportunity to reassess our nation’s relationship with guns and the hate-motivated violence it enables—which disproportionately affects our Black population.

We should all seek to be empathetic to the needs of the Black community in Buffalo and open to hearing from our Black and brown neighbors across the country. Various geographic communities may react to shootings differently—and yet there is a nearly universal pain and cynicism in the face of this attack and others like it—based on centuries of violence against Blacks in America.

This cause is personal for me, having suffered the loss of a family member to gun violence in my native Jamaica. And given my current capacity as a youth pastor in a community wrecked by gun violence, I have been shaped for this work and my commitment to it is unwavering. My fervent hope is to see an end to gun violence.

I believe people of all faiths and races must see these horrible and senseless acts of hate and discrimination as a call to both prayer and action—to do our part to stop this pattern of death.

As Christians, we respond first with prayer. Through dialog with God, we can share our pain with our Father and manage the anger that presents itself when we are hurt and grieving. We must be consistent in prayer, day after day, so that our righteous indignation will be driven to change ourselves and our communities to advance the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

Prayer moves the hand of God, and I believe that with persistent prayer, he will give us a strong burden of the missio Dei—to share in Christ’s passion for the underprivileged, underserved and marginalized. This has many different aspects, but we must all work to hear and heed his call on our lives. As his extended hands and feet, we are called to rescue the perishing and save them from the fiery darts of evil that pervade our society.

Another aspect of our Christian responsibility is for us to take action through legislation.

The voice of the ekklesia, “the called out,” is powerful, and we can call for real change. It is obvious that Christians can disagree on the best policies, yet we must play our part in advancing the welfare and promoting life and health for all. Some of us may be called to deep engagement with local leaders and politicians at the highest levels, where we can bring a needed Christian perspective to the issues facing our communities.

To my white brothers and sisters, I take this painful opportunity to ask you to join us in a fight against racism and extremism. Guns in the hands of hateful people are destroying America.

While much gun violence is based on common crime, there are a growing number of white supremacists who are willing to use violence or threats for ethnic intimidation (in the case of the shooter in Buffalo) or for other political motives.

In addition to the previously mentioned racist mass shootings, white supremacists have rallied violently and openly in several places over the past several years. And while the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 received the most attention, white supremacist and Christian nationalist groups carried firearms during a range of protests in 2020 and 2021, implicitly threatening their use to achieve political ends.

This is contrary to the message of the Cross, and we must confront it wherever it exists in our own communities. The voices of white allies are equally necessary in the conversation when it comes to combating white supremacy.

The gun culture in rural America and East Flatbush in Brooklyn may appear different, but they share real similarities. In both instances, angry people who feel that the system is failing them are using gun violence to lash out and try to seize power for themselves or, as in the case of the Uvalde shooter, inflict pain on others indiscriminately.

Firearm suicide and other deaths of despair are destroying rural and suburban America, while interpersonal gun violence wreaks havoc in our cities—and both cry out for our action.

The Senate is currently poised to take up a nomination for the post of director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The ATF has been without a Senate-confirmed director for nearly a decade, with the Senate failing to act on nominees from each of the past two administrations.

This bureau plays an important role in tracing firearms used in crimes, and the present nominee’s background includes work prosecuting hate crimes—including attacks on a majority Black church in Conneaut, Ohio, and a mosque in Toledo; and of a plot to attack synagogues and Black churches in Detroit.

Some of us Christians may be called to respond to this crisis by bringing practical, personal help. The Buffalo attack highlights the fragility of service provision in Black communities: With the supermarket that was the site of the shooting now closed, the neighborhood has quickly become a food desert. While those of us who do not live near Buffalo may not be able to close that service gap, we should all examine the needs of the less fortunate in our community.

We should also examine how our communities—both in local government and houses of worship—are taking care of widows and orphans, especially those who are widowed and orphaned by senseless violence.

When it comes to gun reform, we must ask if we truly care for young people in ways that prevent the cycle from continuing. This Juneteenth, I hope to see a plurality of voices speaking out in a singularity of purpose—with one goal, one aim, one mission—to find a cure for our nation’s “gundemic” and especially to free Black communities from its terrorizing grasp.

When gun violence makes national headlines and shakes local communities, all Christians have a moral duty to respond. And I am pleased that over 800 religious’ leaders from across the country have signed a letter asking for action from Congress on gun violence.

Our message of justice, hope, reconciliation, and redemption can bring the peace that is missing. The Prince of Peace himself can bring peace to the hearts that are troubled enough to commit such heinous violence, and to the communities shattered by it.

The church’s messages of love, hope, salvation, and redemption must win over the world’s messages of hate, bias, discrimination, and alienation. We are the bearers of the message, and we must work to spread it.

Love always wins—we know this as believers. The Book of Revelation tells us that one day there will be an ultimate reconciliation of man to man and all of humanity unto God. But on this side of heaven, we have much work to do.

Author

  • Rev. Edward-Richard Hinds is an Ordained Minister and has been in ministry for 26 years. He currently serves as the Youth Pastor, Choir, and Worship Leader at The Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle, Brooklyn NY. He also serves the Brooklyn community in the capacity as Secretary for the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, “The GodSquad”, and sits on the Community Advisory Board for the SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. Rev. Hinds is a past student of the Bethel Bible College of the Caribbean where he received his Bachelor in Theology with a minor in Counselling. He continued his studies to the graduate level where he read for his Master’s degree in Leadership and Management from the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology, Jamaica. He has received numerous distinctions and certificates from government and private sector groups in the Caribbean. Born in a musical family, his passion for music and choirs was honed early in life and has led him down a path of coaching and directing both choirs and groups, holding in tension ministry and performance. Rev. Hinds is a trained counselor, mentor, sought after speaker for conventions across denominational lines, and a respected presenter at seminars to include choir and worship workshops both locally and internationally. Rev. Hinds’ philosophy centers on service as he believes “serving God is serving people.”

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