Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Dean Gary Hall of Washington National Cathedral have released the following statement on the grand jury decision in the case of Michael Brown:
As we watch with all America the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, the words of Martin Luther King echo in our ears: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” While we cannot condone the violent response of some protestors, the anger on display in the wake of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown has little to do with social media or the 24-hour news cycle, as District Attorney Robert P. McCulloch has suggested. It has everything to do with the persistence of systemic racism in the American justice system. African Americans had reason to hope that in the case of Michael Brown an armed police officer would at last be charged in the killing of unarmed black teenager. And yet, after a grand jury process that many legal experts have called into question, they had further evidence that in the American justice system, the lives of black youth are valued less than those of their white counterparts.
With Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, we believe “that the events in Ferguson have made vivid just how wide the gulf is between the police and those who are policed in so many communities in our country. It’s a gulf that’s been formed by the history of discrimination in our country, a gulf that has been deepened by the systemic biases in our current criminal justice system. It’s a gulf that breeds suspicion and mistrust, a gulf that undermines the very legitimacy of our system of justice.”
Bishops United Against Gun Violence, an ad hoc group of almost 60 Episcopal bishops, today released a briefing paper that “seeks to shed light on new findings indicating that the vast majority of Americans today, including gun owners, support universal background checks prior to all gun sales.”
In the paper, Bishops Ian T. Douglas of Connecticut and William H. Stokes of New Jersey cite a July 2014 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, which found that 92 percent of voters, including 92 percent of gun owners, support universal background checks. “This new information provides an urgent call for action that can save thousands of American lives each year,” they write.
The paper analyzes gun violence from a theological perspective, as a public health issue and as a political challenge. Clergy minister frequently to survivors of gun violence and to those who have lost loved ones, but they must also “speak out against growing gun violence and work for change,” the bishops write.
Bishops United, was organized in 2013, following the mass shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. The group is convened by Douglas and Bishops Mark Beckwith of Newark and Eugene T. Sutton of Maryland.
“Women who are victims of domestic violence are at very high risk when a gun is in the home,” Stokes and Douglas write. “Guns are a scourge on the streets of our nation’s cities resulting in an extraordinary number of deaths, maiming and imprisonment among young people, particularly males of color. That guns flow to our cities’ streets from states and regions where laws are lax, especially background check laws, makes the issue of universal background checks, and closing gun sale loop holes and so-called ‘straw man purchases’ a nationwide concern,” they add.
The paper includes a series of action steps for bishops, clergy and lay people such as asking members of Congress to support the Manchin-Toomey Amendment in the Senate or the King-Thompson bill in the House. Both of those bills would close many of the loopholes in the current system of federal background checks. The bishops also urge members of the church to support a bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would close the loophole that currently permits domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain firearms.
“Our political leaders too often seem to be paralyzed in the face of the money and activism of gun manufacturer and gun-owner lobbyists,” Douglas and Stokes write. “The expressed desire of most Americans for action on a matter that concerns the common good – universal background checks – is being held hostage by those with financial power and a clear interest in the unfettered sale of guns. In political terms, this borders on corruption. In theological terms, it is sinful.”
Bishops United Against Gun Violence is an ad hoc group of nearly 60 Episcopal bishops who have come together to explore means of reducing the appalling levels of gun violence in our society, and to advocate for policies and legislation that save lives.