[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny April 9 opened the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence with the following remarks. The conference continues until April 11.
Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace
Sheraton Reed Center – Midwest City, Oklahoma
April 9, 2014
Bishop Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma
Why are We Here?
For those who don’t know me I am Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma. On behalf of our Diocese and all Oklahomans we welcome you to our Great State!
We extend a special welcome to the Most Reverend and Right Honorable The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and his wife Caroline. And to the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and her husband Dick.
I hope you enjoy your stay here and more importantly that you find the time we will share together over the next couple of days to be Thought Provoking, Challenging and Empowering.
I have been asked to kind of set the stage for these next couple of days; and share some thoughts on “Why we are Here”…
Over the next two days you will hear some keynote presentations, have the opportunity to participate in workshops, exchange ideas and network in table discussion and self selecting groups, and visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 1995 where 168 souls were lost including 19 children. Following the visit to the National Memorial on Friday, we will gather for a closing Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral with our Presiding Bishop preaching. We will conclude our time together with dinner at the cathedral and hear thoughts on how we take what has started here at this conference and move it forward.
So Why are We Here?
On December 14, 2012, a young 20 year old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut and fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members. Before driving to the school the young man shot and killed his mother in their home; and then as first responders arrived at the school he shot and killed himself.
The incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School was not the first of these kinds of incidents in our society; and has not been the last.
In 1966, a former Marine killed 16 people and wounded 30 others at the University of Texas
1973, a 23 year old man killed 9 people at a Howard Johnson’s motel
1986, a part-time mail carrier killed 14 postal workers in a post office, here, in Edmond, Oklahoma leading to the often and unfortunately used phrase: “Going Postal”
1999, two young men, 18 and 17 years old killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado
2007 a 23 year old student killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University
2012 a 24 year old man killed 12 and wounded 58 others in a movie theater in Aurora Colorado
2013 a Civilian contractor fatally shot 12 and wounded 3 others inside the Washington Navy Ship Yard
And just this morning, a student moved through a school in Murrysville Pennsylvania stabbing and slashing more than 20 others before being taken into custody.
These are just a few; in the last 30 years there have been more than 60 mass killings in the United States; and this doesn’t even begin to take into account the single acts of violence resulting in loss of life, wounding, and maiming that occurs every day in our cities, towns, and communities across this country.
By any definition of the word, the frequency of violent acts in our society is of Epidemic Proportion.
With what always seems to be predictable regularity, what follows these incidents are the speculations of motive, the arm chair psychological profiling, the ideological positioning, the political rhetoric, and the finger pointing, trying to cast blame on someone or something.
And sadly, after a few weeks, the shock and devastation dissipates from those not directly affected; our attentions are drawn elsewhere; politicians move on to the next political debate; and we are left wondering why and how and won’t anything ever be done…
Doing something is why we are here…
For years people have cried out for the authorities or politicians to enforce existing laws and pass new ones. For years people have pointed the finger at this or that as the cause for the violence in our society. For years the polarizing voices of the extremes have dominated the conversation, entrenched in their idealistic positions and agendas; and stifled any attempt for a reasoned, common sense conversation and approach to challenging the increased incident of violence around us.
We are not here to cast blame; or to produce some statement or resolution calling on others to act; or to be drowned out by those who want to intimidate…
We are here to have a new conversation; a conversation that says we are not willing to accept that violence is a natural part of society; a conversation that acknowledges we live in relationship; and that we are all responsible for how we treat one another; a conversation that talks about how each of us can make a difference; about how each one of us can change the trajectory of violence in our world; A conversation that recognizes and honors the diversity of voices and perspectives and passions.
So how is it that I am standing before you today?
I represent one of those diverse voices…
So let me share a little of my story…
It was a little over a year ago when I received a call from the Bishop of Connecticut, Ian Douglas
Ian asked if I would be willing to participate in a panel discussion at our Spring House of Bishops Meeting to reflect about gun control and violence in our society following the horrific incident at Sandy Hook.
In all honesty I was surprised by Ian’s call. I told Ian that I didn’t think my perspective would be welcome as part of the discussion. I shared with Ian that I was a former cop, having served for nearly 20 years in Southern California; that I support the Constitutional Right to Bear Arms; I have a CCW Permit, and on occasion have been accused of being a “gun toting Bishop”. I suggested that he might want to reconsider his invitation. After all, my voice was not exactly in the mainstream of political correctness.
Ian paused and said “your voice and perspective is absolutely needed in this conversation”; He said, if we are ever going to be able to change the incidence of violence in our society, then all voices need to be heard; that we need to do something other than entrench ourselves in ideological positions.
So, with a little persuasion, encouragement, and arm twisting Ian convinced me that my voice, my experience might add something to the conversation.
As I prepared my remarks for that meeting, I became very aware of a tension, an internal struggle that was challenging me to get past my long held party line perspectives and dig deeper into what I was truly feeling.
As a former Police Officer I can say: we work hard at meticulously building walls and putting up protective barriers to protect ourselves from emotions and feelings. The myth is that having emotions and feelings is a detriment to doing the job.
What I was discovering while preparing those remarks was that maybe I did have some emotions and feelings. That maybe over the years some cracks had developed in those walls…
At that House Meeting I started my remarks with what I had said to Ian:
You should know I am a gun owner;
I have a CCW Permit;
And I occasionally carry a gun when traveling throughout the State of Oklahoma.
And then I went on to share some of my experience:
In 1979, one of my best friends and fellow Police Officer, Don Reed, agreed to swap shifts with me so I could have a weekend off to of all things, play in a Police Softball Tournament. During that shift, Don responded to a call at a local bar where he confronted a man who was later determined to be a convicted felon, recently released from prison, and who had recently purchased several guns. As Don was escorting the man out of the bar with other officers, the man took a semi-automatic handgun out from under his coat and shot Don several times in the chest. Don died at the scene… The suspect eluded police for several days, but was eventually captured, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1982, as the lead investigator working on a Crime Task Force I was assigned the case of a prison escapee who was a serial rapist. The suspect was reportedly responsible for more than 20 brutal rapes, usually pistol whipping his victims in the two weeks following his escape. Early on a Sunday morning I received a tip from an informant that the suspect was heading to the Santa Ana area of Orange County. Staking out the area with other officers, the suspect appeared in the stolen vehicle of his most recent victim. A pursuit ensued with the suspect losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a telephone pole. The suspect exited his vehicle and in an exchange of gun fire, he was shot and killed.
In 1991, a couple of days before I was to leave the Police Department for seminary, I was dispatched to a Check the Welfare call. Family members had been unable to contact a brother who had been suffering from depression. Getting no response from knocks on the door, we checked and found the front door of the residence unlocked. Upon opening the door the man appeared directly in front of me with a rifle pointed at my head. The man pulled the trigger but the gun misfired. The man was subsequently arrested and taken for a psychiatric evaluation. It was later determined he had been suffering from Mental Illness for years, yet was still able to purchase a gun.
As I made these remarks to my fellow Bishops, a flood of emotions began to well up within me and I came face to face with my reality: I live everyday knowing that I share responsibility for the taking a human life; and but for the Grace of God I would not be standing here today.
These incidents, the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and all the other incidents of violence, and hatred, and intolerance, and death seem to collide within me; and I was left wondering how we got here. What have we as a people done or failed to do that causes someone to think that their only option is to act out in some violent way?
And then there was this question: “What are you going to do about it?”
For years these tragedies have been occurring, and while there may have been momentary calls for changes in laws or political rhetoric, what seems to be happening is that our world, our society; our communities are willing to accept this as the new norm. That we should all just get used to it because it is going to happen again and again and again….
(After that House Meeting, I decided) I am not willing to accept that… I refuse to feel powerless; that I cannot make a difference; or have an influence.
I refuse because I know better… I refuse because I have seen lives changed and relationships restored…
I have seen youth who have felt outcast and lonely and unworthy come to know that they are beloved children of God, cared for, and respected, and valued…
I have seen teenagers and young adults caught in the vicious cycles of life given a new sense of purpose….
I have seen adults incarcerated for the mistakes they made renewed, reconciled and restored…
I have seen how the faces of the homeless light up when they are treated with dignity and respect…
I am not willing to accept that we are destined to suffer the tragedies that have plagued our society.
Instead I am convinced that we can change judgmental attitudes, intolerant behaviors, and the violence in our society…
Each and every one of us has the power to make a difference. We do it by Proclaiming by Word and Example the Good News of God in Christ. We do it by seeking and serving Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We do it by striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.
These words may sound familiar. They should. They are the foundations of our Baptismal Covenant.
You see, we don’t have to figure out what to do; we just have to do that which we have already promised…
Each and every one of us here has the ability to make a difference; one person, one life at a time; And the time is now…
We didn’t get to where we are today overnight, or in a year or even a decade. It has taken generations.
And there are those who would say, we’re not going to change it overnight or in a year or in a decade. It is going to take generations. But there was a Jewish Philosopher who once said in the first century: If not now, when? And if not me, Who?
It is time that we as people of faith stand up and proclaim something new to this hurt and broken and violent world.
It is time that we as people of faith reclaim that which we have been blessed and given.
It is time that we begin a new conversation and that our voices instill a new mantra in the world: That all are created in the image of God; that all are children of God, and all deserve respect and dignity.
My hope is that this conference might be a model, an example to others of how differing voices, with often very opposite passions, can come together with honesty, charity, and grace for a common purpose.
As we go about our time together over these next couple of days, let’s keep in our hearts and minds all those who have been victims of violence, especially those who suffered that attack of this morning.
May God bless our time together, and may God make us instruments of His peace!