Live without fear, your creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you with a power and a presence that is stronger than death.
These words, adapted from a prayer of the twelfth century abbess St. Clare of Assisi, seem to resonant with many in the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire as they form a kind of preamble to the final blessing of the bishop at the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist. This coming Sunday morning, a week after the horrible news from Orlando was just being reported, I will say them again from an altar where we celebrate the Resurrection. I address this prayer as much to myself as I do to the congregations. Even when we know that God’s intervention may not protect us from all suffering cause by disease or violence in this life, we all stand in need to be reminded of the indomitable power of God’s love, exhibited most supremely in the course of his own brutal and unjust death. Even there on the Cross, the Gospel and the witness of theologians and artists through the ages assure us, even there on the Cross, God is at hand creating a good that is beyond our imagining or vision.
As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us at his visit just last week, we are members of the Jesus Movement. After the murder in Orlando of 49 LGBTQ persons, brothers and sisters all because they are children of God, we who remain have work to do. After the vigils, the Supplications, and the moments of silence that are taking place this week–all holy and important responses to our national crisis–it’s time for us to take action to reclaim the Gospel of Peace.
Recently, our Church published a series of essays by that title: Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence. I am supplying each of our parochial clergy with a copy as I urge them to use it in the coming year to begin deliberate conversations with our communities about this life and death issue facing our nation. Our own Father Bill Exner, recently retired Rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Goffstown, contributed a chapter in this book in which he describes how he engaged in conversation with local gun shops. Such conversations represent real and courageous leadership in these times. They are actions that can come out of the many moments of silence we have all been invited to after such events as Orlando, San Bernadino, Charleston, Sandy Hook…
Bill readily agreed to help us organize and lead holy conversations in our congregations about guns, the Cross, and our Church’s response through the Resolutions of General Convention and more locally. I look forward to working with him, a man who knows how to lead healthful, respectful discussions about difficult topics. Without doubt, more actions, guided by the Holy Spirit, will come of these conversations.
Within each of our communities are persons like me. I do not own a gun, having been raised by a veteran who instilled in me a robust fear of weapons. There are members of our Church who own guns, not merely for sport, but to put food on the table. There are also those who are adamant that any new restrictive gun legislation, even involving military assault weapons, will be an unwelcome infringement on their Constitutional rights. I suspect that we have not spoken about these differences, not so much out of courtesy, but out of fear of hearing things that frighten us.
America’s relationship with the gun is an issue that engages some of our deepest fears–fears about our society, about personal safety, fears about the security of community in an age of terrorism. I am convinced it is also a deeply theological issue that asks each of us: to whom do we put our ultimate trust as a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who told his disciples to put down their own weapons?
Clearly, there is a range of acceptable responses to this question. As the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, the Church would be negligent if we did not consult with Scripture, Reason, and Tradition to help inform our conscience about these critical matters that plague us now: terrorism, homophobia, the epidemic of violence of so many kinds, racism, xenophobia of all kinds, and the ongoing threats to our planet’s fragile health. These are all matters of deep and ongoing concern. But at this moment, guns have our attention. May our churches be places of civil and respectful conversation.
My deepest and continual prayer is that we do not give our lives over to fear, but may live in that radical freedom that comes when we live fully in the Risen Christ.
Yours in the Peace and Love of Christ,
The Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop,
Episcopal Church of New Hampshire