PREACHING AND TEACHING ABOUT GUNS
Engaging the issue of gun violence prevention (GVP) takes faith-filled courage. Yet, we can and we must. Theologically, we are on solid ground, needing only to cite prophetic texts, gems from the Sermon on the Mount and nuggets from Paul. The ELCA has been clear in consistently urging action since 1989.
Yet, how far is far? What is legally permissible? The CHRISTIAN CENTURY of 20 July 2016 offers guidelines in an editorial titled “Unprohibited Speech.” The author addresses the parameters for churches in doing ministry within the lines of a 1954 law that “prohibits churches and religious institutions from explicitly endorsing a political candidate with the penalty of forfeiting their tax-exempt status.” Though focused on endorsing candidates, the guidelines can help encourage socio-political preaching and teaching. The writer says:
“[The law does not] prohibit religious leaders from using their institutions to talk about moral values and social issues that are embedded in political decisions. What is prohibited is an explicit endorsement of a candidate.”
He continues, “Churches…are perfectly free…to express their views on immigration, guns, military intervention…. They are free to express their views on character and religious values.” The writer continues with a litany of “They are free to say” lead-ins about preaching and teaching. He concludes: “In short, there’s no law against religious leaders and religious organizations speaking and living out the truths that are rooted in their faith.”
The only factor prohibiting us religious leaders from addressing GVP is our choosing to refuse. Meanwhile, 33,000 people die of gun violence each year, 2/3 by suicide and 1/3 by homicide, with a tragically small number of accidental shootings. In the word of Dan Rather, “Courage!”