By Billie K. Fidlin, Director of Outreach
The rifle was maybe six inches from my face, at eye level. The minutes filled with aggressive, caustic commentary. I stood my ground, and asked, “Is this really what you want to do? If this is what you need to do, then go ahead.” He stopped, lowered the gun, and for all intents and purposes the encounter was over. And after a while, I compartmentalized the experience, and in the last thirty years haven’t really thought much about it.
In October, Bishop Bob sent our churches a letter, asking them to participate in a Bible study on gun violence from the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). (http://umc-gbcs.org/press-releases/downloadable-3-session-bible-study-on-gun-violence-available) Over fifty churches responded to this call. Here, at the Desert Southwest Conference Center, many of our staff participated in the study led by our Bishop, our Director of Communications, and our Director of Connectional Ministries. We were blessed to have Bill Mefford, from the General Board of Church & Society join us for our last session together. This ignited conversations and participation in events, such as the walk and rally during the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend on December 10-14, 2015. We were honored to have Pam Simon and Rev. Cynthia Langston-Kirk, both survivors and members of St. Francis in the Foothills in Tucson, meet with staff on December 14, 2015.
During the course of the Bible study from GBCS, there were moments where we found ourselves in conversation and not always in agreement. But it was always respectful and opinions were honored. People shared about their encounters. For some there were uncomfortable moments, facing uncomfortable memories. I didn’t go into detail about my gun violence encounter but I was surprised by how quickly the emotions from that experience came back to life. We all learned from each other, and we are closer today because of that. We also found that fear was a powerful force that we needed to take control of.
The Gun Violence Prevention rally on Dec 13 was at the base of the “Release the Fear” statue in Phoenix, which is made from the metal of melted weapons used in crimes including guns. At the rally there were many diverse faces, certainly UM clergy and laity, but also Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other faiths and perspectives. With arms raised to “Release the Fear” some 200 people stood together to hear a variety of speakers, including Gerri Hills, from Paradise Valley UMC and a leader of Arizonans for Gun Safety. We were all there for one purpose – not to advocate to take away guns, but to say “Enough!” to gun violence. Only by pulling together as a community can we stop this horrible trend in society.
The following day we had the honor to host Pam Simon and Rev. Cynthia Langston-Kirk to listen to their personal experiences and learn from their involvement in http://everytown.org to see if there was a possible next step for us. You will remember that Pam was shot along with Gabby Giffords and others in Tucson five years ago. Cynthia was accosted outside her Tucson church. Many sound-bites from that morning’s meeting and from the last few weeks lingered in my heart and mind.
Read through these messages and contact me if these messages are calling you to action:
- “Be pro-life on the issue of gun violence.”
- “Let’s have conversations, not confrontations.”
- The statistics do not bear out that carrying a gun will ensure one’s protection. “I was on the ground before I realized I was shot.” – Pam Simon
- “75% of NRA members support background checks.”
- The importance of not only surviving, but of the good Samaritan who helps others when they are shot. “Everyone, all of us, can be a good Samaritan.”
- The color of the gun safety movement is orange. Orange was selected because it is the color hunters wear. It communicates, “Don’t shoot me.”
- Kindness and a listening ear go a long way in helping others heal.
In the new year you will hear of opportunities to continue our work to address gun violence and gun safety. If your church has not participated in the gun violence study from GBCS, please prayerfully consider doing so. It is a safe place for us to have, as Pam says, “conversation, not confrontation.” Please let the Bishop know if you plan to use the study. Those participating churches will be invited to share about their experience and how the Conference can help you in your ongoing response.
In the meantime, if you have a story, if you need a listening ear, if you have something compartmentalized that probably should come out, there is someone waiting just for you, to offer you whatever it is you need. God is very good, all the time…
“What does the Lord require of you… to seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
Check out the January 4, 2016 press release from the Office of the White House Press Secretary, “FACT SHEET: New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer“