This past weekend brought me to my knees, yet again, as shots rang out in Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods, California. In both cases, the lone gunman took the lives of others because of hate for the victim’s racial and ethnic identities. None of those killed in those shootings chose when or where they were born, and they did not establish the government’s political agenda in the United States or China. The individuals in Buffalo were shopping in the only grocery store in what many identify as a food desert. The choice about where they buy food for their families is limited to very few options. The violent act wrought by one steeped in hate speech, conspiracy theories, and ideologies that divide communities instead of unifying them has rendered that market unsafe. The worshippers in Laguna Woods gathered in a sacred space celebrating without awareness that the actions and relations between the governments of China and Taiwan caused their lives to be in balance.
It is unfathomable to conceive of the thoughts one would have and the gall one would exercise to express their hate and rage on innocent people going about their daily lives trying to buy food or find respite from the cares of the world. The impact of those gunshots reverberates in grocery stores and churches across the country. We especially consider the anxiety and response of our pastor and siblings at Laguna Country United Methodist Church, located very close to Geneva Presbyterian in Laguna Woods. Though no shots were fired in a United Methodist Church, we stand united with our siblings in Christ and all faith communities who abhor violence as much as we do.
As awful as these tragedies are, they can serve as a clarion call for us to step up our action to bring an end to gun violence in our communities and throughout this country. I offer a few suggestions and challenge you, your church leaders, and family members to consider at least two actions from this list:
- Continue in prayer each day for the victims, their families, and their ability to bring peace and calm during their newly found chaos.
- Access resources from the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and local activist groups working to change laws and policies in all areas of life that contribute to gun violence.
- Engage local elected officials on strategies to protect our houses of worship, advocate for funding to buy back guns, and provide mental health support when needed.
- Host forums and training on responding to active shooter situations in churches, schools, malls, and other public spaces.
- Schedule times for community members to come together online or in person to discuss ways to support one another and build better relationships across barriers that prevent neighbors from co-mingling.
You may have other ideas and plans that make sense in your context. I encourage you to follow your heart and do what will work best for those where you live and serve.
The grief and anguish of this moment may be more than you care to bear. The thought of doing anything right now may seem overwhelming. I encourage you to find a way to be present with and for others at this time. Find ways to connect with others who want to work toward healing and wholeness for all who suffer. Finally, remember the words of this past week’s lectionary that challenges me to continue this path:
I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other. (John 13:34-35, Common English Bible)
That passage reminds me that love is the only thing that can overcome hate. It is also true that love is the one true way we demonstrate our commitment to Jesus and his way of living and being in the world. Many ideologies and leaders seek disciples these days, but Jesus calls us to be his disciples. We show the world who we follow by how we express love for one another.
It is imperative for our church to be a moral force for good in our world. As Jesus taught us, our response can only reflect the Divine grace of love in all we do.
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop