By Rev. Eddie Knox
Filing one by one through the security screening in the State Capital building in Springfield, IL, several member churches of the Community Renewal Society (CRS) sent nearly five hundred people to make a difference in our communities and state. Our goal was to encourage our state legislators to pass a bill to stop illegal weapons ending up in the hands of people committing murder. In addition, we wanted them to support House Bill 3061 (the Illinois Sealing Records Bill) designed to seal the records of non-violent felons who have served their time in prison and now need employment and other benefits the state of Illinois can offer them.
The five hundred members of our team were wearing bright orange t-shirts, which identified our common relationship with CRS and our mission “to put our faith into action.” It was an amazing sight to see “a Sea of Orange” moving through the capital. One legislator commented “your people are everywhere in our buildings” and we were. Whether in or near their offices, moving through the hallways, in the lunch room, bathrooms or surrounding the council’s chambers, both the House and Senate, “a Sea of Orange” was there.
Our mission was to stop illegal hand guns from reaching our communities, like the Pullman community where I serve as a pastor. The Pullman community has been plagued with the deaths of children, teens, and adults. Beyond our church there have been so many deaths in the metropolitan Chicago area. On our day of putting our faith into action, each person wearing an orange t-shirt had a murdered victim’s name, date, and time of death, and their home address pinned to the front or back of our shirts. How could anyone not be moved? When will we take notice and move to stop this carnage in Illinois?
Regretfully, in speaking with one legislator for his support to have any gun bill presented before the House or Senate to carry amendments for gun titling, universal background checks and report of lost or stolen weapon within 72 hours of discovery, was not fully there.
Instead we were told how the church should be responsible for changing the hearts of violent persons, so they may become virtuous. Further he added that his district was far removed from the city. Needless to say, this legislator did not recall Cain’s response to God following the murder of Abel. Genesis 4:9(NRSV) Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Beyond “A Sea of Orange” organizers and activists, the question for all of us in Illinois and our nation is “am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper?” Are we the persons who must care enough to find legislators and every day citizens who will find ways to stop the murders happening often with illegal hand guns? I pray we will.
Rev. Eddie Knox is the Pastor at Pullman Presbyterian Church in Chicago and a leader with Community Renewal Society’s Violence Issue Team.