Rev. Dr. Philip L. Blackwell is the Senior Minister at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple and a board member of Community Renewal Society.
Now that the verdict has been rendered in Sanford, Florida, we can focus on the facts which no one disputes. An armed man with a self-defined sense of responsibility for protecting his neighborhood shot and killed an unarmed teenager who was walking home in the dark after having gone to the store. The killer said that he did it because he was afraid.
The verdict does not change these facts, nor does it change the prospect that, as long as fear rules our life together in America, there will be more killings such as this one.
The killing in Sanford happened at the intersection of two of America’s most debilitating insanities: racism and our worship of guns. These two social ills, we are prone to call them “sins” in the religious community, are disfiguring our nation.
We who represent the religious traditions in Chicago reaffirm our alternate vision to that which is killing us:
1. A vision of how people of different racial, cultural, religious, economic, educational, and political backgrounds can work together for the common good;
2. And, while the proliferation of guns in America is a reality, a disarming vision where we create safe and secure spaces for people to worship, to address personal issues, and to discuss public concerns.
The first aspect, overcoming the fear of “the other” so that we can live peaceably together, is a constant factor of our ministry. The second aspect is new. Given the recent adoption of a conceal-and-carry gun law in Illinois, we are seeking the legislature in Springfield to amend it in order to declare places of worship, pastoral care, and religious instruction as “gun-free.” We ask for the same consideration as libraries, schools, hospitals, and casinos.
To omit religious institutions from the protected list is to be ignorant of what we do in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Yes, we worship on our holy days, the distinctive act which defines us as “religious.” But also throughout the week we are engaged by people who are deeply troubled, who are desperate, who are in the verge of a breakdown, who are despairing, who are afraid. We meet with families who are struggling, with children who are troubled, with couples who are divorcing. We counsel with groups who are challenging the establishment, who are seeking justice, who are upsetting business as usual. To include us in the “gun-free” list is to free us to do our work on behalf of all; to not protect us is to dishonor our calling and to put us in jeopardy.
A constant theme in the sacred texts of the Christian faith, undoubtedly shared by other traditions, is, “Fear not.” We are devoted to the urgent and enormous task of breaking down the fear that is choking the life out of America, the very fear that the gun proponents are exploiting to make a killing in the marketplace. As long as we fear one another, as long as we carry guns, as long as it gets dark at night, we will shoot each other. We in the religious community need the freedom from guns in order faithfully to do our work on behalf of all people.