Back in 2012, the Diocese of Chicago held an event called CROSSwalk—a four-mile procession across the city during Holy Week. The procession brought together 1,500 people from across Chicagoland to remember the 632 young people who had been shot to death during the previous four years.
During the procession, I followed a young girl who had the number “632” pinned to her back. As we walked and sang and prayed, I was keenly aware that some of the children we were mourning had been no older than she when they were killed.
Approximately 7000 children—that’s about twice as many people as we have in church on an average Sunday in the Diocese of Indianapolis—have been lost to the gun violence epidemic since December 14, 2012. That’s when a gunman killed twenty young children and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Yesterday, activists provided a visual reminder of the loss we have all suffered by displaying 7,000 pairs of shoes on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Today we commemorate a new gun violence anniversary: It has been one month since seventeen students and teachers were murdered by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. On March 24, the young people who survived in Parkland and the peers who have rallied to support them will lead March For Our Lives events in Washington D.C. and other cities and towns across the country.
I’m going to rally with those young people at the conclusion of the march here in Indianapolis as they poignantly and painfully lead our country to a closer examination of the ways that we can reduce gun violence and gun deaths. And as I do so, I’m going to remember the little girl I followed six years ago in Chicago. She and her peers are growing up amidst an epidemic of gun violence, but also amidst a rising tide of youth advocacy that insists that we don’t have to live and die this way.
The youth movement is making a difference. Last week, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church met in Texas where we issued a statement expressing our support for the young people leading March for Our Lives. For some, the statement was a welcome addition to the church’s conversation about guns. For others, it was too tame in addressing political realities and structural inequities that contribute to gun violence in the United States. I believe, however, that it represented a shift in the House of Bishops’ willingness to say that the people of God are called to stand against gun violence—even when it means stepping across the political and cultural boundaries that make gun policy the third rail of politics both within our church and without. This movement in the House, this new unity borne out of Christian witness, seemed hopeful to me, and I am grateful to have colleagues with whom I can find new common ground against gun violence.
On March 24, Episcopalians from across the Diocese of Indianapolis, will march in Washington D.C., in Indianapolis, New Albany, Terre Haute, and in other communities around the state and country. Others will approach this critical work in other faithful ways: through advocacy, legislation, prayer, liturgy, and building relationships across differences to stem the tide of gun violence whether it is found in impoverished urban and rural areas, domestic abuse situations, schools, churches, and everywhere. My prayer for all of us is that we will work to end gun violence in ways that are faithful to our identity as followers of Jesus’ loving, liberating, and life-giving way.
photo courtesy of the Diocese of Chicago