Another morning, another news notification of deaths somewhere in the United States due to gun violence.
Once again, I begin my day with a silent prayer, a thought to those impacted by the tragedy that I am reading about, and those impacted by the countless tragedies that won’t make the news that day, the nearly 70 women who are “shot and killed by an intimate partner” every month, including the “disproportionate impact on American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Latina women as well as pregnant and postpartum women, or the nearly 3,000 children killed in 2021 due to gun violence with “Black children being fife times as likely as white children to die from gunfire.”
After my prayer, I think about my day and where I will be and what I will be doing,
- Am I taking public transportation?
- If I am driving somewhere, am I sure I know where I am going?
- Am I going into the office?
- Do I need to go grocery shopping?
- What plans do I have with friends? Dinner? Movies? Hanging out at someone’s house? A birthday party? A concert?
- Do I plan to go to Shabbat Services? or am I teaching Religious School that Sunday?
- Do I need to go to the bank?
- If I leave my house, I remember to have clean underwear and socks just in case I wind up in an ambulance and the EMTs see them (as my mother always taught me). I remember putting on my wedding ring, not just as a constant reminder of my love and devotion to my spouse, but as a source of protection in case a stranger approaches me. Seems silly, right? Typing this out, it feels silly, and yet would it even be enough?
- Is the school across the street still in session or are they on break?
So, here we are, before my first snooze alarm can even go off, already (still?) tired. I do not even know the weather for the day and if I will need a jacket, but I have added another place to my list of unsafe places. And yet, another day alive means another opportunity to keep fighting to make the world better, which cannot be done alone.
I am joined in this conversation by two of my colleagues, Amar Peterman and Amena Khan to discuss why we are pulled to advocate for gun control through the lens of our faith and how we can work together.
What from my faith drives me to speak out against violence like gun crimes and the attacks on trans rights?
Amar: While there are many reasons my Christian faith leads me to believe in gun control, what stands out to me in this cultural moment is Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God. In the Christian Gospels, Jesus teaches that this Kingdom belongs not to the rulers and empires of the world, but to children. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18). In Matthew 5, Jesus speaks words of comfort to those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger for righteousness and uplifts those who are merciful, peacemakers, and pure in heart. These are whom Jesus calls “blessed” (Μακάριοι).
Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus models for us a life marked by love and peace. His protection of those who followed him was not through violence, but invitation into something better. Jesus’ call, even in the face of his own death, was not to take up arms but to heal and redeem (Matthew 26:52-56).
Amena: The foundation of all major religions in the world is built upon the idea that all people are created equal, and no one has a right to harm God’s creations. In my own faith tradition, Islam strongly condemns violence and the mistreatment of others. God states in the Quran chapter 5 verse 32, “We decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person — it is as if he killed all of mankind, and whoever saves one — it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” This is one of the many verses in the sacred text that emphasizes the importance of humanity regardless of race, creed, or class. It is our obligation as devout members of our faith to uphold a peaceful society and live in harmony with those that are different from us.
Rachel: Similarly, to Amena, we are all created b’tzelem Elohim — in Gd’s image. That Gd is found in the relationships between me and others — I want that relationship to honor their lives and have them honor mine. I fully believe that by continuing to protect these weapons and not people, we are ignoring the Gd reflected in each of us.
Rabbi Todd Zinn, in one of his brilliant sermons, noted, “And if the people of the land should shut their eyes to that party’s giving offspring to Molech, and should not put the person to death, I Myself will set My face against that party’s kin as well; and I will cut off from among their people both that person and all who follow in going astray after Molech.” (Leviticus 20:1-5) We read these verses a couple of weeks ago, one of multiple times throughout the Torah that we are warned about the punishment of giving our offspring to Molech. Who is Molech? What is Molech? Molech is a foreign God, who is worshiped by giving child sacrifices. Molech is worshiped by sacrificing children on the altar in worship. If a person worships Molech, if they are willing to sacrifice their children, their most precious possessions, their very future, then they are to be put to death. And if a person shuts their eyes to others worship of Molech, if you see someone choosing to sacrifice their children to Molech and you do nothing, it is as if you yourself worshiped him and you are punished. Worship of Molech is one of the worst things our Torah can imagine, the sacrifice of children is one of the senseless deaths of innocent children is the worst thing our tradition can imagine…Today, what is Moloch? Guns. Guns are our modern Molech. We worship them, we deify them, we sacrifice our children to them.” We need to prioritize the immediate threat to our communities.
Why should interfaith communities come together to show solidarity?
Amena: In a country that is becoming increasingly divided, it is crucial for our faith leaders to come together and show solidarity against gun violence and hate crimes because it serves as a living example of how transformative mutual respect and dialogue can be. These leaders have an opportunity to influence their communities to work with others toward a common goal of decreasing violence and hate. One-way, diverse communities can come together is through interfaith bridgebuilding, getting to know your neighbors and understanding their values allows everyone to show up better, advocate stronger, and make a difference that shapes a greater more inclusive and safe society.
Amar: Interfaith communities ought to prioritize fostering solidarity because these issues are taking place around and within our communities. To speak out against the rise in gun violence and in advocacy for trans rights is not primarily a political action, it is a communal one. Standing in solidarity with the marginalized and the one carrying a heavy yoke (Matthew 11:28-30) is living into the values of many traditions today that draw us not into isolation, but deep care for our neighbors.
Rachel: This work cannot be done alone. One of the things I love most about interfaith work is that it highlights how beautifully complex and diverse our world is, and how there are so many things that impact us all. They might not impact us the same, or equally, but to make the world better and safer, we cannot work in silos of faith. We often talk about coming together on a specific issue, and this is an issue that has tangible paths forward for advocating which makes it a perfect place to start a new interfaith relationship!
How can interfaith communities come together to address these issues?
Rachel: Thoughts and prayers only work when accompanied by action and change. “When he came home from Selma in 1965, my father wrote, ‘For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. My legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. My legs were praying.'” said Dr. Susanna Heschel regarding her father, Abraham Joshua Heschel. We need to come together for direct action. This can include hosting parties to call congress people, getting involved in local organizations to help with gun violence, or donating to causes that support victims of gun violence and help prevent future gun violence.
Amar: Interfaith communities can address these issues in many ways. First, we can collectively create spaces of refuge, safety, and care. This might be providing free counseling at community centers and places of worship, providing a meal for the community, or opening places of worship for educational events. Second, faith communities can organize and enact change in their local neighborhoods by attending school board meetings, open houses, city forums, and more.
My Christian faith inspires me not only to have more of these conversations but to come to them with a disposition of love and compassion. When speaking out against gun violence, I recognize that people on all sides of the conversation are complex humans whose thoughts and beliefs are formed by their experience and context. As an evangelical, I am often reminded that persuasion is a skill. This is not a malicious practice of deception or manipulation, but the needed work of offering a compelling vision that we might all strive towards.
Amena: Personally, I lean on the values of Islam that stress education and civic engagement to encourage more conversation around divisive issues. Before telling others what they should do better, I make sure that I educate myself and stay informed so I can bring awareness to my community. Understanding the issues and the candidate on our ballot allows us to make decisions that reflect our beliefs, like necessary gun control and help us to stand up against bigotry which leads to hate and instability in society.