Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, issued the following statement today (November 8) on the mass murder of twenty-six worshipers at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, November 5:
Solidarity statement on the mass shooting at First Baptist Church
of Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 5, 2017
This past Sunday, November 5, the Church celebrated the Feast of All Saints, a day to commemorate those “saints” of our lives whose lives on earth have ended, but whose loss is still felt and whose memory is a blessing and an inspiration to us. This All Saints’ Sunday, twenty-six saints, ranging from a few months to seventy-two years of age, were unexpectedly and violently robbed of their lives when a gunman opened fire in the midst of worship at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The small congregation has lost a significant number of its members, including the pastor’s fourteen-year-old daughter and multiple generations of one family, who lost eight members to the violence. The small, peaceful community of Sutherland Springs, in a matter of seconds, lost 4 percent of its population, and no one in that town was untouched by the gunman’s malice. Nearby congregations and communities have extended their care and support to Sutherland Springs, including the leadership of the Presbytery of Mission.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) extends its deepest condolences, its prayers, and its support to the congregation, its families, and the community of Sutherland Springs as it begins to grapple with the enormity of the evil committed in their midst.
But our prayers and our condolences are not enough. As the prophet Jeremiah noted: “they have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14, NRSV). There are no words or prayers eloquent enough to describe the horror and outrage this atrocity evokes. The PC(USA) notes that this is the second largest modern-day mass shooting in U.S. history; and further notes that the largest, which took fifty-nine lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, was a mere five weeks ago. The president of the United States, in expressing condolences following the Las Vegas shooting, said though it was not appropriate in the wake of tragedy for a national conversation on the prevention of gun violence, there should be a conversation in the near future. Five weeks later, we are no closer to such a conversation and twenty-six more people are dead in a mass shooting, and countless more in smaller acts of violence throughout the U.S.
Quoting from Gun Violence, Gospel Values (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/gun-violence-gospel-values-mobilizing-response-god/): “The PC(USA) and its predecessor bodies have addressed gun violence through the actions of [many] General Assemblies in the last [fifty] years” (p. 7). Beginning in the late 1960s, in response to the assassinations of public leaders, the General Assembly called for “… control [of] the sale and possession of firearms of all kinds.” Similar resolutions were passed again in 1976, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1996, and 1998. Each resolution reflected a sense of moral urgency in response to rising gun violence and the cultural trends that contributed to it. These resolutions have called on the church to be involved in education and advocacy at the federal, state, and community level to prevent gun violence. The 219th and 221st General Assemblies (2012) and (2014) reiterated and intensified this call, urging the church at every level—local, regional, and national—to participate in gun violence prevention, to provide pastoral and spiritual support to victims and survivors, and to engage in acts of public witness and policy advocacy to enact stronger legislation to systematically address the complex causes and work to reduce and eliminate the scourge of gun violence in our neighborhoods and nation.
It is long past time for such a national conversation to commence. Too many lives have been shattered, too few efforts have been made, and the laws that regulate gun acquisition, gun shops, and shows, and the types of weapons available for persons intending violence, are entirely inadequate. The time to reason together is now. The time to act is now. The vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), a holy city where “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it” (Isa. 65:19) is not just a hope for God’s kindom, but also a compelling moral and ethical imperative that demands the action and engagement of people of faith.
In the faith we share,
The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)