The answer to violence is nonviolence.
"But, I say to you, love your enemies..."
"All those who live by the sword will die by the sword."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God."
Blessed are the Peacemakers
A Statement on Nonviolence
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
The United States is facing a public safety crisis around gun violence, but also violence in general. We are grieving over the trauma of mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX, an Oklahoma hospital, a high school graduation in Louisiana, and the racially motivated carnage in Buffalo. We also grieve the pain and loss of life locally in Northeast Ohio. The America we believe in is a place where people can go to school, run daily errands, find love, and celebrate life milestones without fear of death. But, this does not come easy – now is the time for action.
The Akron Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) Local Network laments alongside the families who are enduring the tragic and unfathomable loss of their loved ones in yet another mass shooting in our nation. We grieve the loss of precious lives in the community of Uvalde, Dallas, Buffalo, Laguna Woods, Chattanooga, and more. We also grieve the lives lost internationally due to ongoing violence, war, and conflict: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and at least 20 others.
As we grieve the lives lost due to the prevailing narrative of violence across the world, the closeness and devastation of Uvalde is yet another disturbing alarm demanding that we address the dual crisis of complacency and complicity in our nation that continues to foster suffering at the hands of not just gun violence, but violence in general. In Uvalde, the lives of innocent children and adults were cut short by a man who was able to legally purchase two AR platform rifles and a total of 1,657 rounds of ammunition within days of turning 18. He used 142 of those cartridges to kill 21 people at Robb Elementary School. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, over 311,000 students have experienced gun violence in their schools, a place where all students deserve to learn in peace and feel safe. For more than a decade, the number of civilian-owned guns has surpassed the number of people living in the United States. In 2020, firearm-related injuries reached a peak, becoming the leading cause of death for American children. In 2022, there have been 216 mass shootings within the first 140 days of the year. In the U.S. 41,000 people die from gun violence each year (that’s over 110 people each day). Violence is a dominant recreational theme in media, video games, sport hunting, and even religion. The death penalty – life for life – is legal in more than half of the states in the US, as well as the US Government and US Military.
“All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” (Matthew 26:52)
Life and liberty are bedrock values of American civic life but one’s individual liberty must not violate the life and liberties of others. As Christians, we are called to bring attention to the dangers and sin of political idolatry, especially when they lead to the destruction of life. As followers of Christ, our allegiance is primarily to Christ and the Kingdom. Christians must stand together to denounce all forms of idolatrous worship, including the idolatry of individual rights over God’s commandment to love our neighbors (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; Mark 12:31). We cherish and value individual and personal rights as a great privilege of the imperfect but industrious heritage from which our democracy was born, but these rights ought not supersede neighborly love and care for the vulnerable. While personal rights are important American democratic values, we find nowhere in the Scriptures a Christian tenet that prioritizes individual liberties or personal rights over the love of neighbor and their flourishing (Galatians 5:13; 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Peter 2:16). This is the example that Christ set for us (Philippians 2:1-11).
The majority of Americans support stricter laws on gun purchases, but our elected officials have done little to meaningfully address gun violence. Are we the people of post-massacre vigils and social media posts that read “thoughts and prayers”; Christians married to a suffering servant yet sleeping with the myth of redemptive violence? Are our solemn assemblies, our vigils, a self-medicating aversion to our own complicity with the empire of violence?
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” (Amos 5:21, 23)
The Akron CCDA Local Network supports bipartisan efforts toward common-sense gun legislation to promote gun safety that include but are not limited to raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 years old; requiring universal background checks; passing red-flag laws; requiring licenses to purchase and carry; and banning semi-automatic assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, and “ghost guns.” We invite your participation in advocating for these measures that could significantly reduce the likelihood of yet another Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Buffalo, or Uvalde. We believe both Republicans and Democrats can stand together on this to protect our children, as well as everyone.
Two bills you can urge your representatives to support today are 1) H.R. 8 (Bipartisan Background Checks Act) and 2) H.R. 1446 (Enhanced Background Checks of 2021). Both bills would expand and strengthen background checks and close critical loopholes. They have already passed in the House of Representatives. Lastly, demand that your representative support the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. We call on everyone to contact their representative - urging support for these bills. We also urge you to consider common-sense gun safety rules that are being considered at the local and state level.
Together, we must bring ourselves to the sobering realization that the children of Uvalde are the children of us all. The brothers and sisters lost in Buffalo, Laguna Woods, Chattanooga, Tulsa, and more are our family. We must seek a better path forward, avoiding the trap of helplessness and complacency. We must not only support change in words; Christians must be willing to advocate for and mobilize toward a more just society in both word and deed. We invite you to take every possible action to ensure the flourishing of our communities through a commitment to live sacrificially (Romans 12:1-2) in love and service of our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), as Christ would have us live (Colossians 3:1; 1 John 2:6).
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence, you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence, you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate...Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
All Christian writings from the first 300 years that have survived, if they speak about the subject at all, describe Christians as people who refuse to participate in violent activities such as war, gladiatorial games or public executions. These words of Lactantius, a theologian who lived around the year 300, express well the early Church's consensus about the incompatibility of violence with Christian life.
The theological tradition that became dominant after year 300 and remains so today teaches that God might call saints and heroes like Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. to embrace a nonviolent way of life. But, according to this later tradition, nonviolence is not a part of the ordinary Christian's calling and has very little if any relevance for the institutional life of society. We reject this.
We invite every Christian to embrace the historically-grounded, nonviolent understanding of Jesus and Christian praxis. We can no longer numb ourselves to the duplicity inherent within the outpouring support of Ukraine and rebuke of Russia, the grieving of the 22 lives lost in Uvalde (21 if you exclude the gunman), and praying for persecuted Christians around the world, while also being pro-violence in our hearts. The essence of the violence in the world lies in our hearts. Thus, might we heed Jesus’ nonviolent teachings: “But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 6:27-29).
Pray: Pray for comfort for those who have experienced loss and tragedy directly. Pray for courage as our communities advocate for gun safety. Pray for peace in our schools, homes, organizations, and churches.
Sign and share this statement: This statement* is a resource that reflects a Christian perspective on gun violence and safety. Share this with your congregations, organizations, networks, and friends and encourage them to sign it.
Contact your local, state, and federal representatives to support common-sense gun laws: 1) Call for the passage of a) the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, b) H.R. 8 (Bipartisan Background Checks Act), and c) H.R. 1446 (Enhanced Background Checks of 2021). 2) Ask where your representatives stand on the following: raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 years old; requiring universal background checks; passing red-flag laws; requiring licenses to purchase and carry; and banning semi-automatic assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, and “ghost guns.” 3) Advocate that your representative push for gun safety measures by passing legislation that includes the aforementioned policies.
Talk about Jesus’ gospel of nonviolence: While the Old Testament upholds an eye for an eye, the New Testament does not (Luke 6:27-29). There are, of course, solid and respectable arguments for some forms of violence (i.e. just war theory) but, in general, Christian discipleship should aim to build peacemakers – agents of reconciliation, restoration, and love -- who are opposed to violence.
Join us on the International Day of Nonviolence: We will be marching for nonviolence in Akron, OH, on October 1st, the International Day of Non-Violence. The demonstration will end with an ecumenical gathering of people of faith where we lament the tremendous amount of violence of 2022 and cling to the hope of the nonviolent Christ – together. Follow the CCDA Northeast Ohio Local network on Facebook for more information.
With the One who laid down his life rather than preserve it by force (John 10:18). With the One who prayed forgiveness over his murderers (Luke 23:34). May we, too, be peacemakers.
*This statement has been adapted from existing statements from Sojourners, the Asian American Christian Collaborative, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches.