Being misunderstood!! I really dislike being misunderstood!! I do things wrong all the time and I’m generally okay with people pointing out my errors; but when I’m blamed for something I didn’t do or people misconstrue my actions or words, I get frustrated! But, it’s even worse when someone I care about is misunderstood!! Well, it happened this week – only it wasn’t about me in particular, it was the work of our Diocese at Convention that was misrepresented in various media sources. This is my Household and we were misunderstood! So, in an effort to inform those of you who were unable to join us in Lansing, let’s discuss Resolution #7: Solutions to Gun Violence. Perhaps, together we can clear up some of the confusion. The resolution was worded as follows:
RESOLVED: the 180th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan, in response to the impact on Michigan Communities of deaths from gun violence, join with other faith communities calling for the following steps to be taken by Federal and State lawmakers:
- Requiring and enforcing universal background checks on all gun sales;
- A clear ban on all future sales of military-style semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and high-impact ammunition (i.e. ammunition more deadly than ordinarily used in hunting);
- Making gun trafficking a federal crime; and be it further,
RESOLVED: that lawmakers advocate for public policy and adequate funding to provide community-based services, hospital care and research into the causes and treatment of mental illness.
This was a timely resolution. As we settled into our hotel rooms in Lansing, a troubled young man in Marysville, Wash. lured some of his friends to lunch where he awaited them, fatally shooting four and wounding two others. While the implementation of our resolution may not have prevented this particular shooting since this gun was purchased legally, we do have a responsibility to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to prevent unnecessary loss of life. Earlier this week, a student in Baltimore was arrested after he was discovered to have plotted “to kill people” using a hand gun and explosive devices which he made at home from locally available components. These stories are all tragic examples of our need to respond for the well-being of all.
I realize this is a “hot-button issue.” We have strong feelings about our rights and freedoms in this country. And we all have opinions. I did an internet search on the incidence of school shootings as just one example of gun violence and found very confusing statistics. There are sites that insist that we have had 87 school shootings since the tragedy in Newtown, Ct., two years ago but there are other sites that report the actual number is closer to 35. The differences seem to fall in just how one defines “shooting.” Regardless, lives have been lost – precious lives of innocent children. Might our actions help to prevent one such death? How many lives do we have to save to make it worth giving up some aspect of our “rights?”
Some of you, my brothers and sisters, may have very different thoughts on this question and that’s okay with me. I learn from hearing the opinions of others and then weighing them out to balance my own. We need to share our thoughts and ideas with one another. The dialogue is important. But, it is also important that the dialogue happens in an atmosphere of trust and integrity.
On Monday, November 3, a few media sources picked up the story of our convention and this resolution but they didn’t really tell our story. They reported what they had been told without carefully checking their sources and misrepresented the events that took place. The article from USA Today falsely stated that “the resolution passed after an intense debate among Episcopalians, with each side accusing each other of being extremists, according to participants.” There was, indeed, some discussion but it was carried out according to parliamentary rules and there was no name-calling at all on the convention floor. Perhaps for those engaged in the discussion, there may have been “intense” feelings, but each of the speakers behaved with decorum and restraint. There were differing opinions expressed but the resolution passed easily.
I know first-hand how getting up to speak in front of over 400 people can cause some anxiety and, with a “hot-button issue” like this, I am pretty sure that the speakers felt very strongly about their positions otherwise they would not have spoken up and there would have been no discussion. It is, indeed, very disappointing when words cannot convince others of a different viewpoint, especially one that is held very firmly. I applaud those who spoke for their conviction. And I applaud our Household who listened intently and respectfully to the opinions expressed and then voted according to each person’s convictions.
The articles also commented on the Episcopal Church’s growing involvement in political and social agendas while overlooking the work of the Gospel. The older I get, the more I see life as a “both/and” experience rather than an “either/or.” My history of a 20-year hiatus in an evangelical church before coming home to TEC stressed an individual Gospel: “If I had been the only person ever born, Jesus would still have come to die for my sins.” I believe that because I know of God’s deep love for each of us. But, I also know that I am not the only one who ever lived and that Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ Gospel was very much about showing love for one another. After loving God with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving our neighbors is a social gospel. It is caring for the needs of others often before our own. We come to worship to praise our loving God and be strengthened and taught so that we are able to live our lives as followers of Christ – and living our faith means we are to love one another and seek their best (Phil 2:3 – 8). We acknowledge this every time we re-affirm our Baptismal Covenant as we did this past Sunday. It’s not “either/or” – worship or caring for others – it’s “both/and!”
The reporters also commented on the declining membership in our Household, briefly acknowledging that this is a current issue for many denominations. This, alone, is a very good reason for not showing the divisiveness reported by the media. When we attach words like “conservative” or “liberal” to our beliefs, we make it a political discussion, not a Gospel discussion. When we speak out publicly to a society that may not share our Christian foundation, we create misunderstanding and division. In a world filled with pain and suffering, the Church needs to present our best front, a united front, that others will be drawn to God’s love and healing. It’s not about us and our opinions; it’s about God and God’s mission.
I will reiterate what I wrote last week: we did a lot of good work at Convention as we met as one Household. We listened and learned and laughed together. We worshiped our Lord together. We looked to the possibilities to serve our brothers and sisters both in southwest Detroit and in the Dominican Republic. Let this be the story we share with the world. Let this be the light of Christ that others see from us.
Let us pray:
Show us your mercy, O Lord;
And grant us your salvation.
Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
Let your people sing with joy.
Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
For only in you can we live in safety.
Lord, keep this nation under your care;
And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
Let your way be known upon earth;
Your saving health among all nations.
Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Create in us clean hearts, O God;
And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
~Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council