Note: Following is a slightly updated version of an e-mail message sent by Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop Mark Holmerud in the wake of the horrific Las Vegas shooting. Below it is a 2013 message regarding violence from the ELCA Conference of Bishops.
Like most of you, I awoke Oct. 2 to see the horrific news of the shooting massacre in Las Vegas just a few hours before. This is, according to news reports, the deadliest such shooting rampage in U.S. history. Sadly, it is not the first, nor will it be the last such incidence of gun violence. Over four years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hill School Shooting, the Conference of Bishops published a pastoral letter encouraging prayer and advocacy, with resources for use in congregational and community conversations.
I am sending this message to you because many of the statements it contains and the resources it provides will be helpful, I believe, as we once again become communities of prayer, peace, hope, advocacy and deliberation.
- I encourage all of us to ponder how we can be “public church” in this moment, for such a time as this, to stand with sisters and brothers of faith and good will as we pause to pray for healing and reflect on the pain and suffering of those whose lives will forever be altered by this event.
- I pray we will make ourselves visible at vigils and remembrances to let Christ’s light shine through our presence, care and compassion.
- I hope we will use our voices to advocate for legislative initiatives which will finally stem access to weapons such as those used in this massacre which have but one purpose – to visit upon hundreds, thousands of innocents this kind of carnage.
- I lament yet another senseless tragedy, which calls to mind a school shooting which took place in Stockton where I was serving in 1989, and so many other such incidents since that time. Please join me in not forgetting that these senseless acts of violence cannot and will not be the last word in this moment. Let a last word be our voices calling for a change in gun and ammunition laws which makes these acts possible. Let a last word be that we advocate for mental health services and other means of services for those who need such assistance. Let a last word be our commitment to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Let a last word be our “Amen” to the light of Christ which shines brightly through us, even and especially now.
- Thank you for your work and witness in all things, and in this time.
A Pastoral Letter from the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Jeremiah 31.15 and Matthew 2:18
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Every faithful caregiver who sits with victims of violence knows what we know – as God’s church, we are called to reduce violence and should, in most cases, restrain ourselves from using violence. Whether or not statistics show that overall violence has declined in recent years, every person wounded or killed is a precious child of God.
As bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we lament the tragedy of gun violence in our country. We are grieved by the way violence threatens and destroys life. We affirm the current soul searching and shared striving to find a way to a better future. While the church grapples with this call to reduce violence, and make our communities safer, we recognize that before God we are neither more righteous because we have guns nor are we more righteous when we favor significant restrictions. Brokenness and sin are not somehow outside of us. Even the best of us are capable of great evil.
As people of God we begin by confessing our own brokenness – revealed in both our actions and our failure to act. We trust that God will set us free and renew us in our life’s work to love our neighbors. In this time of public attention to gun violence, local communities of faith have a unique opportunity to engage this work. As bishops, we were thankful to recognize the many resources our church has already developed (see below). We begin by listening: listening to God, to Scripture, and to each other. Providing a safe place for people to share their own stories, together we discern courses of action. Together we act. And together we return to listening – to assess the effectiveness of our efforts to reduce violence.
In the Large Catechism Luther says, “We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting.” Violence begins in the human heart. Words can harm or heal. To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation. Yet, guns and access are keys to the challenges we face. We recognize that we serve in different contexts and have different perspectives regarding what can and should be done. But as we live out our common vocations, knowing that the work will take many forms, we are committed to the work of reducing and restraining violence. This shared work is a sign of our unity in Christ.
We invite you, our sisters and brothers, to join us in this work:
- The work of lament – creating safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one another, and sharing the hope in God’s promise of faithfulness
- The work of moral formation and discernment – listening to scripture, repenting, modeling conflict resolution in daily life, addressing bullying, conducting respectful conversations, and discerning constructive strategies to reduce violence
- The work of advocacy – acting to address the causes and effects of violence, knowing that we are not saved by this work, we undertake it trusting in Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the world and who calls us to be peacemakers, to pursue justice, and to protect the vulnerable. In this, as in all things, Christ is with us. Thanks be to God.
- Video: We have Work to Do, by former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson
- Community Violence a social message
- The Body of Christ and Mental Illness a social message
- Hearing the Cries: Faith and Criminal Justice, a proposed social statement
- Peace: God’s Gift, Our Calling, a 1995 social statement
- Ban of Military-Style Semi-Automatic Weapons, 1989 social policy resolution
- Community Violence – Gun Control, 1993, 1993 social policy resolution