With 36,000 Americans dying from gun violence last year, the General Assembly gathering of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in St. Louis June 16-23 will re-affirm church policies for gun reform. Hopefully, Presbyterians will leave with new resources and a new resolve to take action at home to prevent gun violence. The 223rd General Assembly marks 50 years of Presbyterian statements on the need for legislative action to curb gun violence, beginning in 1968.
Meeting at America’s Center, a gun-free venue, the General Assembly gathering will be led in part by Stated Clerk Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, who has often listed gun violence prevention as a high priority for Presbyterians. Of the three candidate slates standing for election of the office of General Assembly Moderator, two stated in interviews in The Presbyterian Outlook that gun violence prevention would be a key issue in their leadership.
Inspired by student activism following recent school shootings, the issue of gun violence prevention will be center stage for the Assembly. On Thursday June 21, the Presbyterian Writers Guild will present its prestigious David Steele Distinguished Writer Award to Rev. James Atwood, left, author of Gundamentalism & Where it is Taking America and other writings on the issue of gun violence. According to Atwood, “Any kind of violence is an affront to God. For the vast silent majority of gun owners who are tired of the violence and those who work tirelessly to prevent gun violence, there is colossal space for reasonable compromise. There are sensible and balanced steps that we can take to stop this epidemic of gun violence. We do not have to live this way.” On Wednesday June 20 Atwood will lead a Booth Talk on the challenge of gun violence and how local Presbyterian churches are working to end it. The Booth Talk will be at 2:30 pm in the Exhibit Hall, Booth 119-121 and is open to all.
On Thursday June 21, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, GA visitors will also be able to view award-winning films and trailers that cover issues such as gun violence. The screening is sponsored by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Compassion, Peace and Justice in room 260-267.
Created by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the “Count Me In!” Campaign at General Assembly will offer commissioners and visitors an opportunity to make a personal commitment to take action on gun violence prevention in their home churches. Actions may include: education programs on gun violence; support for student school “walk outs;” nonpartisan candidate forums and other steps. “Count Me In!” buttons will be available in the Exhibit Hall from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Booth # 119-121.
The Social Justice Committee of the General Assembly, Committee 11, will consider Overture (11-14) that would send a prayer out across the denomination, giving thanks for those who are working to end gun violence and asking for God’s help to engage the whole church in this work at the local congregational level. Overture (11-14) is supported by 12 presbyteries, including the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, site of the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. “Making another statement against gun violence is not what we need. Our national statements are faithful and clear,” says Rev. Margery Rossi, who will be an Overture Advocate for (11-14). “National policy works best when we, at the local level, are studying, praying and acting on the issue across America.” A local pastor in Wappingers Falls, NY, Rossi is the chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Rossi adds, “Coming to this Assembly are several Presbyterians who are survivors of gun violence with loved ones lost. Most of us have been touched by gun violence in some way. In St. Louis, we can make a historic commitment together to wake up the strength of the Presbyterian Church in every community in our country to help end gun violence.”
To assist Presbyterians in this work at the congregational level, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in Booth #119-121 will offer a new edition of the PPF Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit. The prior edition has been acquired by 460 Presbyterians in all 50 states. The new edition, at a special, discounted cost for GA of $10 or a free download, contains 80 pages of updated education, pastoral and action resources, including 14 case studies from congregations, presbyteries and local groups. The PPF booth will also offer other tools for congregations, including free “Count Me In!” bookmarks, buttons and prayer cards, as well as “No Guns in God’s House” signs authorized by the General Assembly in 2014 and created in conjunction with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. The signs and the new Congregational Toolkit can be downloaded or ordered by mail.