Posted on the massive Fourth Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is a simple sign that says: No Gun’s in God’s House. A similar sign marks the entrance at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in suburban Harrisonburg, VA. Soon they won’t be alone.
This week, on the first anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in American history, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship announces a campaign to enlist 100 churches to post “No Guns in God’s House” signs by December 14, 2017, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting.
“These anniversaries require us to do more than offer our thoughts and prayers,” says Margery Rossi, chair of the Peace Fellowship’s 25 member Gun Violence Prevention Working Group. “We are looking for 100 lead churches who will study the issue of gun violence and vote to post these signs, as a first step toward many more doing so.” The project is being coordinated by the Peace Fellowship, in partnership with the denominational Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
In 2016, over 33,000 Americans died from gun violence and 100,000 were injured. For 50 years the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has supported reasonable gun laws to reduce murders, accidents, suicides and injuries. The Presbyterian General Assembly, the denomination’s highest body, has urged churches to post “No Guns in God’s House” signs as a public witness to the need to reduce gun violence.
Similar signage is becoming visible among churches with hierarchical leadership. In the Episcopal Archdiocese of Georgia, Bishop Scott Benhase required all churches in that diocese to post signs prohibiting guns at churches because of a change in state law that allowed licensed guns to be carried almost anywhere. “That’s one of the benefits of being a hierarchical church,” he said. “The Bishop can do that.” Likewise a liberalized open carry law in Texas prompted the Catholic leader of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Michael Olson, to institute signage at every door of all 90 parishes and 15 schools.
But for Presbyterians, each church must study the issue and decide for itself. To encourage study and action, on June 2, 2017 the Peace Fellowship published a new Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit. Already 106 copies have been acquired by Presbyterians in 29 states. The 74-page Toolkit includes educational, pastoral and action resources, as well as sample “No Guns in God’s House” signage in English and Spanish. It can be ordered for a small cost or downloaded free at http://www.presbypeacefellowship.org/gun-violence/resources
To locate the first 100 churches to post “No Guns in God’s House” signage, the Peace Fellowship has identified about 20 congregations across the nation that have studied the issue already and may be ready to take action. Then each person or church who orders the new Toolkit will receive an invitation to consider the “No Guns in God’s House” Project for their congregation.
When Trinity Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, VA first posted its sign, one neighbor who participates in a program at the building objected. “She felt that we were advertising that we are sitting ducks,” said Pastor Stephanie Sorge Wing. Reflecting on the very same issue, Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago offered this response in a statement approved unanimously by the Session, the elected governing body of the church:
“As Christians we follow the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He reprimanded Peter for grabbing a weapon in his defense, saying ‘All who live by the sword will die by the sword.’ (Matthew 26:52b) The solution to gun violence in our country is not more guns; the epidemic of gun violence breeds distrust, fear, and disconnection between people. Workplaces which permit employees to carry guns are five to seven times more likely to be the site of workplace violence. Gun owners are six times more likely to be a victim of gun violence than to use their weapon in self-defense.” [Source: American Public Health Association]
“The goal of the sign project,” said Rossi, “is to promote constructive theological dialogue, education and awareness about gun violence and to confront the fears and anxieties that can prevent us from entering into healthy debate about what many Christians feel is ‘too political’ an issue to address in church.” A local pastor herself, Rossi concluded that “Asking Americans to learn and pray together about what it means to hang these signs on their own church buildings shifts the conversation away from polarizing political rhetoric. It offers us a way to affirm our faith in Jesus Christ, our commitment to loving our neighbors and our willingness to boldly witness to the power of nonviolence. These first 100 churches will be standing together against the false narrative that more guns in more places will make us safer.”
Download the “No Guns in God’s House” signs here. There are other designs available in addition to the example above as well as versions in Spanish.
Get more information about the Congregational Toolkit and other PPF gun violence prevention resources here.