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A Wesleyan response to gun violence

Candlelight vigil after Dayton gun violence

Paul Perez reflects on being part of a targeted racial/ethnic group and shares how to move forward with positive action. 


PAUL PEREZ
Associate Director for Mission and Ministry

The mass shooting at Columbine High School happened while I was a high school senior. Having lived my entire adult life under the shadow, I, in many ways, have become desensitized to them. This weekend was different.

The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, hit close to home:

The El Paso shooter, reportedly posted a manifesto minutes before the opening fire outlining his motive; defending Texas against a “Hispanic invasion.” He intentionally targeted Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as they engaged in back to school shopping at a busy Walmart.

I am Mexican-American. If I was in El Paso, I would have been a target. It could have been me.

On Saturday, my wife and three children were back-to-school shopping in big-box stores and strip malls in Metro-Detroit, a border community. It could have been my family.

The mass shooting in Dayton, OH took place in the city’s Oregon District. While dating in college, my spouse and I frequented this area of Dayton, enjoying a cup of coffee, a good meal, or late night live music. It could have been us.

This weekend, I was heartbroken for the victims, survivors, and families but, also, faced with the deeply unsettling fact that it could have been me and my family. Over my life, I have learned to pay attention to the unsettling moments. It is often where I encounter God’s invitation to join in God’s seeking, forgiving, healing, and liberating work in the world.

This is such a moment.

The white supremacist and white nationalist motivations of the El Paso shooting are deeply disturbing. I am both disturbed and baffled by the claim Texas is experiencing a “Hispanic invasion.” Mexicans have lived in what is now Texas long before Texas existed. My own family has deep roots in Texas. Some of my Mexican ancestors never “crossed the border,” the “border crossed them” when their home became part of the USA in the late 19th century.

Being a member of a targeted racial/ethnic group is frightening. It is a reminder that as a person of color, there are still those who see my life as having less value then their own and who view me as a perpetual foreigner. Mexican-American and other Latinx are certainly not alone. African-American, Muslim, Jewish, and LBGTQIA communities were also targets of recent mass shootings.

What are we to do?

An op-ed in the LA Times, written by researchers who have studied every mass shooting since 1966, summarizes these four commonalties among shooters. They

  1. experience childhood violence or trauma,
  2. reach a personal crisis point days or weeks prior to the shooting,
  3. seek validation from other shooters and/or radicalized into a hateful ideology, and
  4. have access to firearms.

I appreciate this article, not only because it is written by “experts,” but because it balances, in a very Wesleyan way, the “personal” and “social” dimensions in the struggle to prevent gun violence.

As United Methodists, it reminds us of how our congregational ministries and our individual relationships with young people — especially when they are caring and compassionately trauma-informed — are important to personal well-being and crucial to disrupting and breaking cycles of violence and abuse.

The article both challenges us to confront ideologies, systems, and institutions perpetuating and glorifying gun violence, mass shooters, and ideologies of white supremacy and to advocate for common sense state and federal legislation to prevent gun violence.

Perhaps in this moment, we, as a nation, and we, as a denomination, might find courage and commitment to act in “personal” and “social” ways to break the cycle of gun violence in our country and to nurture communities that recognize, value, and celebrate each and every life.

President Trump’s condemnation of white supremacy and call for states to pass “red flag” laws is a glimmer of bipartisan hope. So are reports of “red flag” laws gaining some traction here in Michigan.

It will take each and every one of us acting “personally” and “socially” to make change happen.

Here is a list of resources to help with that work:

LEARN

Statement from Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, whose episcopal area includes El Paso, TX.

Statement from Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, whose episcopal area includes Dayton, OH.

Statement from MARCHA (Methodistas Representando la Causa de los Hispanos Americanos)

Gun Violence Prevention, General Board of Church and Society … a collection of UM and other recommended resources.

“Our Call to End Gun Violence,” 2016 Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church … official United Methodist statement on Gun Violence.

“Kingdom Dreams and Violent Realities: Reflections on Gun Violence from Micah 4:4-14” … three session Bible study reflecting on gun violence.

Resources on intercultural competency and anti-racism from the Rev. Brittney Stephan, Associate Director for Multicultural Vibrancy for The Michigan Conference.

GIVE

Donate to the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society

Donate to a EngageMI Conference CCMM Project focused on ministry with young people like: Baldwin Center, Mission Intern, Methodist Children’s Home, Next Ge: Ministry 2nd and 3rd Generation Latinos, Pathfinders of Muskegon, UM Camping, United Methodist Community House, Spirit Journey, or Wesley Foundations.

Donate in other groups advocating gun violence prevention or focused on the well-being of young people, or engage in intentional anti-racism work.

ACT

The General Board of Church and Society has issued this call to action:

We are calling on United Methodists in the United States to email their senators to pass the 2019 Background Check Expansion Act. The bill was passed by the U.S. House in February. In order for it to become law, it needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the president. Sen. Mitch McConnell has a lot of power as majority leader to decide what bills will be considered by the Senate. And thus far, he has shown no interest in having this bipartisan, commonsense bill brought before the Senate.

Tell Congress inaction is not an option. Tell them to pass the Background Check Expansion Act.

Contact your State Senator or Representative and ask him or her to support “Red Flag” Laws in Michigan.

Join or form a local group advocating for gun violence prevention, like Moms Demand Action.

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