We mourn the loss of life in El Paso.
We learned today that the Diocese of the Rio Grande today joined the ranks of those other dioceses in the Episcopal Church that have experienced the horror of a mass shooting. Over nineteen people lost their lives today in El Paso, Texas, and over forty more were injured. And so I want to stop and take a moment to talk about three things.
I want to talk about guns. And I want to talk about violence. And I want to talk about hope. We in the United States have got to figure out what we are going to do about guns. Too often the debate is framed as if it’s about everybody having guns or nobody having guns. But we in the Anglican tradition and in the Episcopal Church we are a people of the middle way, of thevia media, and we have got to come together, conservative and liberal, in order to find a way to both preserve our Second Amendment rights while also preserving the safety of our public spaces in this country. We should be able to go to the movies or to the mall or to a restaurant or to school without the fear that we might get shot.
As the Bishop of a Southwestern diocese let me be clear that I don’t feel safer personally if everybody in a movie theater has a gun, and I don’t feel safer if everyone in the restaurant is carrying, and I don’t feel safer if the teachers have to carry in order to keep the students safe. I don’t feel safer if I have to carry a gun in order to feel safe walking the streets of my town or my neighborhood. So let’s come up with a solution that’s better than that.
I’m also pondering this afternoon the nature of violence itself. We know that violence is primarily caused by pain. And I have pain that is deeply buried in my heart and I don’t have any hope for what happens with that pain, sometimes that pain gets swallowed and becomes self destruction, sometimes that pain gets projected out to try to make other people suffer. We all experience that in our day to day lives on a very minor scale. When I feel hurt I might say something to hurt somebody else. When I feel hurt I might swallow that hurt where it builds up until it explodes. So just imagine the kind of pain a person must feel for so long, their lack of self worth, that they might feel that they can somehow improve their self worth or improve their life by destroying and damaging other people. What we are witnessing is pain, horrible pain, expressed in the form of violence.
We in the church understand how God came to heal the world. How God came to heal our souls. And how God came in order that we might have life and have that life abundantly. So those of us in the churches can work together to make sure to reach out to young people, particularly to young men, to make sure that they understand the value and worth of their life and if they are feeling pain that we help them understand that their community is there to help heal that pain. And that God loves and values them. Healing can come through Jesus Christ. And we in the church can reach out to help young people in this country understand and know that first hand.
And finally I want to say something about hope. Frequently we have heard that those who have perpetrated mass shootings were at least partly interested in the fame that might result from them making a name for themselves through this kind of violence. We in the church understand how God loves and values each human being. Imagine a person whose self worth is so damaged and they are in so need of recognition that they are willing to perpetrate great violence in order to find that other people think of them or know their names. We know that God loves and values every single human being. And so in the church we can do perhaps more to reach out to help young people know that God loves and values them. To let them know we love and value them. To provide a way of hope so that people don’t feel like the only way they can make a name for themselves is by perpetrating some horrible crime. Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” And we in the church are called to make peace in our neighborhoods and with our young people. So let’s redouble our efforts to reach out to the young people. Not just those who attend our churches, but those in our neighborhoods and those in our schools who may be feeling hurt, who may be feeling hopeless, who may be feeling that are willing to risk their life to inflict pain on other people.
Let us pray for those who lost their lives today. And let us pray for their families that they might know the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And let us pray for the wounded and for all of those who are caring for them to meet their medical needs and bring about the healing that God promises for us all.
God is a God of Love. And we in the church are called to bear that love into the world. So let us not just pray for the victims: for the nineteen people who died today, the forty or more prople who were injured today. Let us also roll up our sleeves and get to work to make neighborhoods places that are safe; where everyone understands their worth as a human being, and where no one is so hurt that they feel they must inflict violence on other people.
God love you. God bless you. Let us pray and work together and let us together keep the faith.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Buerkel Hunn
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande