A pastoral letter for a time of grief and fear

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”  --Matthew 2:18

“We call for more effective gun control legislation, especially legislation that would protect our children from gun-related violence, and encourage our members to actively support such legislation. In a society and world saturated with violence and violent images, we recommit ourselves to the challenge of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:21 to, ‘. . . not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”  --From “Children and Violence,” a 1999 resolution of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference


Before Christmas, I wrote to the church about the words of comfort sung by the angels to the shepherds in the field: “Do not be afraid.” I offered those words as a resource for us all, but in particular for parents who hold their children tightly through the storms of life.

Barely two months later, 17 children and teachers have been murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and their families will never hold them again. Our nation is crying out with grief. School buildings around the country are once again places to fear.

Does it have to be this way? No. Must we acquiesce to this epidemic of gun violence? No. As our Annual Conference has repeated many times over the decades, in many different statements about violence and gun-related violence, we do not have to give in to fear. We may choose another way:

-- We may remember that our primary allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We are, first and foremost, his disciples. Recall his love and respect for children: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14).

-- We may rely on the promises of our faith, including the assurance, “Do not be afraid.” Be strong in maintaining your faith in our loving God, even as storms of loss and grief and fear continue to sweep over and around us.

-- We may remember and pray for the many families who have lost children to gun violence, at schools and on the streets of our nation. Reach out personally to support anyone you know who has lost a loved one to gun violence.

-- We may find new ways to share and hear the good news of salvation, including actively participating in efforts for gun control legislation, as called for by our Annual Conference. Educate yourself on legislation being put forward at the local, state, and national levels.

-- We may seek opportunities to build community with others who are working for peace. Engage in conversation with brothers and sisters in your congregation and district, and with those in the wider community who want to hold our children safe.

We live in a time of great uncertainty, at many levels of our lives. Yet the angels still sing, “Do not be afraid.” Go out into the world, even in the midst of the storm, to share the good news and saving grace of our God.

David A. Steele, General Secretary, Church of the Brethren

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