Church Leader Joins in National Call to Civility Following Arizona Shooting

Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, is one of the American religious leaders calling for prayer following the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8. Photo by Marcia Shetler

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger has added his signature to a letter to members of Congress following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a member of her staff, federal district judge John Roll, and 17 others this past Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed in the attack and 14 people were wounded.

The letter, pulled together by the organization “Faith in Public Life” and signed by national religious leaders, thanks elected representatives for their service and expresses support as they cope with the trauma. It also encourages reflection on the often heated political rhetoric in the nation, and continued commitment to robust dialogue and democracy. It is to be published tomorrow as a full-page advertisement in “Roll Call.”

“As Americans and members of the human family,” the letter opens, “we are grieved by the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. As Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders, we pray together for all those wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she fights for her life. Our hearts break for those lives lost and for the loved ones left behind.

“We also stand with you, our elected officials, as you continue to serve our nation while coping with the trauma of this senseless attack,” the letter continues, in part. “This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric. We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats, and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.”

In a separate interview, Noffsinger shared his concern for all those affected by the shooting, including the perpetrator. “I pray for this young man’s soul, I pray for his family,” he said, noting that the incident calls Christians to work harder to minister with those at the margins and be attentive to violent rhetoric. “How inappropriate it is for us to use rhetoric that places people within the sights of our discourse,” Noffsinger said. “It is as bad as pulling the trigger.”

Among numerous other statements from American religious leaders responding to the shooting, a release from the National Council of Churches (NCC) called for renewal of efforts for gun control and civil discourse. The NCC noted that it has been less than eight months since its governing board called for action to end gun violence–a statement that received support from the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board last July when it adopted a “Resolution on Ending Gun Violence” (see ; the NCC resolution is at ).

In Sept. 2009, alarmed by the intensity of angry and sometimes violent language coming out of public meetings on healthcare and other issues, the NCC Governing Board called for “civility in public discourse.” The Governing Board said in its 2009 statement, “This clash of views demeans the dialogue and ultimately risks subverting the democratic process itself. Individuals cannot express their best hopes and acknowledge their deepest fears within a climate of intimidation and character assassination, and all too often this climate is the product of racism and xenophobia.”

See below for a prayerful reflection on the Arizona shooting by Brethren poet Kathy Fuller Guisewite. More resources for Brethren engaged in prayer and reflection are available at the General Secretary’s page, Worship resources from the NCC include two prayer hymns on gun violence by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, go to .

Stop. Listen. Wait.
A Brethren poet reflects on the shootings in Arizona

Church of the Brethren poet and licensed minister Kathy Fuller Guisewite wrote the following reflection in response to the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz.:

Still without a full-time job,
I am roaming the house today
feeling the need to do something valuable
or at least something that is
not wasteful.
Aren’t we supposed to be productive
at all times
at all costs?
Aren’t we supposed to be
producing something,
something tangible and
monetarily significant?

And yet,
there is a deeper pull today.
It pulls toward an awareness, a vague awareness
that beckons at the edges of productivity to slow down
and lean into intention.

Our world keeps crying out
for us to lay down the cravings that
satisfy only the shallow part of self
and quench the thirst of depth,
of calling beyond word or voice
to what yearns to be born.
Can you hear it?

What is it? What is struggling to find life?
What blocks that first breath
where all that was, and all that is, and all that can be
merge together in an interlocking shout of wholeness?

Why can we not put down the guns?
Why can we not put aside our divisions?
We choose these. We choose the freedoms that take life.
And the news is filled with sorrow
all the while we force ourselves to do
the daily routines,
counting down our days until
the something more or the something better arrives.

My little dog begs to
sit in my lap.
Her warmth enhances mine,
and I should like to think
that mine enhances hers.
As we sit together, I recognize
a still intuition that leads the
the little birds to feed, the snow clouds to fill the skies,
and the afternoon light to hang low.
Somewhere in South Africa my daughter mourns something
The weeping she cannot contain.
And I wonder, how is it that we aren’t
all on our knees
weeping for what we cannot name.

There’s no unlocking the peace of tomorrow
until we stand wide-eyed to the pain of today.
This is the work we must tend.
These are the wounds we must heal.
This is the price we must pay until we return
to the first breath,
the knowing

— Kathy Fuller Guisewite, Jan. 10, 2011. (For more of Guisewite’s poetry go to .)

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