I ached as I stood over the casket preaching Marcus’s eulogy. I had known and worked with Marcus for 15 years before he was killed when four bullets found his body while stopping to buy diapers for his child. Sometimes in life, you are in the right place at the right time — and other times you find yourself in the middle of gun fight.
I told the family and friends who had gathered, “GOD IS PISSED OFF AND SO AM I. We are not supposed to be here today! We are to be celebrating college graduations, birthdays, and weddings, not mourning at the funeral of a 24-year-old son, dad, nephew, and cousin.”
The reality of my ministry in Chicago is that I have story after story of young men who have been a part of my world and life who have been both victims and shooters. Yet, every time tragedy strikes, the pain is the same.
If you have never held a mother, father, or crying child who has had to bury a family member because of gun violence, you might not understand the need to make the tough changes. If you have never seen the eyes of a student looking to you for hope as life seeps from their body or sat with a mother asking God why her child is gone — why her child had to die — I doubt you will understand the pain and the effect of what guns are doing on the streets of Chicago. If you have never had these experiences, you might not understand my sense of urgency when I say that I want to see the end of cheap and plentiful guns in my neighborhood.
There is a passage in Luke 7:11-16 in which Jesus stops a funeral and heals a child from death, brings him back to life, and gives him back to his mother. How I dream of that moment. But, I also believe I can work to stop the funerals in the first place and bring our young men and women back to Christ, back to their families, and back to their communities. This means working for personal transformation of young people’s lives. But it also means looking at the structures we live in and asking how they can change to make our streets a safer place to grow up.
There is an important theoretical discussion to be had about the Constitution and the application of the Second Amendment in our country today. But, I live in a world in which I cannot solely base my actions on constitutional theory. My thoughts about the protection of constitutional rights are always accompanied by my thoughts of protecting the young people in my neighborhood. My words about the kinds of legislation we should or should not have in our country must be words that I can speak to friends who might own guns and the parents of children who have been shot. I understand that there are responsible and law abiding gun owners in our country — and I want to respect that — but I hope they understand the stories of my neighborhood and my efforts to stop the shooting.
As a pastor, I know that simply passing laws isn’t going to end all violence. That’s why I do the work that I do to introduce young people to Jesus so their hearts and their lives can be transformed. But our sinful natures feed on opportunities to act on anger and lash out in violence. It is easier for human sin to take the form of a violent shot when you can walk through my neighborhood of North Lawndale on the Westside of Chicago and buy a gun in about 15 minutes. Right now, Congress is considering steps that could make this a little harder to do. Enforceable universal background checks, an end to gun trafficking, and prosecution of straw purchasers (when someone with a clean record buys a gun legally and then sells to someone who would pass a back ground check) are all commonsense measures we can take with action from our elected officials.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, more than 4,000 pastors signed on to a letter initiated by 12 clergy in Newtown calling for commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence. You can join them.
If you’re not convinced by my words here, then I want to challenge you to take the next step. Come visit my neighborhood, come walk in my shoes, stand at a funeral with me — and then lets talk and pray together to see what God might be calling his church to do in the light of all these deaths.
- Pastor Phil