On Sunday we shouted “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!” Our Easter alleluias rang out. We did our best to channel Easter joy and take courage in the Resurrection promise of abundant new life.
But on Monday our alleluias were stifled. This time it was Louisville. In a bank. 5 employees who went to work expecting a normal day were killed, and the 25-year-old shooter too. Another AR-15-style rifle used. Another mass shooting in America. According to the Gun Violence Archives, it was the 147th mass shooting in 2023. (A mass shooting is defined by the GVA as an incident in which four or more victims are shot or killed.)
On that same day, closer to home, charges were filed against a St. Olaf college student in Northfield who school officials believed was planning “a mass casualty event.” Police found multiple ammunition magazines, knives, a tactical vest, firearm earmuffs, and numerous other items that suggested both firearms and explosives would have been used in the student’s attack. A custodian at the college saw something that made him suspicious of the student and reported it, likely preventing what could easily have been one more mass shooting. This time in Minnesota.
What can we say about all this as an Easter people? More importantly, how does the Resurrection compel us to faithfully and meaningfully respond?
The Resurrection we celebrate at Easter doesn’t magically cloak the world in joy, or erase the real-life pain and violence the world doles out. In fact, the Holy Week narrative reminds us that violence is a horrifying fact in our world, often sanctioned by cultural norms and the policies of the powers that rule. The Resurrection itself reminds us, however, that such violence and death can be overcome, but only with extraordinary acts of purposeful love.
After the mass shooting in Nashville on March 27, which took the lives of three children and three adults at the Covenant School and also that of the shooter, I felt all over again the toxic stew of emotion that always visits me in the wake of such events: disbelief, anger, sorrow, and helplessness. But this time, I allowed those feelings to fuel new action. I reached out to Protect Minnesota, a state-wide organization dedicated to the prevention of gun violence in our state. I asked them what I could personally do –and what the Minnesota Conference UCC and its members could do –to assist them in their work and leverage our collective voices for change. Then the mass shooting in Louisville happened, and my conversation with them expanded.
Let’s be clear: gun violence in our state and in our country is not restricted to mass shootings. It’s an everyday issue in urban and increasingly in rural areas. Gun violence is undeniably linked to domestic violence and disproportionately affects persons of color, making it a gender justice and racial justice issue. The lead cause of gun-related deaths is suicide; in Minnesota, suicides represent nearly 70% of all gun-related deaths and is on the rise, especially in rural areas. In other words, gun violence affects all of us, no matter where we live.
So now I’m coming to you, Minnesota Conference UCC, to plea for your life-giving, love-directed action. As a Conference, we have already taken a stance on gun violence; in 2018, Annual Meeting delegates passed a resolution on preventing gun violence and naming it as a public health emergency. Among other things, that resolution recommended a ban on assault rifles with high capacity magazines and the establishment of universal background checks.
Sadly, everything we said in that resolutions remains powerfully relevant still today. And it turns out, we have an immediate opportunity in Minnesota to lift our voices and drive positive change on this issue.
This Friday, the Minnesota Senate will have a hearing on several gun violence prevention bills backed by Protect Minnesota: Universal Background Checks, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and Community Violence Interruption funding. There are six weeks left in this year’s legislative session in which these bills could be passed, if the public acts and advocates now. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Minnesota Scores only a C+ on our gun violence efforts in part because we lack these very laws. In a separate article below you’ll find concrete ways you can act right now to make a difference and help prevent gun violence. I fervently pray you’ll respond.
I fear we’ve come to accept gun violence in our time. I worry we’ve grown numb to the never-ending horror of it all, that we’ve decided there’s nothing we can do to change it. But that isn’t acceptable for those of us who proclaim the Resurrection story. Our faithful task is to overcome violence with extraordinary acts of love. Our purpose is to breathe astonishing new life into spaces of profound loss and agony. Our ministry is to witness to the beautiful possibility of things previously unimagined, to actively pursue peace, justice, and abundant life for all. That is the way and work of Easter. And we are an Easter people.
Praying & laboring with you,
Reverend Shari Prestemon
Gun Violence Prevention: How You Can Act Right Now
Gun violence will continue to wreak havoc on communities and families until we determine to make a substantive change in policy and cultural norms. There are things we can do right now to make our voices heard and mobilize for change. This list offers a start, including some immediate action needed in Minnesota to effect policy change.
- Watch this April 11 press conference with Protect Minnesota and Attorney General Keith Ellison to learn more about the bills being considered and the urgency to the issue.
- Contact your state Senators to express your support for these bills. Find their contact info here. Consider a letter-writing campaign in your congregation.
- If you’re a pastor, consider signing this letter written by the Interfaith Alliance of Protect Minnesota directed to Senators about the hearings and related bills this week.
- Reach out to Jared at Protect Minnesota to learn more about their Interfaith Alliance and be part of the ongoing movement in Minnesota to reduce gun violence.
- Download the Congregational Toolkit from Protect Minnesota to help you have conversations about gun violence and take action for its prevention in your congregation and in your community.
- Join the momentum toward a federal assaults weapons ban. The House of Representatives narrowly passed such a ban in 2022; it’s time for the Senate to do the same. Reach out to our Senators easily using this form from March for Our Lives, telling them to vote YES to an assault weapons ban.
- Lift personal and congregational prayers: for grieving victims’ families and friends, for traumatized communities, for medical and law enforcement personnel and chaplains who respond, for a nation and a state to find the will and the means to meaningfully change gun safety policy and prevent gun violence in our time.