Dear People of The Episcopal Church in Vermont:
Once again, we are a nation in mourning due to acts of gun violence in which over 30 people were killed, many others injured and families, friends and communities torn apart by the latest mass shooting tragedies this past weekend. Certainly, my heart and prayers, and those of the people of The Episcopal Church in Vermont, go out to the victims and their families of these latest expressions of the gun violence epidemic that is gripping our country. And yet, we know that our love and prayers alone will not curb the crisis of gun violence present in our country. Action, including pressing our state and federal legislators for sensible, comprehensive gun safety legislation is critical.
While we are still learning more about the particulars of this weekend’s tragedies, the realities of white supremacy and misogyny are receiving considerable and long overdue attention as contributing factors to the crisis of gun violence, especially in mass shootings and incidents of domestic violence. Hate, especially when manifest in acts of violence, is not acceptable and cannot be ignored, tolerated, explained away, or in any way justified. The dignity of human beings is violated with each expression of this sort of hatred and people of faith must speak up and act in response.
My work with Bishops United Against Gun Violence and my involvement with GunSense Vermont are two ways in which I am trying to make an impact. I am also in frequent conversation with state and federal legislators about this crisis. I encourage you to find where your voice can be raised and heard. It is imperative that we hold our elected officials responsible for taking actions that will help stem this terrible tide, and to use the power and leverage of our vote to give expression to the moral compass of compassion and the dignity of all that I believe we share. When we stand up and call our country and elected leaders to change the rhetoric and orientation of divisiveness and hate that has infected out hearts and, I fear, the soul of our country, I believe we are indeed walking the Way of Love and embracing the Biblical imperative to love God and our neighbor.
Of course, mass shootings, like we witnessed this weekend, are not the only way in which the epidemic of gun violence is being lived out in our country. Suicide, domestic violence, street violence and accidental deaths from guns contribute daily to the carnage toward which, I fear, many of us have grown numb. Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” And our response is, “I will, with God’s help.” “I WILL!”
I am mindful that I write this letter on the Christian Feast of the Transfiguration and on the day when we remember the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On the mount of Transfiguration, the voice heard by Peter, James and John proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” The divine message on the Mount of Transfiguration, and beyond, was about a vision of a loving, just, compassionate, and transformed future grounded in love of God and love of neighbor.
The attention of the disciples was captured, and they were called to embrace and proclaim that possibility, including taking on the risks of doing so. How will we listen, hear and respond to the divine voice in the face of the current epidemic of gun violence and the related realities of racism, xenophobia and misogyny that infect our country today? I hope we will hear and respond to the call of hope and healing by actively following and risking the Way of Love, the Way of the Prince of Peace.
I end with this prayer
from the Book of Common Prayer: For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Right Reverend
Thomas C. Ely
Bishop of Vermont
Resources recommended by Bishop Ely in response to the epidemic of gun violence include:
United Against Gun Violence
Against Gun Violence