Within the cavernous nave of Riverside Church, Lucy McBath recounted the story of how her 17-year-old son was shot to death by a white man for playing music too loud.
“After Jordan died, I questioned the absence of the faith community in addressing the proliferation of guns,” she said. “The silence troubled my spirit, and I began to look for congregations that engaged themselves in raising questions about the unethical gun violence spreading across the nation.” Her keynote speech Friday morning was the first event in a day-long training program held by Riverside Church to educate faith leaders in dealing with the topic of gun violence in their communities.
Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, the church’s senior minister, had the idea for the conference at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer. “This is an issue that a lot of faith leaders are addressing in their congregations,” she said. “It’s almost like people are feeling a sense of relief. This is finally a place where [they] can begin to voice all of these questions and concerns that I’ve been carrying by myself that I didn’t feel I could talk about.”
After McBath’s keynote speech, the 120 faith leaders in attendance split into groups to participate in four different workshops focusing on different aspects of gun violence. The topics covered preaching on gun violence, the intersection of race and gun violence, and the global impact of America’s gun violence epidemic.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer made an appearance, and Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes gave the closing keynote.
On social media, attendees used the hashtag #godandguns16 to share the lessons they learned. “
When you put your faith in a gun, it becomes your god,” tweeted Kristen, a minister from Connecticut. In a reflective blog post, pastor Chelsea Jackson called the conference “heavy, incredible, heartbreaking and uplifting.”
McBath, a member of Everytown for Gun Safety who spoke at the Democratic National Convention as one of the Mothers of the Movement, urged those in attendance to bring these controversial issues into the conversation. “The countless deaths as of late have shaken faith communities and the country at large,” she said. “It can be hard to know what do. I’m reminded each and every day of the people that will continue to die if people of faith are not engaged in saving lives.”
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org