Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

As I wrote on Thursday afternoon, word broke of yet another shooting at a school. This time a 14-year-old was shot at a middle school in Atlanta, Georgia. According to police, the suspect is in custody and the wounded student is “alert.” Both suspect and victim are students at the middle school.

This shooting occurred:

  • 7 weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT which left 28 dead.
  • 3 weeks after a 16-year-old shot two students with a shotgun at Taft High School, Taft, CA.
  • 16 days after a student shot an administrator and himself at Stevens Institute of Business and Arts in downtown St. Louis.
  • 9 days after three people were shot at Lone Star Community College near Houston, TX.
  • 2 days after King Prep High School student, Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death in a park in Chicago.
  • 1 day after a gunman shot and killed a school bus driver and abducted a Kindergarten student in Midland City, Alabama.

And those are just the school-related shootings.

To say that all this breaks my heart sounds far too trite, and yet other, better words fail to present themselves. I am sad and I am angry. It seems clear this is not how God intends for us to treat one another. It seems clear that our culture is addicted to violence and in love with guns. It seems clear that I am part of the problem. From the shows I watch to the movies I enjoy to the books I read to the comics I buy, violence is too often a common denominator.

Yet what can we do? After all, Deacon Beth sharply reminded us earlier this month as she considered King Herod’s actions after the birth of Jesus, the slaughtering of innocents is not a new phenomenon. What can we do? Are we resigned to this fate? Beth concluded her post with a brilliant response: “May we choose, as followers of Christ, not to buy guns for an illusory feeling of ‘protection.’ And may we fight, fight, fight for sanity in our gun laws.”

Now a new way to enter that fight for sanity presents itself.

We – as individuals, as families, as a congregation – can emulate The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women by joining our voices with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Over 40 denominations and faith-based organizations have joined, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

This coalition wrote a letter to President Obama and Congress, which reads in part:

Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have perished, we must also support our prayers with action.We support immediate legislative action to accomplish the following:

  1. Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check;

  2. High capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians; and

  3. Gun trafficking should be a federal crime.

Adding our voice to this movement will not, by itself, stop all gun violence. A diversity of other actions are needed too. Actions born of our faith that the one we call Lord and Savior is also Prince of Peace. But this is a good step in the right direction. It is something we can do. Join the Faiths United coalition here.

Photo: Reuters
Participants from Newtown, Connecticut, wearing the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, walk in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall. [Photo: Reuters]
For more on this:

‘a people robbed and plundered…trapped in holes and hidden’

I must admit that the list of national observance days and months is overwhelming and often tedious if not down right ridiculous. For instance, January sports National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week and National Handwriting Analysis Week. This month is National Get Organized Month, Oatmeal Month, and National Polka Music Month, among many others. (Ok, my father-in-law would have loved that last one!)

I sincerely hope that today is not one of those days. Today, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and January is also National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Through my church, with my family, and as an individual, I’ve been talking about human trafficking – and working to end it – for several years. We’ve partnered with organizations both international and local (see my list of Abolitionists on the right-hand sidebar). We’ve looked at both sex slavery and labor slavery. We’ve hosted speakers, founded projects, screened films, and shared many inspiring, informative links. But in all this time I’ve been disappointed by the small number of projects and stories regarding modern-day slavery by the United Methodist Church.

The main exception to that lack has come from the United Methodist Women. And they didn’t disappoint today either. Check this out from their website:

A major myth about human trafficking is that most trafficked persons are taken against their will…snatched off the street, thrown into a van. Or that they are runaways or drug users, exhausted of options, of money, and of hope.

Most, at the beginning, are leaving home to pursue a good job abroad. Then they find they have been sold, they owe tens of thousands of dollars and will have to buy themselves back.

Remember that for every victim of sex trafficking worldwide there are nine forced labor and/or domestic servitude cases.

Then UMW offered words of trafficked women, imploring readers to “imagine what that journey must be like.” Take a moment to read their stories.

UMW also shares good information. Here’s a taste:

Why does human trafficking happen?
Our current global economic system continues to reward wealth and exploit the poor. Sexual trafficking is connected to the feminization of poverty. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls, most of whom live in developing countries with limited options available to them. Women comprise 56 percent of the 12.3 million trafficked adults and children according to the Trafficking in Persons Report.

Trafficking of women, children and men
Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we care so much about this? Here’s one reason… In his first public declaration, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…He sent me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free… He sent me to liberate those held down by oppression.” (Luke 4:18)

Clearly, the victims of modern-day slavery/human trafficking need to hear the good news that God is with them. They need to hear the good news that God’s dream for their lives is for them to be free.

There is always more to learn and more ways to engage this issue. Two of the best anti-trafficking efforts locally are the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Salvation Army PROMISE program’s Anne’s House.

Anne’s House is still the only local long-term trauma based residential program for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Today, CAASE released their latest research into those who buy sex in Illinois. It is a disturbing read. But important. Here’s why:

CAASE believes that this research can inform more effective ways for law enforcement and communities to address the demand for prostitution. “If we want to adequately and effectively reduce the demand for paid sex, and thus reduce violence against prostituted people, we need to first understand what motivates men to purchase sex,” said Rachel Durchslag, Executive Director of CAASE. “Lara Janson’s report highlights, through johns’ own words, how specific law enforcement responses to prostitution do deter men from purchasing sex.”

The words of Isaiah often inspire work for justice. The title of this post comes from some of those words:

But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, “Restore!” Who among you will give heed to this, who will attend and listen for the time to come? —Isaiah 42:22-23

I hope you’ll join us as we continue on this journey. I hope you’ll join us in this modern-day abolitionist movement.

My list of abolitionists is pretty good, I think. But I know there are many more organizations engaged in this work. Who am I missing? What are your stories of fighting modern-day slavery?

#NHTAD in the midst of #NHTPM

There are as many as 27-30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, today.

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Image via Wikipedia

Today, January 11, 2012, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. But just one day is truly not enough. And, honestly, “merely” raising awareness is just not enough. Fortunately, this year President Obama declared all of January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

It seems to me that the vast problem of modern-day slavery/human trafficking has become much more visible in mainstream media. It’s certainly all over Twitter. (Just search #NHTAD.)

Heck, there’s even an anti-human trafficking opera now!

There are no so many organizations fighting trafficking, so many people engaged in this struggle to end oppression. My blog roll is in desperate need of updating to reflect all the excellent people and groups I’ve become aware of (mostly through Twitter) who are also abolitionists.

Just yesterday I watched Call + Response for the first time. It is an excellent film, mainly for raising awareness – but also for inspiration to, well, respond. Modern-day slavery is (it should almost go without saying) a blatant, disgusting, soul-numbing, mind-blowing, body-paralyzing evil. This film reminds us of that. But it manages not to get stuck in the funk. In fact, it uses the funk to inspire hope! (Trust me on this. Or, better yet, see the film yourself! We’re hosting a screening at Woodridge United Methodist Church on Feb. 15.)

My hope and prayer is that, wherever you are on the abolitionist journey, you will keep learning, sharing and acting to end slavery in our time.

A few ways to respond today, this month, always:

Learn some basics.

Watch videos from Not for Sale’s Global Forum on Human Trafficking.

Read teen author, Zach Hunter’s ideas to end slavery.

Check out retreat resources from United Methodist Women.

Read about The United Methodist Committee on Relief’s efforts in Armenia.

See how educators like Holly Boardman are inspiring – and being inspired by – their students to end slavery.

In the words of Justin Dillon, writer, director and producer of Call + Response:

This is an open source movement. The platform is written, everybody simply needs to write their code on top. What are you good at? What do you care about? Has this issue touched you? What is your response going to be?

The church is my biggest platform. I will continue to challenge the people of Woodridge UMC to fight slavery locally and globally. God dreams of a slave-free world. We long to bring that dream to life. (Plus I’ll update that blogroll.)

What is your response going to be?