After a weekend in which mass shootings in Texas and Ohio left 31 people dead, local ministers say congregations can make a difference through a commitment to "walk our talk" and living lives “that value life and value people.”
Randy Copeland, the senior pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, a congregation of about 350 members in Moulton, believes that by getting involved in the community, even a small church like his can touch lives.
“We’re trying to get off our campus and get involved in the community, not just to prevent tragedies like those over the weekend but to show people we genuinely love them and to create unity,” he said. “I do believe we’re making a difference.”
Outreach fosters communication, he said.
“We see people who are hurting every day," Copeland said. By getting involved outside the church, he’s hoping that members can build relationships with others, “so maybe they’ll reach out to us if they need help."
The Rev. Keith Beatty, the senior pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Decatur, called for prayer for the victims and their families, the perpetrators and even those who might contemplate “copy-cat” crimes.
“Prayer is necessary; prayer is needed for everybody involved,” Beatty said. “God has the answer in Jesus.”
Beatty referred to the United Methodist Church’s “Book of Resolutions: Our Call to End Gun Violence," a lengthy list of ways churches should address the issue, including congregations making gun-violence prevention a regular part of conversations and prayer times.
The resolution also calls for congregations to advocate at the local and national level for specific laws that prevent or reduce gun violence, like universal background checks on all gun purchases and ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers.
The Episcopal Church's policies on gun safety and reform promote implementation of laws to decrease gun violence, including strengthening laws against gun trafficking and requiring permits to carry concealed weapons and criminal background checks for every gun purchase, including those at gun shows.
The Rev. Daylan Woodall, senior pastor of Decatur’s First Missionary Baptist, referred to 2 Chronicles 7:14 in commenting on the recent tragedies: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
The same fervor churches find in questioning abortion should also motivate them on other issues, he said.
“Healing cannot take place if we refuse to look past the symptoms and consider the larger sickness — the low value of human life,” Woodall said. “Much is made, and much should be made in our church communities about the value of life as it relates to conception, but I believe that on the whole, we have failed to consistently articulate that all life has persisting value.
“We have failed to profess and practice that the lives of those who don't share our color have equal value and that the lives of those who don't share our politics have equal value,” he said. “We must be more consistent in our belief that life is precious beyond conception.”
Woodall points to the many mass shootings committed by those who were raised in the United States.
“We must take more seriously our responsibility to live faithfully as God’s people before them, and live lives that value life and value people,” he said.
The Rev. Bude Van Dyke, rector of Church of the Good Shepherd, said congregations need to “walk our talk."
“Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, love those quite other than us, and find a way to stop judging others,” Van Dyke said.
Whatever benefits laws may have, he said, they cannot solve the underlying issue.
“Loving our neighbor is not a behavior that the government can legislate, it is the teaching that the Gospels tell us comes from the One we claim to be about. Loving our neighbors is how we best love God," Van Dyke said.
“The shootings remind me that I need to be more intentional about walking my own talk and asking other people of faith to do the same."