Bishop's letter on Va. Tech shootings

Dear friends:

 

Along with you and millions of people around the world, I mourn and grieve over the acts of violence committed April 16 on the campus of Virginia Tech. As a person who once served churches in Virginia, I am especially saddened to see these events unfold there.

 

We live in a violent world. Since the earliest recorded days, bloodshed has been a part of the human experience (see Genesis 4:1-16). The earliest codification of our Judeo-Christian faith records a prohibition against taking human life: “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

 

As our General Conference affirmed in 2000, “The United Methodist Church is among those religious communions calling for social policies and personal lifestyles that bring an end to senseless gun violence.” (Book of Resolutions, 2004)

 

As your bishop, I encourage you and your congregation to respond in the wake of these senseless shootings by:

1)      Offering a time of silence during your worship services where people may pray together;

2)      Opening your church for times of prayer where people may simply “drop in” as they wish;

3)      Holding a study session or conversation time on gun violence in the United States (read through the church’s position on gun violence, available at http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=937); and

4)      Discussing what steps can be taken in your community to stem the tide of gun violence.

 

I am grateful that we live in a nation where we are given freedom. As Christians, though, we are especially grateful for the spiritual freedom given to those of us who are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The freedom we have received is not given to us for the sake of violence, but for the sake of service. The apostle Paul wrote, “You were called to be free; do not use your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in one commandment: You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14, The New Jerusalem Bible)

Serving others in love is possible only by participating in the love of God. On Easter, we heard again the proclamation that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s love is stronger than death. Unless this proclamation is just a pious sentiment it creates a people whose practices are different than those of the world. The church’s mission is not to be the chaplain to a culture of death, but to be a witness to the love of God in the world. Let us, more and more, be about that task.

 

Timothy W. Whitaker

Bishop, Florida Conference

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