What are religious leaders saying online about gun violence?

This story appears in the Gun Violence feature series. View the full series.

by Bill Tammeus

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With so much public -- and presidential -- focus in recent weeks on gun violence, I decided to see how much attention the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is paying to this matter.

And I decided to do that the way Maria Q. Citizen might do it, which is to check the USCCB's website. The immediate question on the home page was where any position papers or official statements on this subject might be found. I guessed under the "Issues and Action" tab. But where under there, given that nothing said "Gun Violence" or anything similar? So I picked "Human Life and Dignity."

There I found a long list of subjects, none of which specifically mentioned guns. But there was a "Violence" topic, so I clicked it.

And there, at the top of the page, was a box containing a quote from a 22-year-old pastoral message from the bishops called "Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Framework for Action." The full message said a fair amount about guns, though it also dealt with such topics as abortion.

An outsider -- like me -- had every right to conclude that leaders of the American Catholic Church had come up with nothing new to say about gun violence since 1994 -- which was before a long list of mass shootings, including Columbine (1999), Virginia Tech (2007), Fort Hood (2009), Aurora, Colo., (2012), Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012), Charleston, S.C., (2015), Chattanooga, Tenn., (2015), Roseburg, Ore., (2015) and San Bernardino, Calif. (2015).

And I haven't even mentioned the Washington Navy Yard shootings of 2013 or the Sikh Temple shootings in Wisconsin in 2012. Or many others.

So then I wondered if my Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders had done any better in offering easy-to-find resources on this subject. Well, a little, maybe, but the denomination's website is notoriously hard to search. Eventually, however, I found this semi-up-to-date page about gun violence from the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

My point is not that Catholics and Presbyterians (and many other kinds of Christians) haven't thought about how to curb firearm violence and haven't been engaged in trying to do just that for a long time. Rather, my point is that in this age of instant digital communication, our religious leaders should be making a much more serious effort to provide us with quick, easy-to-find information that we can use to get involved.

I'd say that if the first thing the American Catholic bishops offer visitors to their website -- well, visitors who have guessed how to drill down to the subject of gun violence itself -- is a 1994 statement, it's evident that they aren't taking the subject too seriously.

And if they aren't taking it too seriously, why is it any wonder that the National Rifle Association and others who oppose rational restrictions on gun availability don't take their opponents seriously?

By contrast, in fact, when I looked at the NRA's website the day after President Barack Obama's recent CNN town hall meeting on this subject and a couple of days after his announcement about executive action he was taking, there already was a full statement (and, weirdly, a close-up photo of the back of Obama's head).

"Once again," it said, "President Obama has chosen to engage in political rhetoric, instead of offering meaningful solutions to our nation's pressing problems. Today's event also represents an ongoing attempt to distract attention away from his lack of a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe from terrorist attack."

Blah, blah, blah.

So opponents of reasonable gun restrictions had immediate access to talking points, while people of faith generally were left on their own to respond without a lot of guidance from their leaders.

As I have noted before -- drawing on conclusions of a Presbyterian pastor and author -- gun idolatry is killing us. It's time our faith leaders help people in the pews find the tools they need to melt down this modern golden calf.

[Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the daily "Faith Matters" blog for The Star's Web site and a column for The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book is Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church. E-mail him at wtammeus@gmail.com.]

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