Church leaders at Utah ecumenical vigil say 'no more' to gun violence

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Marie Mischel

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Face after face of women and men, boys and girls, African-American, white, Latino and Asian -- all representing the more than 30,000 people who die from gun violence each year in the United States -- shone briefly on the screen at Calvary Baptist Church.

As the images flashed by representatives of five Salt Lake City churches spoke about the need to end the gun violence that had claimed the life of each of those pictured.

"These aren't the pictures we should be seeing," said Bishop Scott Hayashi of the Episcopal diocese of Utah during a vigil held on the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Conn., before committing suicide as law enforcement arrived.

Rather than the smiling faces seen onscreen, people need to see how the victims looked after being shot, so that they will say "no more of this," Hayashi said. "All life is important to God, and all lives should be important to us. Let's just stop this now."

In addition to Hayashi, speakers at the vigil were Bishop John Wester of the Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City and the Rev. Jerrod Lowry, pastor of Community of Grace Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. France Davis, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, welcomed those in attendance and gave the opening prayer; the Rev. Curtis Price, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City, gave the benediction.

While thinking about the presentation he would give at the vigil, Lowry said, he had asked himself whose responsibility it was to do something.

Then he realized "the responsibility is on us," he said. "Why? Because God has given us breath, God has given us life, and because God has given us life, then we are to pursue the justice that God desires to be in this land. ... The question is, what are you going to do with what God has given to you?

"Are you going to just light candles and pray, and hope and wait for somebody to do something so we don't have to see more pictures like this? Or are you going to recognize ... that all of those that God has given breath and life to have been called by God to stand up and do something?"

Already, 37 states are taking steps to strengthen gun laws, said Wester, who mentioned that two weeks before he had attended the funeral of a good friend's 22-year-old grandson, who was murdered in San Francisco.

"We have to address ... the prevalence of guns in our neighborhoods, and the disturbing trend of viewing the proliferation of these dangerous weapons as not only acceptable but desirable," Wester said. "We need to be reminders to our fellow women and men that self-defense is about protecting life, not threatening the lives of others, and that respect for human dignity comes from within, not from a holster."

To deal with gun violence, the Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City will lobby against any proposed legislation at the state level to allow the open carrying of weapons in Utah, and also continue to work at the local and national level for universal background checks of those who purchase guns, according to Jean Hill, diocesan government liaison. She spoke to the Intermountain Catholic, Salt Lake City's diocesan newspaper, after the vigil.

"Human life is sacred, and guns are a real and present danger to this God-given life that we all have," Wester said. "We need to send a clear message to the state and federal elected officials that we will no longer tolerate the continued march toward a culture that prioritizes deadly weapons over human life."

Davis, whose church hosted the event, pointed out that firearm homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American men under the age of 35, but "I'm convinced that unless we can bring about some change in terms of what's happening with gun violence, then we all are destined to be affected personally and individually, family and otherwise by the infestation of shootings and violence that's happening."

In an interview after the event, Davis said he wanted to host the ecumenical event at his church "because we have to send a clear message that it's not just one community or one group of people who are affected, but all of us who are affected negatively by gun violence."

[Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the diocese of Salt Lake City.]

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