Episcopal Diocese of Washington

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an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence

March 30, 2017

The Diocese of Washington will be well-represented when advocates gather in Chicago next month for Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence, a three-day conference grounded in scripture, liturgy and theology and sponsored by Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Susan D. Morgan Distinguished Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore and canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral, will be part of the conference’s “three-note” panel, and Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde will join with Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark to lead a plenary session on community organizing.

Workshops at the conference are devoted to helping participants work with police, young people, legislators, anti-violence advocacy groups and other constituencies to reduce gun violence.

“I hope to come away from the conference with concrete ideas and suggestions for reducing gun violence, especially the gun violence that continues apace below the radar of broad public consciousness,” Budde says. “I’d like to move my work and advocacy closer to the ground, in neighborhoods, communities, and among people for whom gun violence is a given in their lives.

“I’d also like to learn ways to speak with people of faith across the spectrum of political views regarding guns and gun violence, so that we can have a real conversation.”Budde is sponsoring the participation of the Rev. Rob Schenck, a conservative evangelical minister who has alienated some of his political allies by speaking out against the gun culture in the United States. Schenck and Lucy McBath, the mother of an unarmed teenager who was murdered in Florida, are the subjects of Abigail Disney’s documentary, “The Armor of Light.” McBath will join Schenck in presenting a workshop.

Budde said she felt strongly about including Schenck in the conference. “He has deep pastoral relationships and a leadership role in the branches of Christianity that most support gun rights,” she says. “His story is a testimony of courage and determination to help influence those most resistant to changing gun culture. He sees gun violence not only as a public health crisis in our country, but a spiritual one as well.” 

Douglas, the author of “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God,” will be a member of the conference’s three-note panel along with the Rev. Julian DeShazier, senior minister of University Church in Chicago and hip-hop artist; and Natalie Moore, South Side reporter for WBEZ and author of “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.” The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, will moderate the panel.

“We can’t see gun violence in isolation from some of these issues like race and social economic justice,” Douglas says. “Until we bring those three things together, I don’t think we are going to resolve issues of gun violence.  So I think the conference is approaching it in the right way.”

Holding the conference in Chicago, which has become synonymous with urban gun violence and last year had the eighth-highest murder rate in the country is also important, Douglas says. In January, President Donald Trump tweeted that he might “send in the Feds,” if the city could not “fix the horrible carnage.”

“This new administration has given attention to Chicago in a way that I think is not helpful,” Douglas says. “It focuses on the violence that actually is a consequence of the systemic and structural violence which has created a culture that actually nurtures death and not the ‘abundant life’ which God promises to us all.  In order to curb the gun violence that has impacted the lives of various neighborhoods in Chicago, one has to address the violence that is the realities of social economic injustice.”

But reducing gun violence in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods and others like them is not the only gun violence issue challenging the country, Douglas says. “We’ve got to get these guns out of the hands of various people who feel threatened every time they see a black body on the street. Because the threat to black life is not just going on in what I call these ‘enclaves of death.’”

Douglas says Trump’s presidency has raised both racial tensions and the awareness of racial tensions in the United States. “Such awareness perhaps will help even more people to understand the realities of racism that actually contribute to issues such as gun violence, and began to understand that these issues do not exist in a vacuum,” she says.  “It is my hope that we will began to recognize the disproportionate impact that gun violence has on communities of color does not result from violent people, but rather violent systems. Far too often we focus on the people as if something is wrong with them—playing into racist narratives—when in fact our focus should be on the situations and conditions in which people are forced to live—which themselves are products of racism.  We have to begin to name the violence that is white racism.”

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