By Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
The three simple rules of the United Methodist way remind us that we are called to "do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God." These are rules that ground our faith and hold us in covenant with all of God's creation.
This past summer, we have been challenged in the church's Northern Illinois Conference to live these rules in the face of mounting death tolls and violence across our state. Even before summer arrived, a record number of teenagers and young adults had lost their lives in acts of violence. This past summer, more than 70 children, youth and young adults have died in shootings in Chicago and surrounding communities. An additional 140 shootings of children, youth and adults have occurred, some with life-threatening, life-altering injuries.
The numbers are staggering. The violence reaches beyond the urban areas and touches many across our conference. Some of these deaths are gang or drug-related. Some are random acts. Others are innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Children are dying on their front porches, in their homes, while riding their bikes, on the way to or from school or while playing with friends.
In the United States, eight children and teens are killed by firearms every day, according to the 2008 Children's Defense Fund report "Protect Children, Not Guns." In 2005, there were 3,006 children and teens killed by firearms - the first increase in deaths from gun violence since 1994. The 2005 data also marks the first increase in such deaths since Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire in 2004.
In July, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that municipalities cannot enact sensible and necessary gun restriction laws. The Supreme Court's decision stands in direct contrast to the stance of our denomination in actions taken at the 2008 General Conference to condemn gun violence and seek greater restrictions on gun ownership and use.
This epidemic of violent death is growing so quickly that we cannot keep the statistics up to date. We become desensitized to the news stories. We feel overwhelmed and hopeless, frightened for our own children's safety, for the future of our youth.
As a place of hope, the church must respond. We should not stay on the sidelines and silently witness the devastation. Now is the time for our congregations to be in dialogue - discerning ways in which we might offer safe space for children and teens, nonviolent models for conflict resolution and alternative channels for anger. As individuals and as churches, we must witness to the need for gun control, model peaceful resolution to our own conflicts and offer support for struggling and single-parent families. We must extend a word of grace - providing resources and encouragement to those caught up in alcohol and drug abuse - and become a place of welcome and meaningful engagement for ex-offenders.
What will your congregation do to make a positive difference in the midst of this epidemic of violence? Investigate the options in your community. Join with parent groups, other faith communities, schools, community-based organizations and local law enforcement. Provide safe space and constructive activities. Engage in the legislative process and speak out for gun controls.
Today another child in northern Illinois will die as an innocent bystander to gun violence. We must unite in our efforts to protect our children and improve the world so they might live without fear that this day will be their last.
Let us prayerfully respond to the needs around us. You can make a difference as you join in the three simple rules of the United Methodist way: "Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God."
Bishop Jung serves as resident bishop of The United Methodist Church in the Chicago Area.