EPPN Alert: The Holy Innocents -- Newtown, Washington, and a Way Forward
One of the more striking contrasts on the Christian calendar is the commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, three days after the celebration of Christmas. In remembering the young children slaughtered by King Herod in Matthew's account of Jesus's birth, the Church jolts us from Christmas joy into a contemplation of the ways in which violence and human brokenness, in spite of Christmas, still enslave the human race. Today, just as two thousand years ago, the most jolting violence of all is that committed against innocent children.
This year, that jolt came earlier, and much more tangibly, than it normally does. The murder of 26 innocent victims, many of them children, in a schoolhouse in Connecticut in the waning days of Advent ripped through the joy of Christmas for millions. As our hearts and minds struggle to comprehend the tragedy of young lives cut short, Holy Innocents Day this year offers an opportunity for grace, hope, and inspiration for the days ahead. It offers an opportunity "to awaken us" as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her message immediate after the shootings, "to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day" and challenge us "to work toward a different future."
What might the creation of a different future look like? Here are two suggestions:
First, we must realize that the brokenness that created the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School is much more deeply inscribed in our culture than we often realize. There is no simple solution; no single law that, if passed, will ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. Our culture simultaneously glorifies, and trivializes, violence while stigmatizing mental illness and discouraging diagnosis and treatment. Our culture too-often allows millions of children to grow up in situations of risk and allows firearms to be available widely Changing the cycle of violence will involve substantial creativity and commitment in our communities, the deployment of all the assets of our congregations, and a commitment to examining our own behaviors. Can you commit to being a part of this? Can your congregation commit?
Second, we must hold our nation's leaders accountable for creating public policies that address this cycle of violence. The Episcopal Church has, for many years, called for policies to keep guns out of the hands of criminals (and to make certain assault weapons impossible to own), as well as to promote better availability of mental-health care and other measures designed to address the causes and effects of violence in our communities. Most have not become law because of a culture in Washington that has allowed these policies to become politicized or driven by partisan rhetoric. In these difficult days after the Sandy Hook shooting, there are some encouraging signs that this gridlock in Washington is abating. We've seen this before in the wake of tragedy, however. Ultimate change will require building an immense advocacy network, creating a comprehensive strategy to address the problem from many angles, and bringing together people of many different viewpoints. The Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations is working to create such a comprehensive advocacy strategy, as well as a nationwide network of advocates. Can you commit to being part of this effort? Can your congregation commit?
If you answered yes to these questions, please do two things:
1. Commemorate victims of violence in our communities on Holy Innocents Day, or the Sunday following, and ask members of the congregation to be part of the solution. Or pick another day soon when your congregation is gathered. If the Connecticut massacre has taught us anything, it's that any day might be Holy Innocents' Day. Conclude the Prayers of the People with the following, or a similar, collect:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to bring all of the world's sufferings within your tender embrace: Mercifully hear our prayers for all innocent victims of violence in our communities and throughout the world you so love. Comfort those who mourn the loss of life, and receive the innocent into the arms of your mercy. Accept our repentance for the ways in which we have encouraged and celebrated violence in our midst, and accomplish within us a true and lasting commitment to building the world you desire, where the streets of our cities are filled with children playing in safety; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2. Visit Episcopal Public Policy Network and sign up to be part of the solution. Share your stories of your commitment. Hear the voices of others. Commit to being part of an ever-widening advocacy network that will play a key role in pursuit of a comprehensive strategy to break the cycles of violence in our culture. Whether you're a layperson, a deacon, a priest, or a bishop, there's a role for you. In 2013, as our nation's leaders begin discussing solutions, you will hear from the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations and other leaders on how to leverage your commitment for the greatest good. You will be asked to write to Congress and the President. You will be asked to encourage your friends to participate. You'll be asked to help make a difference. Right now, we ask you to sign the following pledge:
As an Episcopalian committed in baptism to seeking justice and peace and promoting the dignity of every human being, I commit to being part of the solution to the violence in our culture that claimed the lives of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School and that claims the lives of 2000 innocent children through gun crimes each year. I commit to the pursuit of laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals, prioritize the needs of at-risk children, provide care for mental illness, and address the many ways in which our culture both celebrates and trivializes violence. I commit to holding my lawmakers, my community, and my own household accountable. I commit to accomplishing these things in 2013. I commit to being the change we need.
Together, we can insist that our culture of violence change. Together we can succeed.
As the prophet Jeremiah writes in the lesson appointed for Holy Innocents' Day: "There is a reward for your work, says the Lord. There is hope for your future, says the Lord. Your children shall come back into their own country."