Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns Part 1: My Church

Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting, I've been working on a two-part blog series about guns and gun violence.  It's been slow going, because it's an emotional and difficult issue for me.  I've been torn apart in my feelings about Sandy Hook, and mourning deeply, particularly as a mother of an elementary-school-aged child.  This blog series has now become at least a three-part series, maybe more.  I thought I just needed to explain who I was and position myself in this debate, and then lay out my person vision.  Now I understand that I also need to tell my readership, which hopefully and probably includes more than my own religious community, about the community I serve.

I serve a more politically diverse, which is to say more conservative, church than the average Unitarian Universalist church.  It's very different from all the other churches I've known, as someone who was raised Unitarian Universalists and moved quite a bit before seminary and has served seven churches if you count internship, student ministries, and a summer ministry.  This church I serve now is a rural, historically Universalist church.  It has a higher than average Christian percentage for a Unitarian Universalist church.  It has a higher than average moderate-to-conservative population, I would guess, as well.  Two of our biggest controversies have been about whether or not the American flag belongs in the sanctuary and whether or not the picture of Jesus does.  There are strong feelings on either side, and we've worked for compromises in each.  I also have members who wish I would preach more hellfire and brimstone, and have said so--in those words.  I'm not speaking metaphorically!  But with each of our members, there's a reason why they come to us, and those reasons are important.  Sometimes it's historical connection, sometimes it's a gay family member, sometimes it's because they know we were there in some important moment of need or crisis.  Sometimes the reason is theological, sometimes historical, sometimes community, sometimes the drive to be challenged by people who think differently.  And they lovingly stand by this church, even when they disagree with its stands and, often, its minister.

And so it is also true that we have a lot of gun owners.  Most of them are hunters.  It's not unusual in our church in hunting season to have a candle of joy lit for a buck killed.  We've happily eaten the venison at church fundraisers.  (I might add that they were successful, joyful, and well-attended dinners when the venison has been featured, along with vegetarian alternatives, but our gun-owners do outnumber our vegetarians, and some of our vegetarians who don't eat meat because of factory farming issues may happily enjoy the venison, as well.)  I can count on my fingers fifteen percent of our adult members and regular friends of the church where I know those adults have or had guns in their household.  I can count another ten percent where I think it's very likely, but they've never specifically said.  (These are some of our older members from farming backgrounds, where it would be a normal part of farm life to own a gun, but they've never mentioned it specifically.)  There's another group where I wouldn't be surprised to find out they have guns in their household.  And then there's always the ones that might surprise me, such as some of our radical, activist, liberal members who are also gun owners.  But I wouldn't be surprised to find out we have a 30% gun ownership in this Unitarian Universalist church.  I'm sure that whatever the national average for gun ownership is among Unitarian Universalists, we would beat it by a good ten percent at least. 

But I also know this story.  Months before our Governor vetoed the legislation that was going to allow concealed carry in churches, I mentioned that this legislation was pending to one of our most avid gun owners.  "There's just no need for anyone to be doing that," was the response I got.  "Nobody needs to have concealed carry in churches."

What did that tell me?  There may be a lot of guns in our church, but we're just another slice of America here.  And there's a lot of room for compromise between the perspectives of our most extreme members on the right and left of the gun debate.  I see a willingness among our gun owners and second amendment believers to put in sensible reforms.  And I see a willingness among our reform advocates to leave room for gun ownership for our avid hunters.  I see a great willingness here for our church to find common ground here, to have the difficult discussion in microcosm that our polarized country needs to have in macrocosm.  I don't know if we'll have that discussion in organized form or just individually, but I believe it will be, and perhaps already is happening.  So it is with this understanding, that my church is a diverse and unusual place, that I begin to share here my own thoughts, knowing they may not be typical for our group here, but that I have a free pulpit that they have lovingly given me.

1 comment:

Miriam said...

The community you describe sounds a lot like what you'd find in my area of Wisconsin. I have to say that before moving to Wisconsin I was completely anti-gun, but it's hunting and hunters here that have mellowed my stance. I think hunting has a fairly important place socially (and of course, it's got a long Native tradition), and I see nothing wrong with anyone owning guns for that reason.

Where the gun-rights folks and I differ is on things like concealed carry in schools and other public buildings, which I think is an awful idea. I also see *nothing* wrong with background checks, and they ought to be mandatory. Perhaps most importantly, I also don't think there's any valid reason for anyone to have high-capacity magazines, rapid-fire machine-gun-style weapons, or ammunition like armor-piercing bullets. Hunters don't need them - well, responsible hunters don't - and again, I don't see any legitimate reason for any private individual to own something like this, so I think those should be banned.

Anyway... I'm looking forward to the rest of your contributions, and as someone who's not a part of your congregation, I also appreciate learning more about your church!