How Two Kansas City Area Pastors Are Addressing Gun Violence From The Pulpit
As the homicide count in Kansas City continues to creep up and mass shootings happen regularly across the country, religious leaders from the suburbs to the city are finding it increasingly necessary to address the violence.
"We see a lot of memes, Facebook, and social media about 'thoughts and prayers are not going to take us much further' but, indeed, prayer is the foundation of the church," says the Rev. Laurie Anderson, minister of church life at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church in Overland Park.
She insists the prayer be accompanied by action, too, but that can be harder to muster in suburban communities that aren't as affected by the violence.
"Silence is saying something," she says, "and I think that is the danger of the suburban church."
Anderson also admits any concrete action within the church can take time.
"We're not quite at that point," she says. "Being a mainline church, we have a lot of resolutions and papers, and we like to study and have committees."
For now, she finds herself just pushing people to talk, though even that can take a turn for the worse.
"I would not necessarily probably take on gun control from the pulpit, but I would feel entirely comfortable addressing gun violence from the pulpit," she says. "That may seem like a fine line for folks, but I think there's a little bit of difference: where control is policy and politics, violence is addressing how we lean into our faith."
Drawing that distinction can be very important in a congregation that spans the political spectrum, Anderson says, and in a environment where people allow politics to "steal what is our Gospel truth."
Given the complexities of the gun issue, she says, "the church's responsibility is the recognition we are all God's children, and how are we going to come together and ... not be the frozen chosen. We're going to take a step each day and hopefully it's a step forward."
At St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, "some of the violence really hits close to home," says the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, son of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II.
So far this year there have been 92 homicides in Kansas City, Missouri, 50 of which have been cleared or solved.
Despite his congregation's closer proximity to the violence, Cleaver says having a solution to the problem is not the church's role alone.
"There are all sorts of organizations, nonprofit groups who are really involved in this," he says, "so just encouraging people to get involved with some of those groups ... and I think churches really need to partner with those groups."
To facilitate conversations about gun violence here, different hurdles must be cleared.
"Especially in the urban core there's this culture of not snitching, and I think the church has to really speak out against that," Cleaver says.
Encouraging good mental health practices also plays a role, he says. "We have no problem going to a podiatrist if we have problems with our feet, no problem going to the dentist if we have problems with our teeth and we have to make it not such a big deal if we need to sit down and talk with a counselor."
Skirting political divides is much less an issue in Cleaver's congregation, and many parishioners expect him to address gun control.
"When there are things that come up in the community, I think it has to be talked about from the pulpit," he says. "Just keeping it in front of the people constantly, to say that, you know, we are the eyes, the ears, the hands of God in the world today and it's really up to us to do something."