Everything that the Rev. Brooks Berndt does in support of gun reform, he does out of love. As pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash., Berndt has called on state leaders for background checks on all gun sales, and he believes that love will eventually overcome political posturing. This weekend, UCC advocates like Berndt are participating in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, to remember those who have lost their lives to gunfire, and discuss how faith communities can work together to reduce gun violence.
The UCC is part of a coalition of 50 religious denominations and faith-based organizations around the country observing the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, which takes place March 13-16. As people of faith connect on the effort to reduce gun violence, Berndt believes their resolve is strengthened through love.
"I hear people say that common-sense gun legislation, like background checks on all gun sales, will never happen because the gun lobby is too strong. I think this view vastly underestimates the power of love," Berndt said. "People who have lost loved ones to gun violence and people who want to prevent the loss of their loved ones to gun violence are willing to go to great lengths in order to make sure that more people are not killed.
"I am confident that this is an issue in which the power of love will prove to be much stronger than financial greed or political ideology."
The Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath is organized by the Washington National Cathedral and Faiths United Against Gun Violence, formed in 2011, groups united by a call to confront gun violence in America. In three years, Faiths United Against Gun Violence has seen support from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities.
The Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath begins with a kickoff event Thursday evening, March 13, with a vigil at the Washington National Cathedral. The remainder of the weekend (Friday, March 14 through Sunday, March 16) UCC congregations, alongside thousands of diverse houses of worship across the U.S., are participating with prayer, education, acts of kindness and action.
"Now, more than ever, is when people of faith are needed to be that voice, to hold up an alternative vision to the culture of violence and fear that holds our society captive," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington, D.C. office. "So it is heartening to see the strong participation of faith groups, including many UCC congregations around the country, in the national interfaith Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. It is important for us not to lose heart in this effort, despite the setbacks we may see along the way."
Just last year, leaders from the UCC across national, conference and local settings were active in a variety of ways, pushing state and federal lawmakers for gun reform — particularly in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 that killed 20 children and six adults. In the 14 months since, Congress hasn’t made any changes to federal laws that would expand background checks and tighten gun trafficking regulations.
"After Sandy Hook, I couldn’t bear the thought of my two-year-old daughter growing up in our society without my trying to make it safer for her," Berndt said. "Common-sense gun legislation literally saves lives. To advocate for this legislation is an act of love."
Fellow UCC minister the Rev. Matt Crebbin, pastor of Newtown Congregational UCC in Newtown, Conn., believes that we "live in a time when common-sense gun safety legislation – like the strengthening of our national background check system – cannot pass Congress, even though nearly 90 percent of our citizens support such a law," he wrote in as part of an invitation to join the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. "We have allowed fear and apathy to rule when it comes to guns in America. We have allowed the status quo to become perfectly acceptable. As a result, every year 30,000 precious lives — each one created in God’s image — are added to a tally that is already far too high."
Aside from participating in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, UCC congregations and individuals can learn more about taking action by sending a letter to their elected officials asking for common-sense legislation.