Through her tears, the Rev. Sharon K. Gracen beseeched her congregation at the Trinty Episcopal Church to do their part to change today’s violent culture in the face of the massacre in Newtown—by turning in their guns and checking their kid’s violent video games.
Rev. Gracen (pictured) vowed in her Sunday sermon yesterday to lead the way. She asked her congregation to follow her in the non-violent teachings of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. She said there must not be any future slaughter of innocents.
“No weapon or amount of weapons will ever keep us safe. No security system cannot be foiled. No safety measures can prevent a committed wrong doer from doing damage,” Gracen told her congregation. “And yet, we still believe that weapons and weapons systems and measures will neutralize what threatens us. We hope that weapons will take away our vulnerability.”
Gracen’s hard-hitting Sunday morning message at Trinity, which sits on the town green, came two days after 20 children under age 7 were gunned down in their classroom at the Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Authorities called it the deadliest shooting at an elementary school in the history of the nation. Besides the children, the principal of the school and five teachers were murdered. Then the gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, turned the gun on himself. Police said he shot his mother in the face before taking her guns and car to the elementary school.
Toward the end of the church service, when announcements of future events are noted, Rev. Gracen said that given the tragedy of Sandy Hook, she had no happy announcements to make. But she did have a few other announcements of her own.
“I am committed that we will begin to have a conversation about violence,” she announced.
And then she made her plea: “If you have guns at home …. I am asking that you be willing to give them up for someone you love more.” She asked that they be brought to the police department or the fire department or to the church.
Or “to us … I don’t care where,” she added, speaking through her tears.
“We should not have our children growing up around” violence, she said. She also asked parents to inspect their kids’ video games and discard the violent ones.
During her sermon she said the “why” of the shooting may never have a full answer. Or, she suggested: “there are too many answers. The only question of any value today, as we heard over and over in the Gospel, is: What?”
Looking at the “what,” she said, means looking at our culture. Because, she said, that culture produced the fact that “20 children are no more.”
Violent Video Games Hijack Culture
She said “we have invited unspeakable violence into homes in things that pass for entertainment. Movies and video games are not evil in themselves. But we cannot be so naïve as to think that there is no damage done when young people and adults immerse themselves for hours on end with fantasy realms involving repeated mass killings. These games tell you that you have to kill to get to the next level and to be invulnerable. And then someone will say, ‘It’s just a game and it doesn’t really affect people.’ And look at all of the people who play these games and don’t hurt anyone. Please,” she said, her voice rising.
“I have heard enough of that. This is our culture, accepting the myth of redemptive violence and denying the effects of the tools and images of violence in our midst. Most of us have been passive, silent witnesses, dare I say enablers as our culture has been hijacked and Jesus’ message of non-violence and love has been drowned out.
“Well, it is time to do something about that. If the sacrifice of these children does not motivate us to change, then we are doomed.”
She said changing the gun and video culture requires “some sort of declaration and commitment to a new way of life.
“It will mean recognizing things like violent video games and guns are a part of the sickness. It will mean shunning violent entertainment. It will mean standing up and proclaiming for these ideas and sharing them with those we know and love and becoming evangelists of a new way.”
Then she moved from violent video games to guns to adopting a non-violent philosophy.
In the time of Jesus she said, repeating a story she said she knew her congregants had heard before, “there were two ways to hit someone: first of all a good old fashioned sock to the jaw and the other, a dismissive backhand slap. This latter one was reserved for inferiors—slaves, women, and children. But it was also used by the Romans against all of the Jews, even venerated community leaders. So Jesus told his people, ‘Don’t let anyone treat you like an inferior, turn the other cheek to them and make them hit you like an equal without using violence against them.’”
“Jesus said, ‘Don’t meet violence with violence but instead expose it for the cruelty and unwanted bullying that it is, absorb it, deflect it and deprive it of its power.’ If there is nothing to push back at, the violence loses its strength. This was how Gandhi and Martin Luther King successfully mobilized people to confront the powers and principalities of their times. Non-violence won. Victory achieved by violence is not lasting because it is based on someone who desires revenge. Any peace achieved by violence is fleeting.
“The American story in recent years has been trying to convince us that more and more guns will make us safe, claiming it is about rights and we need these things to make us feel safe.”
This is the myth that Walter Wink, a theologian and writer who worked for peace and reconciliation throughout the world, “unraveled for us,” she said.
“We have allowed ourselves to be cowed and bullied by lobbying efforts that have exploded exponentially the number and types of weapons available, all the while claiming that we need these things to make us safe,” Gracen declared. She asked for a new way of thinking.
As the parishioners left the church, Gracen spoke with each of them. She said later that they were receptive to her announcements. One told her: “I have guns at home. I want to talk about this.” Her parishioners say she doesn’t shy away from tough issues, and they appreciate that.
What is needed, she said, “is to show the world what it looks like to embrace Jesus’ way of non-violent living and life giving love. It will not be easy and it will require sacrifice. It will require each and every one of us to examine our lives and purge them of the tools, accoutrements, and symbols of violence.”
She promised to lead the way.
“I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I know that I’m going to step into this breech and stand for a different kind of world that doesn’t buy the idea that enough violence will make us safe, that doesn’t react to tragedy with fear and more violence.
“I hope that you will join me. We will be given all of the strength and courage that we need. There are 20 children and 6 martyred teachers and One who are counting on us.”
Note: We at the Eagle join Branford in sending our thoughts and prayers to the people of Newtown at this tragic time.