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Hospitality is one of the strongest values of a faith community. We all want meaningful community experiences in our places of worship. Unfortunately, the value of security often clashes with hospitality. Religious communities across the country are afraid. They are afraid to let violence enter the doors of their homes, places of worship and schools. In congregations, we respond to this fear by trying to be safer. But this is only an attempt. We close our entrances, install security cameras and hire guards. We sacrifice our welcome value for security. We do this because the amount of powerful firearms available to people with hate in their hearts is truly terrifying. We pray for our safety but we are tired of being afraid.
As believers, we consider thoughts and prayers to be very important parts of our lives. We pray with joy in gratitude, we pray solemnly in grief, and we pray for guidance on what actions we should take. Unfortunately, in the face of endemic armed violence, our national refrain of “thoughts and prayers” has excluded this essential aspect of action. It left us in a tragic cycle of murder, heartbreak, thoughts and prayers, and repetition. Through inaction, our country has chosen this as part of our common rhythm – even as our children are slaughtered.
But for the first time in three decades, our leaders have taken action. The bipartisan gun safety bill passed by the Senate is an important first step. It expands background check requirements for potential gun buyers under 21, establishes new penalties for those who illegally buy a gun for another person, and provides funding for expanded mental health programs and school safety. At the same time, it does not violate the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners, which is important to so many Alaskans. These are not extremist positions: they enjoy overwhelming support from American voters, and similar measures have been successful in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Norway. If we choose not to adopt similar ones here, we choose instead to perpetuate the pattern of our children hiding in fear under their desks at school, and our religious communities worshiping in holy spaces that function as beleaguered fortresses. .
Laws like these are essential as we consider the safety of our religious communities. A life of faith is not only lived internally in one’s own hearts and souls, and it is not expressed only in individual interactions. It lives in the way we shape society as a whole. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “There comes a time when we have to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling. Our laws are an expression of our common sense of community ethics. Our laws are our societal decisions about what we can morally tolerate. This is clearly not a Republican or Democratic issue, it is a moral issue; it’s not a question of right and left, it’s a question of right and wrong.
We thank Senator Lisa Murkowski and other members of Congress for supporting this common sense bill to address gun violence; to protect our freedoms while protecting our children. Because thoughts and prayers are wonderful. We believe they are essential. But only – only — if they are accompanied by works of justice and righteousness. With this new legislation, our thoughts and prayers are finally followed by action.
Reverend Matthew Schultz is pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage.
Rabbi Abram Goodstein serves as rabbi for Congregation Beth Sholom in Anchorage.
Heather RobertsonBarbour is a representative at the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage.
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