Thursday, January 29, 2009

A reflection on the spiritual discipline of bringing violence to light.

As five men and women bound by handcuffs lined up along a cold concrete wall, one of them turned to the others and asked, "Help me discern the spiritual disciplines of what we are doing?"

For months plans had been taking shape for an action of nonviolent witness to bring to light the depraved violence of weapons that are used to end lives. No matter the cause or reason--intentionally, accidently, or even without malice or with deviant anger--gun violence explodes on a daily basis in Philadelphia and other locations around our nation.

Statistics confirm the tears and outcries of mothers who lose sons and daughters, and communities who lose security and confidence in living. In 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, 55 percent of the gun-related deaths in the US were suicides. There was nothing special about 2005, as suicides have been the number-one gun death for 20 of the past 25 years. Forty percent of gun-related deaths were murders, 3 percent were accidents, and 2 percent were legal killings, including when police shot criminals and those of undetermined intent.

Guns are violent weapons and their use must be addressed. Individuals, the community, state, and church must be active partners in this venture.

On Jan. 14, five participants in the Philadelphia peace gathering, "Heeding God’s Call," chose to take a stand against gun violence using civil disobedience. Later in the week, another seven people participated in this witness calling attention to the need for those who sell such weapons to be diligent in attempting to keep the weapons off the streets.

For the 12 people who were arrested, and the many more people who supported them, this act of civil disobedience was a statement to the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania: more stringent laws and collaborative attempts to reduce the availability of hand guns and automatic weapons must be a priority issue.

Mimi Copp, a Church of the Brethren member living in Philadelphia, and I were among the 12 who were arrested. We were among the first five people who carried out civil disobedience at a Philadelphia gun shop that is well known for selling weapons that end up being used for violence.

Our group had spent several weeks trying to negotiate with the shop owner to agree to a code of conduct for gun shops. The code endeavors to provide those who sell weapons with a solid basis for keeping handguns out of the hands of people who might use them violently. When the gun shop owner repeatedly refused to sign the code of conduct, our group chose to occupy the store until he agreed to sign. We were subsequently arrested with varying charges, including defiant trespass, disorderly conduct, and conspiracy. A court date has been set for March 4.

In the end, after 12 to 24 hours in a Philadelphia jail, each participant agreed that prayer, meditation, and a true sense of call to end the violence on our streets were the spiritual disciplines that directed our actions and supported our witness.

-- Phil Jones is director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.

Source: 1/28/2009 Newsline Special

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