Advocating for Change

This past Tuesday, alongside BMPC members, fellow Presbyterians, interfaith leaders, community members, and folks from all around Pennsylvania, I traveled to Harrisburg to participate in a CeaseFire PA event, advocating at the state house for the passage of common-sense gun legislation.

Pastors Column 5.9.24Each met with their local representatives and senators to discuss the particular bills in the process – bills that limit access to conversion devices that turn guns into automatic weapons, bills that more broadly apply background checks, bills that attempt to limit the use of ghost guns and someone’s ability to simply “print” their own gun at home.

We spent over an hour as a part of a rally on the steps of the capital where speaker after speaker shared the pleas for a culture and a world beyond too many senseless acts of violence. We heard from elected leaders, faith leaders, doctors and nurses, young people, and local law enforcement. But, of course, the most compelling speakers were the parents who had lost children to gun violence. Their stories of grief and frustration were incredibly persuasive. It is hard to believe anyone could not be moved by their stories.

But people are not. Two of the bills voted on yesterday afternoon—one to ban conversion devices and one to prevent gun trafficking—both failed in the House of Representatives despite the voices that filled the capital all day. This is discouraging and begs the question of what our work is when it comes to advocating for change.

I will confess that I am constantly trying to figure that out.

But while we all figure that out together, I will share the things that gave me hope yesterday.

We were part of a group of clergy who visited specific lawmakers who are extreme holdouts on these issues to deliver a collection of interfaith sermons on the topic of gun violence. In one visit, we were led by a nun connected to the Sisters of Mercy who shared that she keeps the lawmaker in her prayers every day.

During the rally, we heard from the newest board member of CeaseFire PA—a high school senior who lives in West Philadelphia. She talked about what it means for her to stand up for life and speak out for the safety of her community and fellow young people.

We sat together with our neighbors from Beth David Reform Temple in Gladwyne in a meeting with Representative Tim Briggs to discuss what our specific community can do to support him as he works to enact these laws.

I watched my good colleague and vocal leader in the City of Philadelphia, the Rev. Adan Mariena, address the gathered crowds to talk about why our particular brand of Christianity believes in the preciousness of life.

I could go on.

This is hard work, and as a church, we don’t take enough time to figure out our role in it. But it is also something that can only be learned by doing, by being in conversation, by opening our hearts to the pain of others.

I hope that the next time we have the opportunity to make our voices heard together, you will be able to join us. But even more importantly, we will each find ways to use our individual voices to advocate for change as well. To learn more about the important work of CeaseFire PA, check out their website and sign up to receive regular updates.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.