By The Rev. George Anastos
On Wednesday, April 3, here in Denver, I had the privilege to participate in a roundtable discussion with President Obama and Attorney General Holder. The other participants included various state representatives (governor, mayors, police chiefs, etc.), federal officials (members of the US Congress, the AG’s regional office and ATF), hunters and family members of victims of Columbine High School and the Aurora shooting. As the Senior Minister at First Plymouth Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) I was the sole representative of a faith based organization. I was asked because our congregation has taken a strong and active stand on working to curb gun violence in our communities and in our nation.
Both President Obama and Attorney General Holder made it clear they were there to listen. Because Colorado successfully passed various gun control measures in the state legislature, they wanted to learn from Colorado’s experience and what made it successful. I will say this, Mr. Holder runs a good meeting and both he and the President listen very, very well.
The President listened carefully and compassionately to family members of victims of the aforementioned shootings. He had in fact already met the family members of the Aurora shooting in the days following the tragedy. The President was particularly interested in what the hunters had to say (they strongly supported both the state and federal initiatives to curb gun violence).
As the meeting progressed I was struck by how much this meeting resembled any church meeting: gathered around a table, talking about ways to serve and make a difference. On the other hand, this meeting was clearly like no other I had ever been part of. The issue was trying to save lives; POTUS and the AG were present; legislation was pending that could strengthen our nation’s gun laws . . . and that legislation is in trouble. It occurred to me that if the President wanted to gain a different skill set in learning to deal with the politics of a tricky issue he might want to work for a while as a local church minister. (It also occurred to me not to say that out loud.)
One of the biggest takeaways was the realization of the breadth and effort it will take to curb gun violence (all violence) in our nation. On one end of the spectrum the state of Colorado has enacted laws to try to keep weapons out of the hands of the violently prone and the federal government is seeking to do the same. These top down efforts will keep guns out of the hands of some. On the other end of the spectrum is the bottom up the effort in the Church where we are seeking to build faithful communities one person at a time through the spiritual formation of disciples who live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved. These bottom up efforts will put ministry into the hands of some. The government is seeking to change laws; the communities of faith are working to transform lives. The government is enacting law to contain societal violence; the church is grounding itself in incarnate Love to release the common good. It will take both ends of the spectrum, and all places in between, to achieve the ends.
The President was hopeful, but not optimistic, that the proposed legislation would pass. If you are reading this then you have likely read of the powers and principalities that have to be overcome. If the legislation fails then it will be dropped; all in the room seemed to agree it was now or never. Whether this top down effort succeeds or fails, the church’s bottom up effort will go on. We know what it is like to take the long view. Jesus called the church into existence to be his hands and heart and face in the world, to be the Body of Christ, and to continue the work until it is done.
It is not done. In all likelihood, somewhere in our nation during that hour, at least one person was murdered with a gun.
George C. Anastos is the Senior Minister at First Plymouth Congregational Church in Englewood, Colorado. George has been an ordained minister since 1980. A graduate of Yale Divinity School he first served as the minister of the First Universalist Society in Salem, Massachusetts. Later he and his wife, the Rev. Andrea La Sonde Anastos, served as co-ministers of the First Church in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Besides being a minister, George has also worked as firefighter/EMT, a Human Resources generalist, a Safety Director for a manufacturing company, and a corporate trainer.