If we have learned anything from this terribly tragic year in American society, it is the simple fact that no one in America is safe from gun violence. The situation in our country is just that bad.

In tragedy after tragedy this year, we’ve seen that the epidemic of gun violence is not contained to one community or group, but that it touches us all regardless of geography or race, age or occupation, religion or political party. And when it does, the grief that tears at the heart of a mother in the inner city of New York is the same as that of a brother in rural Iowa and a daughter in the suburbs of Ohio.

The President’s emotional speech and passionate town hall this week reflected that awful truth about gun violence that we as faith leaders and clergy see firsthand: the terrible statistic that over 30,000 Americans are lost every year to gun violence, far more than in any other industrial nation, translates to families destroyed and lives ruined. In one of the most advanced countries in the world, this reality is wrong and, worse, utterly shameful. Because of this, we, faith leaders and members of Mayor de Blasio’s Clergy Advisory Council, watched with great relief as President Obama announced an executive order that would take meaningful action to begin to stem gun violence that has continued to wreak havoc in our communities.

While many in our country only see the statistics, our communities of faith have the regular and devastating duty of bearing the consequences of the tragedies caused by guns. We care for the families and loved ones of victims of gun violence. We compose eulogies for young people gunned down, sit with too many grieving parents who have endured the unspeakable tragedy of losing a child, and struggle week after week to find words to address in public worship the deep lament of one senseless tragedy after another.

This work of finding appropriate words of lament as we’ve watched our lawmakers largely sit idly by is infuriating; we know that so many of these losses are avoidable if only our political leaders would act with courage and conviction.

Scripture recounts God speaking to the people of Israel saying, “See I have set before you life and death... Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” President Obama has acted with courage and conviction, speaking truth to a powerful gun lobby and leading us to choose life. Finally.

In the absence of meaningful Congressional action to stem gun violence, we are committed to following President Obama’s courageous public stance by continuing our work against gun violence here in New York City. We have done this after Sandy Hook, the lapse of the assault weapons ban, and every time innocent life is taken, and will continue until this epidemic is addressed. In addition to day-to-day support for families and individuals in crisis, we continue to work with Mayor de Blasio’s office on his Clergy Advisory Council. In this role, we support, organize, and empower congregations of all faiths throughout the city to take meaningful steps to curb gun violence.

Our committee furthers the outstanding leadership that Mayor de Blasio has provided on this issue. The Mayor has worked tirelessly to make New York City the safest city in America by building strong bonds between the community and police, by promoting collaboration between the City’s criminal justice agencies, district attorneys, and courts, and by investing in technology that makes our communities safer.

It takes courage to use a political platform to make meaningful change on the issue of gun violence. We’re deeply grateful for the President’s courage, and the Mayor’s willingness to use his platform to push for common sense gun reforms on all levels of government. From calling on government pension funds to divest from gun manufacturers, lobbying Washington to crack down on illegal gun dealers, to keeping assault weapons out of the hands of civilians, Mayor de Blasio has provided visionary leadership in the movement to end gun violence.

Still, we know from one heartbreaking experience after another that no one President, Mayor, Pastor, or Task Force will be able to finally stem gun violence in our country once and for all. We need every person of faith and conscience to roll up their sleeves, add a strident voice to this effort, and get to work on this issue.

We are lucky in New York City that our congressional delegation has the courage to lead on gun safety. How egregious that we must organize to defeat the intransigence of other elected congressional representatives, who prefer to pander to special interest groups like the NRA instead of honoring their responsibility to help us build a safer America, a society full of all the promise we hope for those who will inherit this great nation after we are gone.

After endless cycles of death, suffering, and public grief punctuating much of 2015, our country yearns for life. Our children deserve nothing less, and we cannot abdicate our responsibility to make a safe and nurturing society reality for all of our children. President Obama has acted with courage and conviction this week; may we gather our own resolve to follow his example by contacting our elected officials across the country to say publicly and boldly that we will not tolerate any more senseless violence, and that we will, defiantly and persistently, choose life.

Rev. Michael Walrond Senior Pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church Chair of the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council

Rev. Amy Butler Senior Pastor, The Riverside Church of New York City Co-chair, Public Safety Committee, Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council

Rev. Fred Davie Executive Vice President, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York Co-chair, Public Safety Committee, Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council





The following is a letter to pastors and church leaders.


Sunday found us waking to the confluence of so many streams of hatred and vitriol in our society – homophobia, islamophobia, fear of the other in any form.  “Here we find ourselves again,” we shake our heads in numb, benign dismay.  It was yet another occasion, another in a long and bloody list, for us to publicly lament the violent loss of life and offer our thoughts and prayers, if we mentioned the tragedy at all.  Such a shame, a real downer for Sunday morning worship.

Unfortunately, we would be dreadfully wrong if we did not admit there is something deeper going on here than one horrific incident.  There is something in the soul of our country that is festering, ugly, evil: a proliferation of hatred, intolerance, misappropriated religion, damaging political rhetoric, and many of us bear some responsibility for this evil.

Scripture tells us that all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial – that the measure of our humanity is not whether we have freedom, but how we use it.  In this country, we have enshrined in our founding, inalienable freedoms each of us has by virtue of our common humanity.  First among these is the freedom of speech.

Sometimes in our speaking we have been the voices of division breeding hatred; sometimes we have looked away, silent and void of courage; sometimes we have neglected to use our voices and our platforms to tell the truth with courage and conviction.

Whatever our personal failures, it’s abundantly clear that our silence has made space for hateful rhetoric from the pulpit and from the campaign trail and from so many other public pedestals.  This devastating and increasingly deafening soundtrack of American life is drowning our weak protestations and building walls between people, chasms that separate us from each other, breed fear and instigate violence.

And because we have not stepped with courage into the task of preaching love, we have contributed as our country has brutally expressed its second freedom, the freedom to arm itself.  We’ve stood by watching while our fellow Americans have armed ourselves with ideologies of hatred and fear, prejudice and bigotry. And then, after the sowing of these seeds of sin, we have nurtured them to full bloom, arming ourselves with assault rifles and high capacity magazines.

Our words, or our silences, have consequences.  We cannot carelessly toss about brutal, hurtful words without bearing their deep and deadly mark on our souls. And we cannot be silent in the face of evil, lest we become an expression of that evil ourselves.

Let us exercise our freedom of speech to preach a gospel of love.  Let us arm ourselves, not with weapons, but with all that our faith has taught us and all that has made this country strong – justice, tolerance, diversity, the audacious belief that we can embody God’s highest hopes for our world.  And let us boldly insist on a complete rejection of any ideology that even suggests anything other than this: every person is a beloved child of God, always welcomed into relationship and community.

Such a tragedy has occurred in Orlando this week.  May our voices rise in lament, again.  May we pledge our prayers for the victims and the families one more time. But most of all, may we grieve our hatred or our apathy or our lack of courage…or all three.

Ministers of the gospel, proclaimed bigotry, silence, or indifference should now be named malpractice.  Or perhaps, more aptly, sin.  We, of all people, should stand with courage to proclaim loudly and perpetually that this way of living and dying together will not be our future; that the power of love must embolden us to chart a new course; and that love will be the thing that saves us.

Pastor, if you have never publicly welcomed the LGBTQ community to church or spoken out against hatred and bigotry toward Muslims, if you have kept silent about the deadly culture of gun violence in our country, then you bear some responsibility for this place in which we find ourselves.  Please, please: no more worship services that never mention this tragic incident and the LGBTQ victims so brutally murdered.  No more thoughts and prayers.  No more silence in the face of evil.

It’s time for all of us to take up the prophetic mantle and speak of the power of love before we lose our ability to speak to anything at all.

Rev. Dr. Amy Butler is the Senior Minister of The Riverside Church in New York City. Prior to this call, Pastor Amy served as Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Pastor Amy holds degrees from Baylor University (BA ‘91, MA ‘96); The International Baptist Theological Seminary (BDiv ‘95); and Wesley Theological Seminary (DMin ‘09). 

Source: Patheos






In response to the tragic shootings in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge I tweeted this earlier today.

Just moments after I hit “post,” I found myself deluged in an ocean of emails and messages asking me why I was placing an emphasis on “Black Lives” mattering, as opposed to “White Lives” or “All Lives” not equally mattering.

It reminded me of some correspondence I had back in 2014 after the shooting of Tamir Rice where I got a lot of the same pushback from more than a few white colleagues of mine for tweeting something similar.

It read: “I find it hard to believe that a 12 year old boy is threatening enough to be shot and killed. #Rice #Cleveland #WhatIsWrongWithUs?”

Strangely enough, here we are 19 months later still saying all the same thingsabout the same rampant epidemic of gun violence in our country.

In that regard, the correspondence below remains relevant in light of even more recent, unspeakable tragedies.

Out of respect for the person who messaged me, I have removed any language from the correspondence that would hint at his location, place of work, or anything else in his life, while at the same time maintaining the full integrity of his premise.



He wrote,

Hey Ryan.

Been thinking about your Twitter post and why it has stuck in my head since I saw it. - “I find it hard to believe that a 12 year old boy is threatening enough to be shot and killed. #Rice #Cleveland #WhatIsWrongWithUs?”

After thinking about it I came to the conclusion that I probably have a lot to learn and the only way to learn is to listen. So, here goes nothing. I guess my question is “What should the officers have done??”

The story I read said that the officers approached the scene under the assumption that this was a man with a gun. An active shooter situation. From what the story said they were not told that it could be a kid. The story also said that the kid was a larger than average 12 year old and that he reached into his waistband and pulled out the toy gun. Probably just to give it to the officers because he was scared.

Given the circumstances, what else should they have done? I guess as hard as it is to believe that a 12 year old could be threatening enough to shoot I also find it hard to believe that those officers went on shift that day with the intentions of shooting a child.

Those cops that pulled up on the scene probably have families at home. When they pull up and someone (even a kid) pulls a gun out instead of doing what they are told they don’t have the luxury of assessing whether of not that gun is real. Not if they want to go home to their kids that night. Have you seen an Airsoft Gun?? They are virtually identical to a real gun. This is absolutely tragic but I don’t think it was a couple of rogue cops out to shoot a kid. And where in the world were the parents or other adults? I would never let my kids walk around with a toy gun that looks like a real gun and I live in a low crime area. I don’t know what the neighborhood was like where this occurred but if it is a high crime area then all the more reason not to allow this. Anyway, thanks for listening to my questions and thoughts. If you have time to help me understand what I am missing here I would sincerely appreciate your thoughts.

- Mr. X

And here was my response.

Mr. X -

Thanks for your message and for your thoughts. I love discussing things that matter, and this certainly matters.

I stand by what I said. “I do find it hard to believe...” but I don’t mean that as glib, linear statement. It is multi-faceted.

You mentioned many of those facets.

The kid.

The neighborhood.

The family.

The gun that looked real.

The policy and intent of the police force.

Their own families.

I think there are a few more facets that puzzle me.

A boy being shot in an open-carry state.

The heightened sense of fear amongst the black community with all the deaths that have occurred this year.

Until I was eleven, my Father pastored in an all black neighborhood in Flint Michigan. It was the “olden days” where we had church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. So, needless to say, I was at the church during the “off” hours a lot, especially during the summer when school was out, since I had two working parents.

Our first Sunday at the church, I asked the church organist, a dear black man named Elsworth Jackson why the tops of his hands were brown and his palms were pink. He picked me up, put me on his lap, gave me a big hug and explained it to me. Then he gave me five dollars (which was a lot for a kid my age in the 1980’s). That has always had a huge impact on me.

Anyway, the neighborhood was full of crime and drugs, and I spent lots of time at the park on Sunday afternoons with kids playing basketball, riding the swings, etc.

Then my family would drive back outside the city to the suburbs where all the white people lived.

I played with toy guns in the yard and out in the street all the time with all my white neighbor friends. We were never stopped, questioned, or even paid attention to. They were just toy guns (this also being before toy manufacturers had to start “marking” toy guns so they could tell the difference).

What’s my point?

I just have a lot of doubts how many white children in Cleveland playing with guns in wealthier suburban neighborhoods were stopped the same day for the same thing when this tragedy occurred.

My guess would be, “zero.”

So what does that mean, then? Am I saying cops are racist? No.

What I am saying is that there is a distinction here that just never seems to match up no matter how it gets “logged” statistically.

I don’t know where you stand on gun rights, but I don’t stand in support of the public being allowed to carry firearms. OF COURSE, people should be free to hunt, fish, etc. I believe in the rights of hunter’s and sportsmen, but I don’t see why anyone needs to own a handgun or an assault rifle to hunt deer, rabbits, pheasant, etc.

To take it even a little further, I live in Midtown Manhattan. If I want to see animals, I have to go to the zoo. What business then, is there in me owning a firearm of any kind?

None. And I feel completely safe. I trust that the city government and the police force are doing all that they can to protect me.

So, if I am to really zone in on what I believe our differences to be here, I’d say we differ on gun rights.

We have kids playing video games with simulated violence and killing. My kids will not. We have toy guns flooding the market. I’m not buying any for my kids. I’m not going to raise my children to think of guns as a “playthings.”

We have real guns for sale in a matter of minutes to adults. If my son grows up and wants to go outside the city to hunt, that is fine, and healthy, and good, but if he wants to own an AK-47 fully automatic assault rifle, he and I will have to have a serious discussion.

When we “trivialize” guns as a society, this tragedy in Cleveland is exactly the kind of thing that happens. It’s also why the U.S. nears the top of the list in gun deaths every year.

So I guess I would just ask you to ponder a few questions.

1) Had the kid been playing with a toy gun in an upper income, predominantly white suburb, would this tragedy have happened?

If you say “yes,” I respect your right to think as you like, but we just agree to disagree.

If your answer is “no,” then you concede that someone was treated differently because of their skin color, dwelling place, and economic status.

2) Did we not live in a society where best selling video games and movies and toys that train children to believe that killing is “a game,” would this tragedy have happened?

Do these toys and games reinforce the ideal that life is precious and sacred? No. But I think that is a long road that has to be walked. We didn’t get where we are as a society overnight, and we won’t get somewhere else that way either. Not until we change the way we educate our children about the preciousness and gift of lifeand when we speak out when we see things gone horribly wrong.

The solution is to alter what we teach our children, and teaching them is not just what they hear in the home. In fact, that is just a small slice of our lives we have to teach them. Where they learn most of what they learn is in all those countless hours where they are not in our presence and are taught by their surroundings and by the media.

And there is great need for reform here.

It’s also important to remember that the police work inside of this framework that we have built into our children and our society. And there is just no way in the world that this doesn’t make everything even more difficult. We as adults are only living in the world that we have “reared.” And that is our doing.

A twelve year old is playing with a toy gun in framework that says, “Life is cheap. Killing is a game. Guns are trivial.” Who taught him that?

His family? Maybe.

His peers? Probably.

Society? Absolutely.

So yes, “I find it hard to believe...” The world doesn’t need to be like this. God didn’t make it this way. We did. I don’t think that God enjoys seeing kids playing games with simulated violence, and running around with toy guns. (I don’t think he likes it when adults do either).

Those are my opinions not my exegesis (or who knows, maybe it is my exegesis). Anyway if we change the way we educate people, tragedies like this can be lessened. All the best.




My prayers today are with all of those we know of (and those that we don’t) who have had their lives irreparably altered by gun violence.

My prayers are with our president, our congress, and all those who serve in law enforcement.

I pray that we wouldn’t just skim another headline and feel a few moments ofsympathy.

I pray that our sympathy would evolve into something higher: empathy-to feel the pain of another so deeply that it moves one to action.


Ryan is the Lead Pastor of Forefront Church in Manhattan. He has over 20 years of experience in pastoral ministry and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.