The Rev. Rob Schenck is gathering Christian leaders, churches and gun violence survivors for the second annual Survivor Sunday this month in hopes that believers will take action to bring an end to "senseless" gun violence in America.
Survivor Sunday will take place Oct. 14 as a call to pray for those who've lost a loved one as a result of gun violence. The nationwide annual event will center around restoring broken lives while encouraging the Church to play a more active role in finding a solution to ending gun violence.
Last year's gathering brought more than 200 pastors, evangelical leaders and churches together, and many more are expected to join Survivor Sunday this year.
Below is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with Schenck, president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, where he elaborates on where Christians can find answers concerning God and guns.
CP: America has seen a number of school shootings, church shootings, and senseless violence since you held your first Survivor Sunday. Can you share your thoughts on it all?
Schenck: Every act of violence is reprehensible, and acts of gun violence cause not only shock and terror but oftentimes grave loss in a literal flash. They are absolutely devastating. When it's mass shootings, with multiple victims, there's a kind of quantum math that factors into the pain and fear.
Since we held the first Survivor Sunday observance last year, we have witnessed the Sutherland Springs church massacre and suddenly this horror came barreling into the church in a way it never had before. Sadly, it was not the only church shooting over the past year and beyond. If there is anything redemptive to come out of that unspeakable moment, it's that we are more conscious of this terrible reality and we know the church, Christians, and godly people are not immune to it.
CP: Do you think things will change? If so, in what way?
Schenck: Yes, I do think things will change — but it may take a long time for that to happen in a substantive or lasting way.
Of course, there are ways to measure major change and minor change. Major means the country shifts its public policy, law, and other major resources in a tectonic way — minor means little by little, as individuals, families, communities, and, of course, churches begin to change. Maybe in the way they manage their firearms, locking them up, keeping their ammunition separated from the weapon, ensuring that emotionally or mentally unstable family members don't have access to firearms, giving up unnecessary or particularly dangerous weapons.
When enough minor changes are made they add up to major changes.
CP: You released a powerful documentary in 2015 in which you tried to influence some of your minister peers to part from their love affair with guns. What positive changes have you seen take place since your efforts in "The Armor of Light"?
Schenck: More Christians are aware of gun violence since the documentary was released. People of faith are talking and praying about it, and many churches, groups, and individuals have now been through our Bible study series on guns called Fully Protected.
Pastors have raised moral and ethical questions about deadly firepower in their sermons, along with the question of fear and contempt of strangers, foreigners, refugees, immigrants. All these things are related to the question of guns because carrying a deadly weapon and being constantly prepared to use it to kill affects our relationships with others.
CP: What do you say to the many Christians who are pro-gun?
Schenck: Well, first, I'm not a pacifist, so I'm not anti-gun. Hunting rifles are designed to kill animals. Defense weapons, like semi-automatic handguns, are designed to kill humans. For me, they are in two different moral categories.
When it comes to killing human beings, I'm glad police officers, military personnel, and other professional security personnel use guns. Regrettably, I think they are necessary in certain situations. But we need to understand all the dynamics surrounding lethal firepower. It's about life, death, fear, dominance, violence, aggression, and, of course, killing.
I was trained by a very professional firearms instructor who announced he would not train me if I could not assure him that I could kill with the weapon and kill in an instant, without hesitation. He said if I couldn't do that, I would be contributing to the problem, not solving it. He warned if I couldn't kill, the weapon would be taken from me in a struggle, used to kill me, and go on to kill others. That was a very difficult thing to agree to.
Now military and police chaplains will tell you that even when the people under their care kill in the line of duty, under perfectly justifiable circumstances, they do suffer. Some feel guilt or shame, others are revolted by the killing act, or, in some way they are changed for the worse by the experience. That's what we ask these security professionals to do, bear that pain and suffering for the rest of us. Addiction, divorce, depression, suicide are all much too prevalent among these population groups.
For Christians, the real issue is the questions we must ask ourselves, pray about, and consult Scripture on: When may a Christian kill another human being? Who may a Christian kill? Why may a Christian kill? Where may a Christian kill?
Of course, the Bible itself says that it's Christ who has the last word on all things. Hebrews 1:2 says, "in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." So it's God's Son, Jesus, to whom we must look for answers, and Jesus gives us those answers in the Gospel. Neither he nor his disciples use deadly force throughout the New Testament narrative. He tells his disciples, "Do not fear," and "put down your sword."
CP: Which leaders have linked arms with you for Survivor Sunday? Beyond praying and mobilizing their churches, what other things are they doing to effect change?
Schenck: Over 400 pastors throughout the country have joined in Survivor Sunday. The list includes evangelicals from different backgrounds, generations, and denominations, along with church networks and noted pastors such Pastor A. R. Bernard, Joel Hunter, Preston Sprinkle, Jamie Atten, and Bishop Garland Hunt.
There are more than 150 other pastors and ministry leaders who have signed the Evangelical Petition for the Prevention of Gun Violence, among them Max Lucado, Lynne Hybels, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, William Turpie, Peter Chin, Romanita Hairston-Overstreet, and Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook. These people are praying, preaching, writing, and advocating for a biblical, responsible, and peace-fostering public policy and practice regarding lethal firepower.
CP: How do we as people console each other as the effects of gun violence shape the culture we now live in?
Schenck: Prayer is the best place to start. Praying for one another, praying for an end to violence, praying for reconciliation, praying, as the Prince of Peace instructed us to pray, to "deliver us from evil." Prayer connects us to God and to one another in a deeper, stronger, more effective way than anything else. That's why Survivor Sunday is built around prayer for victims of gun violence and their loved ones. But we must also be ready and willing to act. I had a Bible college professor who taught a class on prayer and I remember he said, "never pray for anything you aren't willing to be part of the solution to."
That's profound. If I pray for a victim of gun violence, how might the Lord use me to answer that prayer? Maybe by providing meals for that family as they stay vigil at the hospital, or mourn the loss of their loved one, or recover from injuries, or experience depression, paralyzing fear, or other mental or emotional problems. Maybe we can't do anything directly for a victim or their loved ones, but we can advocate for better laws, policies, or even campaign to elect people with better ideas about how to deal with this terrible problem in our society.
CP: What's the Bible verse(s) that fuels your ministry and what you stand for?
Schenck: 1 John 3:17 and James 2:14–17, as well as the Words of Jesus in Matthew 25:43–45, The Bible commands us to "watch out for one another" (Hebrews 10:24), to "consider others as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3), and to "serve one another through love" (Galatians 5:13).
CP: Many people are saying a prayer and well wishes are not helping when tragedy strike, what do you say to that?
Schenck: We must be ready to be the answer to our own prayers. In the book of James we read that it's not enough to say "God bless you," or to wish them "be warmed and filled." We must deliver real, concrete help to people who need it. So as James says, it's faith and works, not one or the other.
CP: Please include anything else you'd like to share with The Christian Post audience.
Schenck: When it comes to Christians and guns, it's not a question of what is legal or constitutional, or what's my right or my choice. The only thing that matters when it comes to life and death, killing or wounding, whether a friend or foe, the only question is what is God's will? I believe the best place to look for that is in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ because in Him we see the Father.
If you want to know what God wants when it comes to anything, you look to Jesus. I think Jesus is crystal clear when it comes to wielding lethal firepower, but it's something we should all prayerfully and carefully explore together.
I hope that on Survivor Sunday we all might link arms and be the answer to the prayers we are lifting up for victims of gun violence and their loved ones.
For more information about Survivor Sunday, click here.