‘Disappointment and helplessness about the prospects of the Tennessee Legislatureapproving commonsense gun safetylaws are heightened’
by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service
Photo by Katy Anne via Unsplash
NASHVILLE, Tennessee — “The grief continues to be heavy,” says the Rev. Ray Thomas, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. “Many of our churches had members, friends or families whose children attend, or once attended, the Covenant School,” where last month’s shooting took the lives of four adults and three children. “I have spoken with many of our pastors in the Nashville area, particularly those who have schools and preschools on their campuses. They all have taken extra measures to ensure the safety of the children, staff, and families.”
On March 27, a 28-year-old entered Covenant School, affiliated with a Presbyterian Church in America congregation, and fired 152 rounds of ammunition, killing three nine-year-old children and three adults within 14 minutes. The guns — an assault rifle and a pistol, along with five other firearms — were all legally purchased by the assailant, Audrey Hale, between 2020 and 2022. Tennessee does not require background checks to purchase firearms, has no “red flag” laws to seize weapons from individuals who might be a danger to themselves and others and became the 25th permit-less carry state in 2021.
PC(USA) pastors and churches respond
In the wake of this tragedy, PC(USA) ministers around Nashville and members of their congregations struggled with a range of emotions and with how to respond.
The Rev. Dr. Donovan Drake
The Rev. Dr. Donovan Drake, Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Nashville, wrote a letter to the congregation about his personal connection to the Covenant School through members of Westminster whose children attend. He visited annually and participated in the chapel service for “bring your pastor to school” day. After feeling “thankful for the news” that the member children who were students there were safe, Drake read the names of the three who died and recalled seeing the face of one of them while participating in the chapel’s children’s sermon. He identified the despair of those intimately connected as unimaginable but concluded with what he did know. “What we know is that there is money to be made, politics to protect, and the news cycle will move. What we know is that the grieving will not. Our call is to be in covenant with them.”
“The juxtaposition of Holy Week and Easter provided an opportunity for our congregations to address the tragic losses and raw grief both liturgically and theologically” said Thomas of the 80 congregations in the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. The Rev. Adrian White, interim pastor of Woodland Presbyterian Church in East Nashville, a Matthew 25 congregation, responded to the grief and outrage being expressed in the wake of the shooting and the political fallout. “We sought to adapt our worship plans to reflect the full, sometimes painful reality of our life together,” White said.
White described how the congregation gathered on the church steps for Palm Sunday and held a moment of silence for the seven lives lost at the Covenant School before their procession of palms. “As a pastor, I’m called to preach good news, even and especially in the midst of tragedy, suffering and chaos” said White. “Through prayer and preaching throughout Holy Week, I strove to amplify the truth of God’s love and justice while also offering words of comfort and solidarity as we grieved together for our city and for the ongoing emergency of gun violence we face in the United States.”
White lifted up how “it has been important to our community to reject anti-trans rhetoric and ideologues who attempted to twist the tragedy at Covenant School into fodder for an agenda of hate.” Thomas remarked that this perspective was shared among other congregations in the presbytery, which has signed on to the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 movement to address congregational vitality, systemic poverty, structural racism, gender justice, climate change and militarism. “A number of our churches are also recommitting their voices, energies, and resources to advocate for, support, and care for our LGBTQIA+ siblings,” Thomas said.
A resurrection hope that White gave in their Easter sermon was of the faces of the young people at the state Capitol following the shooting. “I was grateful to share glimpses of hope, too, like the powerful work of young people in Nashville speaking out for politics that will keep them safer at school and help create a world we can all live and thrive in.”
Tennesseans take action
On March 30, the first day since the Covenant School shooting when the Tennessee General Assembly was back in session, hundreds of children, teens and their parents gathered at the Capitol to seek tighter gun-control laws.
Photo by Colin Lloyd via Unsplash
While no specific gun laws were on the day’s agenda, three Democratic representatives tried to speak on the need for gun reform and to listen to the voices represented in the gathering outside the statehouse. Their behavior was deemed out of order. They were accused of “disorderly behavior” and on April 6, the three — Representatives Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson — were stripped of their committee assignments. Jones and Pearson were expelled from the House, an act that has been used only eight times in Tennessee’s history to prior to last week. Six representatives were expelled in 1866 for trying to prevent the passage of the 14th amendment granting citizenship to former slaves. The other two were for charges of bribery and sexual misconduct in the 20th century.
On Monday, the Nashville Metro Council voted 36-0 to reinstall Jones as their representative. On Wednesday, the Shelby County Commission followed suit on behalf of Pearson.
‘Taking stock, regrouping and strategizing on the horizon’
“Disappointment and helplessness about the prospects of the Tennessee legislatureapproving commonsense gun safetylaws has only been heightened following the expulsions of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee House last Thursday,” said Thomas of the complex grief he was sensing around the presbytery. “I sense a coming period of taking stock, checking in with one another, regrouping, and strategizing on the horizon, as we step into this week following Easter Sunday.” Thomas also noted this week’s shootings at Old National Bank in Louisville near the Presbyterian Center, remarking how the frequency of the shootings and familiarity of impacted communities for Presbyterians “significantly add to our grief, our sense of urgency, and our shared frustration over not being able to formulate a clear, hopeful path forward.”
‘May God inspire our collective imaginations and unite us in courage and clarity to reroute our shared path away from these deadly outbreaks of violence, hatred, and destruction.’ — The Rev. Ray Thomas
In a worship service held virtually at the Presbyterian Mission Agency on Wednesday following the deaths of five people in the bank two blocks from the Presbyterian Center, the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, preached and cited that in 2023 alone, there had been 147 mass shootings in the 102 days since the beginning of this year. Of those, according to Gun Violence Archive, 73 children under the age of 11 have been killed and another 165 injured.
“As Christians we are called to reckon with our role in a culture where gun violence is a constant threat, especially given the clear connections between Christian nationalism and the idolatry of guns,” said White, the pastor in Nashville. “I pray that Woodland and all PC(USA) churches can continue to dialogue and take action to create cultures of peace where we treat life as precious and refuse to accept violence as normal.”
Praying for our future
Thomas, the presbytery executive, sent this prayer out on the afternoon of the Covenant School shootings:
“May our love and tender compassion for family, friends, and strangers bring Christ’s healing and the Spirit’s peace. May God inspire our collective imaginations and unite us in courage and clarity to reroute our shared path away from these deadly outbreaks of violence, hatred, and destruction. May love of neighbor be our vow and our daily practice. And may all of our children, in all our communities, know that love as a guaranteed certainty.”
Since the late 1960s when the General Assembly of what would become the PC(USA) called for “control of the sale and possession of firearms of all kinds,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has called on the Church with greater and greater moral urgency to be involved in education and advocacy at the federal, state, and community level to prevent gun violence.
For resources from the Presbyterian Mission Agency on responding to gun violence through advocacy, education, liturgy and worship, click the links below.
Gun Violence resources collected by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program including the PC(USA)’s official gun violence policy, actions of the General Assembly, toolkits and formation resources for congregational advocacy, a documentary film and books on the subject of gun violence, response guides to unnatural disasters, theological underpinnings and worship resources.
Gun Violence Prevention Resources from Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, including its “Guns to Gardens” program.
The article “What Would Jesus Pack?” in “Call to Worship,” Vol. 52.3
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Categories: Matthew 25,
Tags: ending gun violence, matthew 25 invitation, presbytery of middle tennessee, rev. ray thomas, westminster presbyterian church, Woodland Presbyterian Church
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Ministries: Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program,
The Presbyterian Church (USA), abbreviated PC (USA), is a mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, known for its liberal stance on doctrine and its ordaining of women and members of the LGBT community as elders and ministers.What does the Presbyterian USA church believe? ›
We believe in Jesus Christ who suffered and died to free us from our sins. We believe in the Holy Spirit who is active in the lives of believers. We believe in the Bible as the word of God. We believe in the power of prayer to change the world and ourselves.
The PCA ordains only men who profess traditional marriage, while the PC(USA) allows the ordination of both women and (in certain Presbyteries) non-celibate gays and lesbians as clergy. Like the PC(USA), however, the PCA accommodates different views of creation. The PCA strives for racial reconciliation.Who is the head of the Presbyterian Church? ›
The session is made up of the elders and the pastor, who is also the moderator, or chairman. The session cares for all the religious or strictly churchly matters. It supervises the calling and election of pastors, receives and dismisses members, determines the order of the services, and exercises church discipline.Is the Presbyterian Church of America conservative? ›
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), theologically conservative U.S. evangelical Presbyterian denomination founded in 1973.What is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States? ›
- Assemblies of God – 53.7 million.
- Apostolic Church – 15 million.
- Foursquare Church - 8.8 million.
- Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) - 7 million.
- Church of God in Christ - 6.5 million.
- Church of Pentecost – 3.9 million.
- Christian Congregation of Brazil – 2.8 million.
Presbyterians distinguish themselves from other Protestant branches of Christianity with unique combinations of statements of faith and a strong sense of church organization. They also place a high value on education.What religion is Presbyterian similar to? ›
Two such denominations are Lutheran and Presbyterian that have many similarities like praise of Christ and belief in his teachings. Both churches believe in Christ being the savior of mankind and his sacrifice for the salvation of us humans.What do Presbyterians not believe in? ›
Presbyterians do not believe that sins can be graded this way. Sin is sin. Forgiveness is God's free gift in Christ. Confession and assurance of pardon are not what enables God to forgive us, but rather what enables us to recognize or feel or experience that we are forgiven.Why did Presbyterian Church split? ›
In 1861, Presbyterians in the Southern United States split from the denomination because of disputes over slavery, politics, and theology precipitated by the American Civil War. They established the Presbyterian Church in the United States, often simply referred to as the "Southern Presbyterian Church".
The Presbyterian Church in America does not ordain women. In 1997, the PCA even broke its fraternal relationship with the Christian Reformed Church over this issue. The Reformed Church in the United States does not ordain women. The Free Reformed Churches of North America ordain men only.What are the 2 presbyterian denominations? ›
The two main Presbyterian denominations are the Presbyterian Church USA, formed in 1983, and the Presbyterian Church in America, formed in 1973.What is a Presbyterian preacher called? ›
In some denominations they are called Ministers of Word and Sacrament, and in others they are called Teaching Elders. Ministers called to a particular congregation are called pastors, and serve a function analogous to clergy in other denominations.What makes Presbyterians unique? ›
Characteristics. Presbyterians distinguish themselves from other denominations by doctrine, institutional organisation (or "church order") and worship; often using a "Book of Order" to regulate common practice and order. The origins of the Presbyterian churches are in Calvinism.Is Presbyterian a Calvinist? ›
Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief.What religion is free Presbyterian? ›
The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster (Irish: Eaglais Phreispitéireach Saor Uladh) is a Calvinist denomination founded by Ian Paisley in 1951. Doctrinally, the church describes itself as fundamentalist, evangelical, and separatist, and is part of the reformed fundamentalist movement.How does the Presbyterian Church in America view alcohol? ›
To that end, the General Assembly encourages and supports a personal decision to abstain from alcohol. For those who choose to drink and can do so without becoming dependent, the General Assembly urges a pattern of moderate and responsible drinking behavior.What branch of Christianity is Presbyterian? ›
Presbyterians are a group of Protestants whose church is founded on the concept of democratic rule under the Word of God. The Presbyterian denomination is a form of Christianity democratically organized to embrace the faith common to all Christians.What is the fastest growing church denomination in the United States? ›
1. Lutheran Church of Hope. The fastest-growing Christian church in 2022 was the Lutheran Church of Hope, located in West Des Moines, Iowa.Where is the biggest Pentecostal church in the world? ›
|Yoido Full Gospel Church 여의도 순복음 교회|
|Location||Yoido Island, Seoul|
|Associations||Assemblies of God USA|
Pentecostals emphasize the teaching of the "full gospel" or "foursquare gospel".Do Presbyterians believe in predestination? ›
Predestination is the belief that God has given us salvation even before we are born. There is nothing we can do to gain it or to lose it. Like our birth, it is simply a gift. So, yes, Presbyterians believe in predestination.How are Presbyterians different from other denominations? ›
Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.Why Presbyterians are like that? ›
“Why Presbyterians are Like That” is a 10 session bible study designed for College Students and young adults to explore why Presbyterians are the way they are. The study was written by Austin College Chaplain and Dir. of Church Relations Rev. Dr.Is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church liberal? ›
Being within the Reformed tradition, the EPC is more conservative than the PC(USA) on matters of theology and ethics, yet is more moderate than the major conservative Presbyterian denominations in the United States—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) and the ...Can a Catholic take communion at a Presbyterian church? ›
No, a Catholic should not receive communion in a Protestant church. Catholics believe that Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is present in the Eucharist during our Communion and that it is not just a mere symbol.What do Presbyterians believe about heaven? ›
While different churches have varying views, Presbyterians commonly believe that when a person dies they will either be rewarded with eternal life in Heaven or punished with eternal life in Hell, based on the goodness of the life they led and the quality of their relationship with God.Are Presbyterians against birth control? ›
The Presbyterian Church (USA) supports “full and equal access to contraceptive methods.” In a recent resolution endorsing insurance coverage for contraceptives, the church affirmed that “contraceptive services are part of basic health care” and cautioned that “unintended pregnancies lead to higher rates of infant ...What denominations do not believe in predestination? ›
Unlike some Calvinists, Lutherans do not believe in a predestination to damnation. Instead, Lutherans teach eternal damnation is a result of the unbeliever's rejection of the forgiveness of sins and unbelief.Do Presbyterians believe in repentance? ›
If confession is good for the soul, then Presbyterians have been formed in the confessional, following patterns of repentance and gratitude for the grace of God that is our only source of hope. By God's grace, we have affirmed, we are justified.
- Step One: Initial Contact and Dialogue. The first step is to inform the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery that the congregation is in such disagreement with the church that is considering leaving the PC (USA). ...
- Step Two: Congregation Request for Dismissal. ...
- Step Three: Congregation and Presbytery Vote.
The Great Schism of 1054 was caused by many factors. Three of the most important issues were doctrinal differences between Eastern and Western churches, the rejection of universal Papal authority by Eastern patriarchs, and growing sociopolitical differences between East and West.What two churches did the split cause? ›
The resulting split divided the European Christian church into two major branches: the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This split is known as the Great Schism, or sometimes the “East-West Schism” or the “Schism of 1054.”Where in the Bible does it talk about female pastors? ›
Herein lies the major problem for women pastors. In 1st Timothy 2:12, Paul said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (c.f. 1 Cor.Can a woman be a pastor of a church? ›
Scripture is clear. Only biblically qualified men can hold the position of pastor in Christ's church.Can a woman be a pastor Baptist? ›
The SBC's policies state, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."What is the difference between presbyterian and Reformed presbyterian? ›
Reformed is the term identifying churches regarded as essentially Calvinistic in doctrine. The term presbyterian designates a collegial type of church government by pastors and by lay leaders called elders, or presbyters, from the New Testament term presbyteroi.Who was the founder of the Presbyterian Church? ›
Presbyterianism originated in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin of Switzerland and John Knox of Scotland.What is the difference between Orthodox and Presbyterian Church? ›
The Presbyterian Church believes in Predestination. It believes that "man fell because God ordained it," whereas our Orthodox Church believes that "Adam fell by the abuse of his freedom." The Presbyterians do not believe in the bodily presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but in a spiritual one.What do Baptist call their pastors? ›
The term "pastor", in the majority of Baptist churches, is one of two offices within the church, deacon being the other, and is considered synonymous with "elder" or "bishop" (though in Reformed Baptist churches, elders are a separate office).
An elder, in many Methodist churches, is an ordained minister that has the responsibilities to preach and teach, preside at the celebration of the sacraments, administer the church through pastoral guidance, and lead the congregations under their care in service ministry to the world.How do you address a Presbyterian minister? ›
In summary, "the Reverend" is a term of address that you would or could use in writing to clergy or in introducing them. "Pastor" is a more intimate term of relationship, and it may be used as a single word or in combination with the first or last name of the pastor.Do Presbyterian believe in Jesus? ›
Presbyterians believe Jesus Christ is the eternal son of God, the “Word” of God who was “with God” and “was God” (John 1:1). At the same time, we believe “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).What are the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church USA? ›
We believe in Jesus Christ who suffered and died to free us from our sins. We believe in the Holy Spirit who is active in the lives of believers. We believe in the Bible as the word of God. We believe in the power of prayer to change the world and ourselves.
A Presbyterian is a Protestant who belongs to a particular form of church government. The word “Presbyterian” refers not to a special system of doctrine or worship but to a representative form of church government. In Greek, presbyteros means “elder.”Do Calvinists believe in free will? ›
Calvinism. John Calvin ascribed "free will" to all people in the sense that they act "voluntarily, and not by compulsion." He elaborated his position by allowing "that man has choice and that it is self-determined" and that his actions stem from "his own voluntary choosing."Are Baptists Calvinist? ›
The Particular Baptists adhered to the doctrine of a particular atonement—that Christ died only for an elect—and were strongly Calvinist (following the Reformation teachings of John Calvin) in orientation; the General Baptists held to the doctrine of a general atonement—that Christ died for all people and not only for ...How liberal is the Presbyterian Church USA? ›
Pentecostals are members of distinct Protestant denominations or independent churches that hold the teaching that all Christians should seek a post-conversion religious experience called the baptism of the Holy Spirit.What denomination is a Pentecostal church? ›
Pentecostalism or classical Pentecostalism is a Protestant Charismatic Christian movement that emphasizes direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Presbyterianism is a part of the Reformed tradition within Protestantism that broke from the Roman Catholic Church.Are Pentecostals true Christians? ›
Pentecostalism is a form of Christianity that emphasises the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer. Pentecostals believe that faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking.Why do Pentecostals run around? ›
Nevertheless, in the Pentecostal worship tradition, spontaneous expressions inspired by the moving of the Spirit are highly valued, and in many congregations the spontaneous running of aisles has traditionally been an acceptable expression of joy.What religion is Hillsong? ›
Hillsong Church, commonly known as Hillsong, is a global charismatic Christian megachurch based in Australia. The original church was established in Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, as Hills Christian Life Centre by Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie in 1983.What are the 2 Presbyterian denominations? ›
The two main Presbyterian denominations are the Presbyterian Church USA, formed in 1983, and the Presbyterian Church in America, formed in 1973.What denominations believe in speaking in tongues? ›
She says in modern day, speaking in tongues is a practice popular in the Pentecostal church; one that started in 1905. "It was a badge of honor for Pentecostals to be set apart. They wanted to be different from the majority Christian denominations," she said.Do Pentecostals watch TV? ›
A: Apostolic Pentecostals are the strictest of all the Pentecostal groups, according to Synan. Like most Pentecostals, they do not use alcohol or tobacco. They generally don't watch TV or movies either.Are Pentecostals holy rollers? ›
Pentecostals were pegged as Holy Rollers. Their services were viewed as bedlams of raw emotion, bodily contortions and gibberish.