The Episcopal Public Policy Network
One of the more striking contrasts on the Christian calendar is the commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, three days after the celebration of Christmas. In remembering the young children slaughtered by King Herod in Matthew's account of Jesus's birth, the Church jolts us from Christmas joy into a contemplation of the ways in which violence and human brokenness, in spite of Christmas, still enslave the human race. Today, just as two thousand years ago, the most jolting violence of all is that committed against innocent children.
This year, that jolt came earlier, and much more tangibly, than it normally does. The murder of 26 innocent victims, many of them children, in a schoolhouse in Connecticut in the waning days of Advent ripped through the joy of Christmas for millions. As our hearts and minds struggle to comprehend the tragedy of young lives cut short, Holy Innocents Day this year offers an opportunity for grace, hope, and inspiration for the days ahead. It offers an opportunity "to awaken us" as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her message immediate after the shootings, "to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day" and challenge us "to work toward a different future."
What might the creation of a different future look like? Here are two suggestions:
First, we must realize that the brokenness that created the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School is much more deeply inscribed in our culture than we often realize. There is no simple solution; no single law that, if passed, will ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. Our culture simultaneously glorifies, and trivializes, violence while stigmatizing mental illness and discouraging diagnosis and treatment. Our culture too-often allows millions of children to grow up in situations of risk and allows firearms to be available widely Changing the cycle of violence will involve substantial creativity and commitment in our communities, the deployment of all the assets of our congregations, and a commitment to examining our own behaviors. Can you commit to being a part of this? Can your congregation commit?
Second, we must hold our nation's leaders accountable for creating public policies that address this cycle of violence. The Episcopal Church has, for many years, called for policies to keep guns out of the hands of criminals (and to make certain assault weapons impossible to own), as well as to promote better availability of mental-health care and other measures designed to address the causes and effects of violence in our communities. Most have not become law because of a culture in Washington that has allowed these policies to become politicized or driven by partisan rhetoric. In these difficult days after the Sandy Hook shooting, there are some encouraging signs that this gridlock in Washington is abating. We've seen this before in the wake of tragedy, however. Ultimate change will require building an immense advocacy network, creating a comprehensive strategy to address the problem from many angles, and bringing together people of many different viewpoints. The Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations is working to create such a comprehensive advocacy strategy, as well as a nationwide network of advocates. Can you commit to being part of this effort? Can your congregation commit?
If you answered yes to these questions, please do two things:
1. Commemorate victims of violence in our communities on Holy Innocents Day, or the Sunday following, and ask members of the congregation to be part of the solution. Or pick another day soon when your congregation is gathered. If the Connecticut massacre has taught us anything, it's that any day might be Holy Innocents' Day. Conclude the Prayers of the People with the following, or a similar, collect: