Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/7 2017

Palm Wednesday – How the Church Responds to Violence

I am continually faced with my powerlessness over gun violence and its traumatic effect(s) upon me personally and the community in which I live. This past Wednesday afternoon, my four-year old daughter and I, heard around 10 gunshots as we stood near my bedroom window. This is the second time in two weeks that we both have heard gunshots while together at our house. My daughter has recently become accustomed to the “bang bangs” and she appeared excited that such noises were near her house. I have to ask myself, “How do I respond to my daughter’s acceptance of ‘bang bangs[1]’ in her life?” As a community leader, I have to ask, “How do I respond on behalf of my community that has heard and felt more ‘bang bangs’ then I ever will?”

The Humble Witness of Jesus

This past Wednesday, we celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey. I spoke about the ineffectiveness of military to produce the change of heart and mind that God requires. I proclaimed that the Kingship of Jesus is clothed in humility and that his Kingship is the very reign of God of heaven come down to earth. The day after our service, it struck me—the humble witness of Jesus is just as applicable to my community as it was to that of Jesus. The Roman occupation of Israel was secured through its military strength and it was keen to use it to maintain control. The frustration of being an occupied people often led to revolts and it became apparent that violence would not produce the Peaceable Kingdom (Hauerwas) spoken about by the prophets. My community appears “occupied” by various powers ranging from a dominant street gang to police departments taking on a more militarized approach. The evidence of the occupation of our community is the prevalence of “bang bangs.”

Forgiveness of Sins

As we gathered for worship a few hours after a young man and his pregnant girlfriend were shot, singing of the Kingship of Jesus has a strange power. I was led to shift my focus from the violence around me, to the brokenness within me, as I sang, “Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen, show me how to love like You have loved me” (Hillsong United, Hosanna). As I broke the body of Christ in Holy Communion, I broke it on behalf of our broken community. As I presented the cup of the blood of Christ, I presented a solution to the “bang bangs,” forgiveness of sins that leads to reconciliation between God and humanity and humanity within itself. I became aware of the true occupation of our community, the Kingdom of God breaking through. This reign of God was witnessed through a small group of people whose praises filled the air and whose hearts were at peace with God and each other.

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4, NIV).

If you’re interested in learning more about how churches can prevent gun violence in their communities, download the Seminary’s Gun Violence Resource Kit, written in partnership with Allegheny County Health Department, Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.

The Rev. Keith Kaufold ’07/’12 is the lead pastor of a circuit that includes United Methodist Churches in West Homestead, Swissvale, and Millville; pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Aspinwall; and founding pastor of Eighth Avenue Place—a church plant and Christian community that confronts the ignorance that perpetuates racism and lives and ministers together in the name of Jesus Christ. Keith is currently enrolled in the master’s in social work program at California University of Pennsylvania.

[1] The term I use with my daughters to describe gunshots.