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‘Does your theology suffocate protest?’

Reasons for gun violence go beyond gun access, speaker says

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Rev. Robert Hoggard was a featured speaker in a Standing Our Holy Ground webinar called “The Racial Divide in Gun Violence.”

LOUISVILLE — The latest webinar in a series on how churches can address American gun violence highlighted the need to refocus discussion on the communities most deeply affected by the problem and the societal pressures that may lead to shootings.

The Rev. Robert Hoggard, a featured speaker in the Standing Our Holy Ground webinar, noted that discussions on gun violence often focus on gun access instead of other factors underlying gun violence in urban communities.

“We don’t talk about the intersectionality of all the issues that sort of bring a person to pick up a gun in the first place,” said Hoggard, an activist and theologian based in Rochester, N.Y.

Hoggard cited a lengthy list of such issues, including toxic masculinity, white supremacy, the housing crisis, poverty, colonialism, trauma, heteronormativity, the education system, gentrification, criminal justice, xenophobia and lack of opportunity — among others.

Churches can help not only by forming partnerships to assist the affected communities but also by examining church theology, said Hoggard, who posed the question: “Does your theology suffocate protest?”

“As a preacher, I always try to hinge myself on all of the rich stories of people challenging the status quo,” he said. “There’s many theologies that say Jesus challenged the status quo and Jesus died because he challenged that Roman Empire, and so how do we … use those Scriptures that sort of lift us and liberate us?”

The webinar, featuring Hoggard and the Rev. Dr. R. Drew Smith, a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary professor, was the 10th in a year-long webinar series by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. This episode focused on the racial divide in gun violence.

Hoggard did his master’s thesis on bridging the gap between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the black church, and has been involved with police accountability efforts and the Community Justice Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that focuses on building power for and with communities of color to end gun violence.

Smith, a political scientist and clergyman, noted that approximately half of all gun homicides in the United States occur in fewer than 130 cities. “This is a problem disproportionately impacting African-American communities,” Smith said, typically in racially segregated neighborhoods with high rates of poverty.

“The problem of homicide and of gun violence — urban gun violence — is highly concentrated in relatively small geographies across the country and within specific cities,” he said, adding, “a few square blocks account for these concentrations of homicide.”

What can people of faith do?

Hoggard suggested partnering with and giving money to grassroots organizations that are working on underlying issues, such as the ones he mentioned.

Churches also can work to educate people on gun violence, whether it be through a teach-in or a sermon series, Hoggard said.

Instead of relying on the media’s framing of the conversation, “we’ve got to do more deep dives,” he said, noting the importance of looking at the problem through the black and brown lens.

While it can be helpful for churches to provide financial assistance in communities affected by gun violence, it’s also important to do some probing to find out what is needed.

“You’ve got to have the conversation with people in the community who are embedded in these issues and can tell you what’s happening,” Hoggard said.

Having a presence in affected areas also is important, said Smith, who’s initiated and directed multiple projects related to religion and public life.

To move beyond conflict to community, “we have to look at all sorts of ways to be relational, and it’s hard to be relational if we’re not present,” Smith said.

The work of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, which is part of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry, is made possible by gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering.



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