Episcopal leaders call for solutions to ‘scourge of violence’ after Louisville, Nashville massacres

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 12, 2023
Louisville vigil

Community members attend a vigil April 10 at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church following a mass shooting at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal leaders in the neighboring dioceses of Tennessee and Kentucky are expressing grief, anger and calls to action after two deadly mass shootings occurred two weeks apart, at a school in Nashville on March 27 and a bank in Louisville on April 10.

Five people were killed and eight wounded in the Louisville shooting, when an employee opened fire at Old National Bank. He was killed by police at the scene. The Nashville shooting happened at a private Christian school, where the gunman, a former student, killed three children and three adults before being shot and killed by police.

On April 11, Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville held an evening Holy Eucharist in response to the tragedy. “Our lives are closely linked, and we know that this incident has touched so many in our congregations in personal ways, across the diocese,” the diocese said in a Facebook post about the vigil. “We join with you in holding those who have died and those who are injured, and all who love them, in prayer during this painful time.”

Kentucky Bishop Terry White, whose diocese includes Louisville and the western half of the state, presided at the vigil. “We pray for all those so radically affected by the trauma of yesterday,” White said during the service, “and we pray for our resolve to be people of hope and resurrection, as we stand in solidarity with all those who we are called to serve in the name of Christ.”

The Very Rev. Matthew Bradley, dean of the cathedral, said in his sermon that the community was “reeling with the news that our fellow citizens have been put through the unimaginable. … It’s a tragedy that unfortunately strikes too many communities all around our country every day.”

Earlier this year, the cathedral’s  congregation had pledged to memorialize the victims of all mass shootings in the United States. The pledge was in response to a Jan. 23 shooting spree at two farms in Half Moon Bay, California, that killed seven people. Christ Church Cathedral now prays each Sunday for the cities where the latest mass shootings have taken place since the previous Sunday, and at the end of each month, it lists those cities in a memorial placard on the cathedral wall, Bradley said.

The April 10 attack in Louisville was the 146th mass shooting in the United States this year, according to criteria used by the Gun Violence Archive to track gun attacks. Bradley, in noting that figure, said people across Louisville are experiencing a range of emotions in response to the latest massacre.

“I’m angry tonight,” Bradley said. “I’m angry at the inaction that has brought us to this place. I’m angry because I think it will continue, and I’m angry because we will continue to put placards on the wall of this church. I’m angry because we will continue to have our fellow citizens die needlessly until something changes systemically in this United States of America.”

He concluded by invoking the assertion attributed to St. Augustine that hope has two daughters, anger and courage. “Anger at the way things are,” Bradley said, “and courage to change the way things are.”

A citywide, interfaith prayer vigil is scheduled for 5 p.m. Eastern April 12 at the Muhammad Ali Center.

“Let the emotions we feel now and [will feel] in the days ahead give us energy and resolve,” White said in a statement to the diocese on April 12. “We will persist embodying hope. We will never stop advocating for common sense solutions to the scourge of violence caused by false idols which have triggers.”

White’s comments echo those of Tennessee Bishop John C. Bauerschmidt. In a written statement, Bauerschmidt lamented the deadly March 27 shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, calling it “a crisis and a source of trauma” for Tennessee’s capital city. “Members of the school community are our friends, members of our families, and our fellow parishioners. We mourn along with them,” Bauerschmidt said.

“A school shooting, and gun violence itself, is a scourge that destroys not only lives, but the fabric of our society itself. Public safety and peace in our neighborhoods are goods of our common life that we value and expect as citizens. As Christians, we pray for God’s mercy upon our community in this time of personal and corporate grief.”

The Nashville shooting has fueled intensifying calls for political action, with demonstrators gathering at the Capitol to demand gun law reforms. Christ Church Cathedral clergy and parishioners were among those marching with signs in a peaceful March 30 rally.

After some protesters disrupted the ongoing session of the state Legislature, the Republican supermajority took the rare step of voting April 6 to expel two Democratic lawmakers, both Black, for leading the protest on the House floor, while a third Democrat, who is white, escaped expulsion by one vote. One of the expelled lawmakers has since been reinstated by a local governing body, and the other lawmaker is expected to be reinstated as well.

On April 11, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, announced an executive order intended to strengthen the state’s system of background checks for gun purchases, and he encouraged lawmakers to consider other reforms.

Tennessee and Kentucky are known for having some of the weakest gun laws in the country. The gunman in the Nashville school shooting last month reportedly purchased all seven of his guns legally. The gunman in the Louisville bank shooting legally bought an AR-15-style rifle a week before using it in the bank attack.

“When there is a clear need for action, I think that we have an obligation to remind people that we should set aside politics and pride and accomplish something that the people of Tennessee want to get accomplished,” Lee said at a news conference.

In Louisville, Mayor Craig Greenburg pleaded for lawmakers to pass laws that would enable to city to address the problem of gun violence. “We have to take action now,” Greenburg said at a news conference. “We need short-term action to end this gun violence epidemic now, so fewer people die on our streets and in our banks, in our schools and in our churches. And for that, we need help. We need help from our friends in [state capital] Frankfort and help from our friends in Washington, D.C.”

Episcopal dioceses have been active in other states this year advocating for legislative reforms promoting gun safety in response to the prevalence of suicides and homicides by firearms. Michigan’s three Episcopal bishops have been vocal in supporting pending legislation through the campaign End Gun Violence Michigan. In Pennsylvania, bishops in the state’s six Episcopal diocese have backed a similar campaign seeking stricter gun laws, while the St. Louis-based Diocese of Missouri participated last month in an advocacy day at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

Carl Austin Miller Grondin, Michigan State University student body vice president, joined interfaith leaders calling for an end to gun violence. Three students were shot and killed on the MSU campus on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo: End Gun Violence Michigan

The Episcopal Church has long advocated for gun-safety measures in response to the increase in gun-related violence in the United States. General Convention has passed resolutions aimed at reducing gun violence dating at least to 1976.

In July 2022, the 80th General Convention passed a resolution that calls for “investment in evidence-based community violence intervention programs and strategies that address gun violence as a public health issue; improve physical environments; strengthen anti-violence social norms; engage and support youth; reduce substance abuse; mitigate financial stress; reduce the harmful effects of the justice process; and confront the proliferation of guns.”

Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of Episcopal bishops, issued a statement to Episcopal News Service in response to the recent shootings.

“After each such shooting, we ask ourselves what an alarmed citizenry must do to convince state and federal legislators that it is time to alter our murderous status quo,” Bishops United said. “Large majorities of Americans favor common-sense gun laws that would restrict ownership of semi-automatic weapons and permit law enforcement authorities to remove guns from people who are at risk of harming themselves or others. The body count grows each day, yet too many of our elected leaders refuse to act, except, as in Tennessee, to censure peers who joined in their constituents’ outraged demands for change.

“In this season of Resurrection, when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, let us commit ourselves once again to advocating for sensible gun reform, for adequate and accessible mental health services, and for an end to the stranglehold of the gun lobby on our nation’s political system.”

Episcopalians interested in getting more involved in advocacy for gun safety measures are invited to Bishops United’s Advocacy Gathering in Washington, D.C., on May 17 and 18. Registration is available through the network’s website.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.