Chicago Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung is calling for United Methodists to pray and take action to end the gun violence that has rocked the third-largest U.S. city.
Over 96 hours during the Memorial Day weekend, the city experienced more than 40 shootings that took the lives of 10 people.In a pastoral letter released on June 4, Jung noted that the violence continues to mount in what has already been a deadly year for Chicago. The city had experienced at least 200 homicides as of May 28.
"I think it is very important that we as a beloved church will continue transforming our own community," Jung told United Methodist News Service. "Any peaceful living in our city is not really possible right now. Many families with youngsters are really living in fear."
He stressed that violence is a problem that besets cities across the United States. The violence also has touched United Methodist congregations. Earlier this year, a man was shot and killed near United Church of Rogers Park in Chicago in what local authorities believe was an act of retaliation for a crime years before.
The congregation works with a program called CeaseFire to host workshops aimed at stopping gang violence, said the Rev. Michael Mann, associate director of mission and advocacy for the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference. CeaseFire works with what it calls "violence interrupters" to mediate disputes and intervene to prevent situations from escalating.
The Rev. Don Guest, former district superintendent in the Northern Illinois Conference and now an urban-ministry consultant in the California-Nevada Conference, sent an email to the conference commending Jung's letter. "For the past three days I have visited with my family (in Chicago) and noted the changed environment for the worse," he said. "Nevertheless, the power of prayer among God's people can break and defeat even the princes of this spiritual stronghold."
Jung plans to present his letter to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and hopes to meet with city leaders to see how the church can help alleviate the strife.
The full text of the letter is below:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me&ellipsis; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion - to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory." Isaiah 61:1,2b-3
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Over this past Memorial Day weekend, my heart poured out. As we were mourning the losses that military families have suffered, there were more than 40 shootings in our city of Chicago. Ten souls lost their lives. That included a 13-year-old who was killed while sitting in a pizzeria. A 7-year-old girl was shot while playing in front of her home, apparently the victim of gang crossfire.
According to the Chicago Tribune, over 851 people have been the victim of a shooting this year, and over 200 have been killed just this year alone. This weekend, the violence has continued, with 15 injured as of Sunday morning and another two killed. This violence must end.
As United Methodists, we realize that this Pentecost season is a season to comfort those who mourn. We are to nurture them into becoming a witness of God's work for all people. The violence in our city has disproportionately impacted those who are in poverty, young, and persons of color. Frequently, we hear that these are the result of gang violence, sometimes told as if such an explanation made these deaths normal or acceptable. As people of faith, we cannot accept this as normal. We are called to be a part of a different reality, a movement to bring change to our world.
I add my voice to many others who are saying that we cannot tolerate any more suffering and killing. We ask for justice to roll down like waters to allow our streets to be safe for all people. We ask for violence interrupters to be deployed to all parts of our city. And we pray that God's reality of a world free of violence would be true for all of God's children, everywhere, including our city of Chicago. Let us confront the structures of injustice, racism, and oppression. Let us not be numb to those who are God's children. Pray and act to stop the shooting.
Abiding in the hope of Christ Jesus, your servant,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 and firstname.lastname@example.org.