Delegates engaged in a vigorous discussion about gun violence and safety before passing the recommendation

On Monday, June 11, General Synod engaged in a heated debate about gun safety and gun control, ultimately passing a recommendation directing the general secretary to write to the president of the United States in support of strategies to reduce gun violence and to urge local churches to advocate for actions to reduce gun violence.

The recommendation (CA 18-5) was originally brought by the Commission on Christian Action in response to the Parkland, Florida, shooting in February and other recent shootings. The commission retracted the recommendation, but it was brought back as a motion from the floor, and a lively debate ensued.

In opposition to the motion, minister delegate David Van Kley said, “While I appreciate the sentiment of this motion, my hesitancy comes in the latter part of it: ‘to urge local churches to contact their politicians and advocate.’ I’ve always taken the approach to respect my members’ freedoms to make their own choices in these matters, to not tell them how to think or what to do politically. I am uncomfortable with the urging of our members to do certain things and think a certain way.”

A number of younger delegates spoke in support of the recommendation.  

Corresponding delegate Claire Houston said, “As a young person, I have grown up where school is not always a place of safety, where there is a fear of going out in public because you simply do not know if you will make it home alive. … It is time for us to stand up and speak out for the safety of our communities. … Please, protect us, fight for us, speak out for us, stand for gun control.”

Minister delegate Andrea DeWard expressed her support for the the youth delegates who spoke up, saying, “I have a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old. This issue is important to them. I applaud our youth delegates who have come with great courage to step forth and speak before you all. We have talked about a declining church. We have talked about, how do we capture the youth? We have talked about, how do we raise up leaders? We have leaders here today that have spoken. I ask us to listen to the youth.”

An amended version of the recommendation ultimately passed, 151-54.

This is not the first time the topic of gun violence has been addressed by General Synod.

In 1969, in the context of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the General Synod requested that the United States Congress require federal registration or licensing of all firearms (MGS 1969, pp. 242-243).

In 1976, the Particular Synod of New York overtured the General Synod to explore concerns about violence that had resulted in the murder of one of its ministers. This resulted in the 1977 Commission on Christian Action statement on gun control (MGS 1976, p. 113).

In 1977, the Commission on Christian Action again spoke out in favor of gun control, reaffirming the 1969 statement on gun control. General Synod 1977 reiterated its 1969 resolution to request the U.S. Congress to require federal registration or licensing of all firearms and boldly adopted three additional resolutions: 1) to request the Congress of the U.S. to ban the manufacture and sale of handguns for civilian ownership; 2) to urge the members of the Reformed Church in America to render the handguns in their homes inoperable and/or enact stringent safety precautions for all weapons; and 3) to urge the constituency of the Reformed Church in America to seek refinement and strict enforcement of present laws regulating gun ownership and use (MGS 1977, R-12, R-13, and R-14, pp. 200-201).

The 1988 General Synod voted to share with all congregations the positions taken by the 1977 General Synod on gun control (MGS 1988, pp. 109-110)

In 2013, an overture in favor of gun control sparked vigorous debate at synod and was not adopted. A similar overture in 2014 was discussed in an advisory committee and not adopted (MGS 2013, pp. 169-170; MGS 2014, pp. 124-127).

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