Some religious leaders on Long Island say they are moving beyond a “thoughts and prayers” approach after the Texas elementary school massacre and are calling on their flocks to take direct action to end gun violence.
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island says it is time to repeal and revise the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — to bring the Revolutionary-era measure up to date with modern times.
Bishop Lawrence Provenzano’s call came after a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle killed 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas.
Provenzano also says that at services this weekend he plans to call out the National Rifle Association and politicians who take their money.
“I think that is part of the evil that is at work in our society and in our political life,” he said, referring to the NRA’s vast funding efforts and political influence.
In places likes Texas, “the idea that anyone who wants to can purchase a gun and walk around with it, whether it’s a sidearm or a long gun, is just insane, and it isn’t what the Second Amendment of the Constitution envisioned,” he said.
At the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, mosque leaders will offer prayers for the victims and their families — but also urge action by the faithful, said Dr. Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the board of trustees.
“Prayers and vigils are for the ones who have survived to support each other,” Chaudhry said. “If we want to honor the life and the blood that has been shed, then we need action. Action is to honor the ones we have lost.”
“We need more action from our policymakers, from our elected officials,” she added. “They have to act responsibly. We’re not willing to sacrifice our young ones.”
'Sensible' gun laws needed
Pastor Danny Rivera of Huntington Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church, called an impromptu prayer service Wednesday night at a local park.
While the service focused on prayers, he also is calling on his congregation to support actions to curb gun violence.
“I don’t think an 18-year-old needs an AR-15,” Rivera said, referring to the weapon the Texas gunman allegedly used to kill the children and teachers in their fourth-grade classroom.
“This shooting was evil, and change must happen to delay the purchase of guns,” he said. “At the very least a background check should be in place. Sensible laws must follow the call to prayer. Care for the broken must be evident with action in our community and beyond.”
Rabbi Beth Klafter, of Temple Beth David in Commack, said she would offer prayers of consolation and healing for victims' families while emphasizing that the faithful need to mobilize to end the carnage.
“We have to not just offer words of prayer but take action in terms of recommitting ourselves to the political issues involving gun control that are not being resolved,” she said.
She says she disagrees with politicians who contend this is not the time to discuss gun-control policies and that people should limit themselves to praying for the families.
“If this was the first time, maybe we would say thoughts and prayers, but this is clearly a national emergency,” she said.
Some still emphasize prayer
Just days before the Texas massacre, Klafter said, she was offering prayers for the victims of the supermarket killings in Buffalo. “Not a full week goes by and we have another horrific shooting,” she said.
Not all religious leaders are using the Texas massacre to make an explicit call for the faithful to seek ways to end gun violence.
Bishop John Barres, head of the Roman Catholic Church on Long Island, said in a statement: “Catholics across Long Island join our brothers and sisters around the world in praying for all those affected by the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. We remember especially the young victims and their families, and we ask Our Lady, Queen of Peace, to help that devastated community know deeply the tenderness, mercy, and compassion of her Son."
The Manhattan-based Catholic League, a conservative organization, said the root of gun violence was mental health issues, which the country must better address.
“There are five major reasons why we have mass shootings: the killer is asocial; he comes from a seriously dysfunctional family; he has mental issues; he is fascinated by violence; and red flags were ignored by almost everyone,” Catholic League president William Donohue said in a statement.
But Provenzano says the key to the violence is “access to guns. This doesn’t happen in other countries,” which have “the same amounts of mental illness.”
The Second Amendment “didn’t envision that everyone has a right to have an arsenal in their home,” he said. “There is no reason for any sportsman, any hunter, even collectors to have those assault weapons. They ought to be restricted to the military.”
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, noted that houses of worship, like schools, had become targets of gun violence.
Calls for concrete action
He said it was time to move beyond thoughts and prayers and to take concrete actions to protect what he called “soft targets.”
“My concern is shifting from ‘Let’s pray and oh my God, the sad, miserable world,’ ” he said. “I’ve moved somewhat beyond the numbness and the rage and tried to get into some defensive posture that’s not reactionary, it’s responsive. Because I do not see that this is going to end."
His church has undergone “Safe Sanctuary” training with the Suffolk County Police Department and other agencies — what to do in an active shooter situation. He thinks such training should be widespread in schools.
His church now locks the doors once services start, and sometimes off-duty police officers are in the pews.
“My church has given me zero blowback about these security concerns,” he said.