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Breaking the Cycle of Violence

 
Pastor John Gibson preached this sermon Sunday June 19, 2016 as part of the Stand Up Sabbath on the first anniversary of the shooting in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston and in the wake of the Orlando massacre on June 12.
 
 

 

           He would give you the shirt off his back.[1]  Antonio “Tony” Brown was a gentle soul who was always smiling.[2]  His infectious sense of humor could make a whole room laugh.[3] 

A native of Cocoa Beach, Florida, Tony studied criminal justice and was a member of the Army ROTC at Florida A&M University.[4]  Elizabeth McGhee knew Brown from when he was a cadet.  She met him while working in the ROTC office when he was assigned as her assistant.  McGhee said of Brown, "I know you're not supposed to have favorites as a cadre and staff, but, he was one of my favorites.  He was my right-hand man.  He was a hard worker. He had such a positive attitude.  He was my buddy."[5]

After Tony graduated from FAMU, he received a commission in the Army Reserve as a second lieutenant and was assigned to the Orlando area in Human Resources.  He deployed to Kuwait from April 2010 to March 2011.  When he left active duty, Tony worked in HR in University Hospital in St. Louis before moving back to Orlando last year, taking a Human Resources position with Lowe’s.[6]

Tony stayed in touch with Elizabeth that entire time.  He called her Wednesday a week ago to check on her after the death of someone in her office.  The two talked for a long time laughing and talking about old times.  She told a reporter “I didn’t know that would be the last time I would speak to him.”[7]

When Elizabeth heard about the shooting she texted Antonio, “I'm so sorry to hear about what happened in Orlando. Are you okay?”  She didn’t receive a reply.  She texted again.  Still no response.  She called, but there was no answer.  She learned Monday that he had been killed.  "It just broke my heart.”  Elizabeth said, “I just didn't want to... it became personal at that point. When it hit home, it just took on a whole different perspective at that point. I can't even watch the news anymore. I don't want to think about what he went through. It's tough. He was my friend."[8]

His mother Rosetta Evans also learned of Tony’s murder Monday.  She told a reporter for the Florida Sentinel, “That was the worst day of my life.”  On Wednesday in his Altamonte, Florida apartment, she said, “I’m still in shock.  I still don’t believe it. Even sitting here in his apartment, it’s unbelievable.  Every now and then, I think of the fun memories and how crazy, humorous Tony was.  And when I get quiet and have nothing to think about, it keeps coming to my mind and it just hurts.  Why? Why? It was senseless. Just why?”[9]

Scripture tells us that the reason is because we humans have locked ourselves into a senseless cycle of violence.  Almost as soon as Adam and Eve are thrust from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God, their son Cain, out of jealousy, kills their other son Abel.[10]

We see this cycle of violence in our first lesson from First Kings (19:1-15) when the prophet Elijah flees from Queen Jezebel who has threatened to take his life.  Immediately before this passage Elijah had slaughtered 450 prophets of Baal and 400 of Astarte.[11]  Jezebel was a worshiper of those gods.   She provided for their prophets.  It is not completely clear, but it seems that Elijah killed the prophets because of a violent campaign waged by them, the Queen, and other worshippers of Baal and Astarte to exterminate the prophets of God and to eradicate and the worship of God in Israel.[12]

Today, we, worshippers of God, must take responsibility for our own part in this seemingly never ending cycle of violence.  We are not directly responsible, as Senator McCain said of President Obama, but we bear responsibility indirectly to the extent that we acquiesce to hatred, bigotry and violence.  Monday Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote, “[S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”[13]  The same must be said about African-Americans, as we observe this weekend the one year anniversary of the murder of nine persons in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.  But the issue goes beyond Christianity’s history of verbal and physical violence against gays, African-Americans and increasingly Moslems.[14]  It includes those times we have failed to speak out against gun violence.

We are a nation awash with rifles and pistols that due to their large magazines and rapid rates of fire allow a single individual to kill 49 people and to wound 53 in a matter of minutes.  Many of these weapons, like the Glock 17 and Sig Sauer MCX that were used in Orlando, were designed for military rather than civilian use.[15]  These guns were made to kill people as efficiently as possible in combat rather than to hunt animals in the wild.[16]  The argument is often made that guns don’t kill people; people kill people, but if the shooter in Orlando had only had a knife, the death toll would have been much lower. 

The United States leads all the other developed nations in gun-related deaths.[17]  A study published February 1 in the American Journal of Medicine found that compared to 22 other high-income nations the American gun-murder rate is 25 times higher and the gun-suicide rate is 8 times higher.  Study author Erin Grinshteyn, an assistant professor at the School of Community Health Science at the University of Nevada-Reno concludes, "[O]ur firearms are killing us rather than protecting us."[18]

We must break this cycle of violence.  We need to speak out against it.  We need to reform our laws.  We need to follow the path of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Jesus consistently rejected the use of violence against others.  He rebuked his disciples when they wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town that refused to welcome him[19] and he ordered his disciples to put away the sword when they started to resist the soldiers who came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane.[20]

Last summer, at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Salt Lake City, more than 60 bishops led over 1500 people in a march against gun violence.   At the rally after the march, Bishop Curry said, “You all got to go forth and proclaim that love is the only way that we will end the scourge of violence.  We will make poverty history and we will end racism, because we all got one God who created us and we are all children of that one God.  We are brothers and sisters one of another and all lives matter.”  And all the people said, “Amen.”[21]


[1] Chris Woodyard, “Church service for Antonio Brown on Saturday,” Florida Today, June 18, 2016, http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2016/06/17/church-service-antonio-brown-saturday/86070286/.

[2] Leslie Postal, “Antonio Davon Brown: Army captain was 'down to earth guy,'” Orlando Sentinel, June 16, 2016, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/pulse-orlando-nightclub-shooting/victims/os-mass-shooting-victim-antonio-brown-20160614-story.html.

[3] Cox Media Group, “Antonio Brown, victim of Pulse shooting, described as man who could make whole room laugh,” WFTV 9 ABC, June 16, 2016, http://www.wftv.com/news/local/antonio-brown-victim-of-pulse-shooting-described-as-man-who-could-make-whole-room-laugh/345084166.

[4] “Antonio Davon Brown Obituary,” Legacy.com, n.d., http://www.legacy.com/ns/antonio-brown-obituary/180316239

[5] Lanetra Bennett, “Funeral arrangements set for FAMU grad killed in Orlando shooting,” WCTV.tv, June 14, 2016, http://www.wctv.tv/content/news/FAMU-alumnus-killed-in-Orlando-shooting-382750411.html.

[7] Bennett.

[8] Bennett.

[9] Cox Media Group.

[10] Genesis 4:2.

[11] “And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.’ And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.”1 Kings 18:40 ESV.

[12] “1 Kings, 18:40,” “Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers,” Bible Hub, n.d., http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_kings/18-40.htm.

[13] Robert Lynch, “Orlando, Orlando, We Love You,” For His Friends: Thoughts and Reflections by Bishop Robert Lynch, June 13, 2016, http://bishopsblog.dosp.org/?p=6644.

[14] Eric Lichtblau, “Crimes Against Muslim Americans and Mosques Rise Sharply,” The New York Times, December 17, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/us/politics/crimes-against-muslim-americans-and-mosques-rise-sharply.html?_r=0.  Liam Stack, “American Muslims Under Attack,” The New York Times, February 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/22/us/Crimes-Against-Muslim-Americans.html.

[15] The U.S. Army special operations forces requested the development of the Sig Sauer MCX.  Mark Follman, “This Is the Assault Rifle Used by the Orlando Mass Shooter,” Mother Jones, June 13, 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/assault-rifle-used-by-orlando-mass-shooter.  The Austrian military asked for the development of a new pistol in 1980 to replace the World War II era Walther P38.  “Glock,” Wikipedia, last modified June 16, 2016, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glock.

[16] Bart Jansen, “Weapons gunman used in Orlando shooting are high-capacity, common,” USA Today, June 15, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/14/guns-used-kill-49-orlando-high-capacity-common-weapons/85887260/.

[17] On average, each year in the U.S. gun shots kill 32,000 and wound 75,000.  Kids account for 2,600 of the dead and 14,800 of the wounded.  Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, “Key Gun Violence Statistics,” Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 2016, http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics.

In two years, the number of killed and wounded exceeds the total for the twenty years of the Vietnam War.   “United States military casualties of war,” Wikipedia, last modified June 14, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war.

                The U.S. also leads the world in mass shootings.  With only 5% of the world’s population, 31% occur here.  Elisabeth Sherman, “The Appalling Stats On American Mass Shootings,” All Things Interesting, June 14, 2016, http://all-that-is-interesting.com/mass-shootings-america-stats.

[18] Robert Preidt, “How U.S. gun deaths compare to other countries,” CBS News, February 3, 2016, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/.

[19] “And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.” Luke 9:52-55 ESV.

[20] “Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.  And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’” Matthew 26:50-52 ESV.

[21] Michael Curry, Bishops United Against Gun Violence, June 28, 2015, http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/claiming-common-ground-against-gun-violence/.