What difference can we really make?
Personal Reflections on UM Advocacy Day in Lansing on March 22, 2023
Rev. Taek Kim, Sr. Pastor of Metropolitan UMC
I remember visiting a friend’s house when I was a child and playing one of our favorite games, hide-and-seek. Upon entering one room I found several shiny silver objects on the floor that the bright sun revealed in the thick carpet. When I could see clearly what they were, I carefully picked them up and took them to my friend’s mother. She was shocked and quickly took them from me. Later, I learned that her boyfriend had dropped them, as well as left his loaded gun in that very room which I fortunately did not find.
Unfortunately, we have heard of too many accidental shooting deaths by children who found a loaded gun in the house. Not as often in the news are suicides by youth with firearms that were not securely stored. We are living with the ongoing tragedies of gun violence that range from seemingly random shootings to those planned and calculated, the most recent being that in Nashville where three, 9-year-old children and three adults were killed.
Gun violence has affected us all in one way or another, in one degree or another. One of my childhood friends lost his father who was shot during a store robbery. Sadly, that was not the only experience of loss to gun violence of someone I knew or whom I was close to. My heart grieved even more when one of my church members lost his cousin in the mass shooting at MSU on February 13th.
With the seemingly never ending, senseless gun violence, I often wonder what, if anything, we can really do to make a difference, especially knowing that gun violence will be a constant battle, as it is with racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination.
That powerless feeling we have, more so as individuals than as a group, was overcome for many with the first United Methodist Advocacy Day on March 22nd. Over 300 United Methodists and friends gathered to meet with Michigan state senators and representatives to urge support for safer gun legislation that not only make sense, but that law enforcement, the majority of gun owners, and most of America supports. In our democracy, we all have a responsibility to engage with our political system, including around issues of gun safety. Although it may seem like unknown powers have the greatest influence, we all have a voice, and when we come together that voice can speak with truth to power. Momentum has grown and continues to build up as more and more people advocate for safer gun legislation and the reversal of tragic statistics and reports, including that the leading cause of death for children since 2021 is gun violence.
Among the many moving and inspiring moments of Advocacy Day was seeing long-time champions of social justice alongside those who were taking action and speaking up for the very first time. Another moment was during a meeting with a senator’s legislative director, and our group included a mom and her two young sons who wanted to use their presence and voices to call for a change to what has caused them to fear for their very lives and the lives of their friends and classmates. Along with repeated news of school shootings, students are also regularly reminded of the fears and threats of gun violence with periodic active shooter drills that are now a “normal” part of their education. On behalf of State Senator McMorrow, Legislative Director Chaffin shared she had many experiences with active shooter drills as a student, along with regular talks with her dad, a teacher, having “what if” conversations in case there was a shooting at their school. I was moved because I could tell the young participants not only felt heard and that someone could relate to them, but also empowered that their presence and voices actually did make a difference.
I know this is not your typical article describing a United Methodist event, including who attended and what we accomplished. You can read an excellent article that fully reports about Advocacy Day on the Michigan Conference UMC website by clicking here. Instead, I felt led to share more of my own experiences, feelings, and thoughts about Advocacy Day and how reflecting upon it brought to the surface what I realized God doesn’t want me to push away or bury. And among the various feelings that God wanted me to face was that of fear, including that my actions would amount to little or nothing at all. In the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds, Advocacy Day renewed in me and many others our hope in God and what God can do in and through us when we do our parts and join together to advocate for change on issues that affect us all.
We all need renewed hope at times, as we constantly advocate for change, for new laws, and for systems that help protect and even save lives when it comes to gun violence, violence against Black, Indigenous and people of color, and all forms and acts of violence and injustice. In doing so, we are being an active part of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth. What we do by praying, being present, making phone calls, writing emails and letters, standing up and speaking out as individuals and as a group, and in rallying, demonstrating and even protesting, are all part of God’s work and movement in making needed changes. Even when things seem to be getting worse, regress rather than advance, and more and more hopeless, let us remember that God is hope, our hope, and the hope for the world. With the hope we have in God, let us not tire of doing what we know will be a constant battle and struggle, especially when it seems like we’re making little to no difference at all. God can work mightily through one person, and even more powerfully when we join together with our prayers, voices, and actions for the love of God and love for one another.
I leave you with one of several verses I turn to when I am discouraged and facing what seems like an impossible challenge to overcome. May this verse be a source of hope and renewal for you when it seems like, or when you’re tempted to believe, your actions make little to no difference at all.
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NRSV)