Gun violence is a distinctly American problem in search of a distinctly American solution, and the United Methodist Church (UMC) is nothing if not distinctly American. It was founded in the United States in 1784, shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, and four years before the Constitution was ratified. Its founding philosophy was one of individual change through participating in society—and this was the governing principle at work recently in Pittsboro, North Carolina, where UMC pastor Brent Levy hosted an ecumenical evening of prayer and commitment to action to end gun violence, two weeks after the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting.
Pittsboro may not be an intuitive place to cover the response to Uvalde, which is nearly 1,500 miles away. However, as a microcosm of the gun control debate, North Carolina is illustrative. The Wall Street Journal listed North Carolina as one of the top states whose population has grown as a result of the COVID-19 mass migrations from blue to red states, but the picture is more complicated than that. Also in the top half of states for firearm injury deaths, the state has a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled legislature. This November, it has a seat up for grabs in a race that, as of this writing, may help tip the balance in the U.S. Senate in the Democrats’ favor, even as the Republicans look poised to sweep the House.
As I drove to meet Levy, I passed thick forests, rolling bucolic hills intersected by picket fences, inns, and spas, historical markers for Revolutionary War sites, and a yard sign for the Trump-backed Republican Senate candidate Ted Budd. At a traffic light, I waited behind a painting truck with a “Let’s Go Brandon” decal. When I arrived at the place where Levy and I had arranged to meet, a genteel shopping center in nearby Chapel Hill, I was greeted by a “We Believe” window sign cataloging the proprietors’ putative progressive values. Inside, a non-negligible number of patrons wore masks, a much less common site in the more rural area of the state from which I had come.
It was stage 4 of the Tour de France, and the TV above the bar at the cycling-themed Breakaway Café was showing the day’s 171.5-kilometer race from Dunkirk to Calais. It was also the day after Independence Day, when a gunman opened fire on a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven. Levy had come in response to an email I had sent asking about Swords into Plowshares, the June 9 interfaith prayer vigil he had co-hosted with Presbyterian Church USA pastor the Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman.
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