The first ordained Presbyterian minister of gun violence prevention is headed to St. Louis to teach elected officials and parishioners about ending gun violence.
Washington University and Webster Groves Presbyterian Church will host a weekend-long event that will include a lecture, sermon and workshop with the Rev. Deanna Hollas. Hollas was ordained a minister of gun violence prevention through the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship last year.
Her position is said to be a first of its kind for a Christian denomination in the U.S. Hollas said her role is to help the church remain informed and active at every level on preventing gun violence.
“I talk with different individuals, members, pastors, Presbyteries, people at all levels of the church and say, ‘What do you need?’” she said. “‘How can I help you?’”
She said she then works to connect them to resources in the community to better support efforts to end gun violence.
For 50 years, the Presbyterian Church has spoken out against gun violence. She said the church views growing gun violence in the nation as a public health crisis. The best way to address it, Hollas said, is to go after it systematically.
“[It’s] not necessarily trying to manage each individual person and individual responsibility,” she said. “It’s more how do we create systems by things like background checks on all gun purchases and red-flag laws. That can limit access to people that might be dangerous and shouldn’t have a weapon.”
The lack of gun laws in the U.S. has made it harder for churches to practice their religion as they struggle to protect their congregations, Hollas said.
“[It’s] put churches who are already struggling to meet their budgets in a position of having to choose between living their faith or whether or not to send it to spend on self-protection,” she said. “And I think our lawmakers have put our freedom to practice our religion at risk. That their emphasis on the Second Amendment has violated our freedom of religion.”
Hollas will also speak with government officials and legislators in a private meeting. She wants to reiterate that the church is concerned about gun violence and wants less talk and more action. That includes background checks on all gun purchases, red-flag laws and safe storage laws.
“Laws do make a difference,” Hollas said.
She said the gun debate is often framed as either laws or people’s hearts.
“But at the church, we say it’s both,” she said. “And so, I hope that they see that and understand that you need to represent the people's wishes.”
Hollas will give a lecture at 7 p.m. Friday at Graham Chapel at Washington University on unmasking the powers behind gun violence, and a sermon at Webster Groves Presbyterian Church on Sunday.
Find more information about the weekend-long event on the church's website.
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