BALTIMORE, MD – The reality of death and loss is one with which the church and its leadership must cope every day. Families lose loved ones to disease, age, and inexplicable accidents. Consoling and encouraging these families is difficult at best and heart wrenching at worst. It is the challenging task of reminding them that God has a plan for all lives, and a part of that plan is for each life to come to an end in this world. Some are receptive and understanding, some try to receive it only as hopeful optimism, and others can’t see past their tears and their hurt to anything that God has planned. Grief comes in many forms, but none so great as the grief felt when one person thinks themselves so audacious as to take the life of another, especially the life of a young boy or girl, making death and loss greater than a pain with which to cope; it becomes a tragedy of the human condition, and a heartbreak for an entire community. May 9 was a day of such tragedy and heartbreak, as Rev. Bruce and Mrs. Deborah Haskins were dealt a crushing blow as their son, Joseph, was gunned down in Baltimore, Maryland.
In a city of tremendous diversity and culture, one reality has made itself glaringly apparent over the last few years that I’ve spent with its people; gun violence is an accepted facet of this community. No outrage, no disgust at such a wanton act inflicted upon yet another young African-American male, just a brief moment of shock and awe, then back to daily life. Vitality interlaced with cruelty, as if it is essential to one’s existence in this city.
I am angry. I am disgusted, and I am outraged. I am not only enraged by those who would commit such an act, but also by those who claim that they love and follow God, the giver of life. Those who live out their faith as United Methodists in Baltimore, the birthplace of Methodism in America, should be up in arms against the rampant, ravenous, unchecked spirit of violence which plagues all who live here. We are the people of God who should be claiming dominion over the earth, as God intended, yet we are too timid to claim ownership of the streets where we live and work. This is unacceptable. There is too much at stake when we consider that most of these victims of gun violence comprise our next generations. We are idling while the preservation of our culture and future is decimated. That is unacceptable.
While I understand the trepidation Christians have when facing the threat of gun violence, we must acknowledge that we have already seen that our elected officials are unable to agree on sensible gun legislation. Their message is clear: the people must take control and reclaim those environments embroiled in the conflict between the sanctity of life and the violent counter-culture that demands silent compliance from the masses. Our fear is more deadly than a bullet in that it ensures that more criminals can fire without apprehension. The United Methodist Church must make a stand and act to infuse the Holy Spirit back into the soul of the Baltimore community. We must turn our fear into fuel for the fight against the spirit of violence that has nested in the souls of too many people. It is our responsibility as citizens, as people of God, to protect and defend those souls from such a spirit, and to protect all of our people from the destruction that such a spirit heralds. Joseph Haskins must be a name that rings in the hearts of every Christian as we lead those hearts to take up courageous action in confronting our local, state, and federal legislators, our police department, and even confronting the passivity in each other. Reclaim Baltimore in the name of God. Let Joseph Haskins be the last.