The General Commission on Religion and Race believes the tragic events in Tucson Saturday underscore the urgency to reduce the level of rage and anger now permeating the country's social discourse.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Episcopal leader of the Desert Southwest Conference and vice president of the General Commission on Religion and Race issued a statement calling the shootings "senseless" and hoped that what happened Saturday "is not an expression of growing intolerance."
GCORR general secretary Erin M. Hawkins echoed the call for prayers adding, "as we pray for the families of those forced to begin living with great loss, we pray for our nation, those in leadership and those whose faith leads us, to begin addressing the growing culture of word-violence. In the days ahead we will question the security needs of our lawmakers and re-enter the gun control debate, but we must also examine the role hate speech, as a weapon of violence, may have played in this tragedy, and work to eliminate it."
While it is not yet known why Jared Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Giffords at point blank range while she spoke to constituents outside a Tucson supermarket, an AP story posted Jan. 9 reported that local Arizona authorities were examining the American Renaissance website, a white supremacist, hate group for possible motives for the shootings. Given the current climate of inflamed political and news media speech around the immigration debate, such acts of violence that may have been exacerbated by hateful rhetoric are not being ignored.
GCORR had been aware of the rise in hate speech in the U.S. "We saw it last summer following a rally in D.C. and again in December when we launched the national Drop the I-Word campaign which urges United Methodists to take a pledge to use the term "undocumented" instead of illegal immigrants when talking about immigration reform," said Jeneane Jones, team leader for Communications at GCORR. "We see the use of the i-word in the same way people viewed terms like "wop" or the N-word, words that denigrated specific racial ethnic groups, ostracized and vilified communities. The i-word is a gross generalization-one that labels someone out of status for a variety of reasons as being illegal or criminal. The GCORR campaign affirms that as people of faith we consider no child of God to be illegal. But what troubles the agency is the rage-laced response this and other social justice campaigns generated. "Disagreements I understand. But the ugliness with which people communicate their dislike-that I didn't expect from people who sit in United Methodist pews on Sundays."
GCORR's vision is to move the United Methodist Church from racism to relationships, and learning to communicate with each other is essential in accomplishing that vision. Jones said, "At the core of it all, we are reminding each other of the question the scriptures ask us - if you claim to love God who you have not seen, how can you hate the brother and sister (with your speech and actions) whom you have not seen?"
As we prepare to celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jones says United Methodists have an opportunity to be builders of the beloved community King spoke about. We do it one word at a time, one conversation at a time.