US church backs gun control to stop 'wholesale murder'

Michigan Episcopalians vote at their annual conference, held in Lansing October 24-25.Michigan Episcopal Diocese

Episcopalians in the US state of Michigan have passed a controversial resolution at their annual convention, calling for stiffer gun control laws.

At their 180th convention last week in Lansing, they voted to approve a resolution calling for universal background checks on all gun purchases, a ban on all sales of semi-automatic weapons, high-impact ammunition and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

The move has no direct impact on state policy, but it indicates the direction of travel among Episcopalians and other mainline denominations, which have become increasingly critical of America's liberal gun laws in the wake of recent shootings.

The resolution states: "We...stand for public policies to ban violence and assault weapons. Access to guns with rapid fire ability and high capacity magazines are a common, deadly ingredient in...repeated killings."

It says that the "Episcopal Church supports the US Constitution's protections of the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms," but adds that "wholesale murder is made possible because those without proper moral guide have easy access to these assault weapons."

It urges that lawmakers "advocate for public policy and adequate funding to provide community-based services, hospital care and research into the causes and treatment of mental illness".

While the resolution passed with a clear majority, it provoked intense debate among delegates at the conference, with conservative voices arguing that the Church should focus on core Gospel issues. "I think there is a heartfelt desire by all of the Church to keep people safe from violence," said Rev Steven Kelly, rector of St John's Episcopal Church in Detroit, who opposed the resolution. "However, most of those who intend violence are going to get weapons anyways, no matter what kind of legislation we pass."

He said that Episcopal leaders focused too much on a social agenda, adding: "The people in my congregation don't want to hear a social gospel. They want to hear about grace and forgiveness and salvation, so they can go out and do the right things, rather than have something new foisted upon them every week."

Another delegate, Dennis Lennox, spoke against the resolution and said that he was accused of promoting the views of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which campaigns against gun control. He said he was called a "radical with an extreme NRA agenda".

He said: "Passing an inherently political resolution...does absolutely nothing to proclaim the glory of God and bring new people to the pews of churches."

However, another delegate, Rev Chris Yaw, said: "We work to bring God's peace to the world. God's kingdom is not of violence; it's of peace."

The row illustrates another front in America's 'culture wars' between social liberals and conservatives, which is played out in Church councils and synods as well as at the ballot box.