April 9, 2015

Vital Signs

It was with much shock and sadness that North American Division president Daniel Jackson interrupted the proceedings during an administrative meeting on December 14, 2012, to announce the tragic news of the fatal shooting of 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Those of us at the meeting stopped what we were doing and together earnestly prayed for the families in pain. We couldn’t believe that such young, precious children, together with teachers, would die in this senseless way. Evil seemed to prevail.

During such times of inexplicable tragedy many find comfort in the assurance that this world is not our home and that soon the great controversy between good and evil will end. We look forward to the day that families will be reunited with loved ones whom they lost to death. We yearn to complete the task given to us by God to share the gospel message with the world so that He can return soon and take us home. In the meantime, however, we cannot neglect to do everything we can to help reduce the risk of mass killings in our communities today.

Violence and Health

Violence in all its forms—domestic, gun, youth, gender-based, intimate partner, childhood, elderly, and so forth—has been linked to physical, mental, and social health as well as mortality. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centers for Disease Control have documented violence as a major health problem in this country. The IOM states that “in 2001, violence accounted for 45 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost, with low- and middle-income countries bearing the largest burden.”1 But violence can be prevented, and the IOM’s Forum on Global Violence Prevention (FGVP) is working to reduce violence worldwide by promoting research on both protective and risk factors and encouraging evidence-based prevention efforts. The FGVP aims to facilitate dialogue and exchange by bringing together experts from all areas of violence prevention, including faith-based organizations, to address this concern.

The World Health Organization also confirms a significant health impact from this “contagion of violence.” Public health officials list violence as one of eight major factors negatively affecting the health of citizens in the United States.2 This is a major health issue that health ministries leaders in faith-based institutions must address. Johns Hopkins University recently held a summit on gun violence at which presenters and attendees discussed available research and evidence that support the need to reduce violence and thus its related health risks in the community.3

Gun Violence and Politics

There are those who view matters such as gun violence as political issues. Others, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, view them differently. In line with current research, the official Adventist Church statement regarding gun violence reads as follows:

“While it is true that violence and criminal inclinations lead to guns, it is also true that availability of guns leads to violence. The opportunity for civilians to acquire by purchase or otherwise automatic or semiautomatic assault weapons only increases the number of deaths resulting from human crimes. . . . Seventh-day Advent-ists . . . wish to cooperate in using every legitimate means of reducing, and eliminating where possible, the root causes of crime. In addition, with public safety and the value of human life in mind, the sale of automatic or semiautomatic assault weapons should be strictly controlled. This would reduce the use of weapons by mentally disturbed people and criminals, especially those involved in drug and gang activities.”4 

We must do what we can to help depoliticize the issue of gun violence. We can point to the research linking violence with adverse health factors, while sharing biblical principles that, if followed, can strengthen entire communities, families, and individuals. We also must ask the question Are we as individuals and as a faith community doing enough to educate ourselves on the health consequences of violence, in order to raise awareness of the importance of violence prevention in all its forms—including gun violence? Are we learning appropriate and helpful therapeutic ways to talk about violence with kids, answering questions they may have and addressing their possible fears of encountering violent situations?

Many helpful resources are available that can help answer these questions from a public-health perspective (see sidebar). It’s well worth the time to read and utilize these materials.

Ultimately, we must grasp opportunities to point people to Christ, the Creator, healer, and restorer of our lives. Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV).5 We look forward to the time our Savior will bring an end to the death and evil in this world; but until then, He calls us to be His lips, hands, and feet to make our communities places of health, healing, and wholeness today.

Let us not neglect to do our part.

  1. Institute of Medicine, “Forum on Global Violence Prevention,” http://iom.edu/Activities/Global/ViolenceForum.aspx. Accessed Feb. 5, 2013.
  2. Surgeon general,  “National Prevention Strategy,” www.surgeongeneral.gov/initiatives/prevention/strategy/index.html. Accessed Feb. 7, 2013.
  3. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Gun Policy Summit,” www.jhsph.edu/events/gun-policy-summit/agenda.html. Accessed Feb. 5, 2013.
  4. Seventh-day Adventist Church, “Ban on Sales of Assault Weapons to Civilians,” http://adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main-stat4.html. Accessed Feb. 5. 2013.
  5. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.