Prior to giving his recommendations to the President, Vice President Joe Biden met with many groups on all sides of the effort to reduce gun violence. Included in these meetings were a diverse group of faith leaders. This week, Welton speaks with the Rev. Michael McBride,who was one of them. Pastor Mike leads The Way Christian Life Center in Berkeley, California, and is the lead organizer of Lifelines to Healing, a campaign of the PICO National Network, a faith-based community-organizing network.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: MICHAEL MCBRIDE[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: I think it’s safe to say, by now, that the more cynical among us who predicted that talk of gun control would once again fade away as some time passed after the Newtown shootings was wrong – and I’m glad. [PRESIDENT OBAMA Video]: …So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s task force, and in the days ahead I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.
Which is not to say that plenty of cynicism hasn’t been on display in the ways the pro-gun lobby has attacked any mention of sensible limits on access to any and all firearms. But the White House has pressed on, and the NRA has pushed back with messaging like this:[NRA Video]: Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school… [WG]: You know, it sounds just like a parody you would’ve heard on Air America once upon a time. But this is the divisive garbage pro-gun extremists are putting out there themselves.
So those are the voices opposing any and all reform. Meanwhile, what was said in the administration’s meetings on the subject? Well, attending those meetings was the Rev. Michael McBride, a Berkeley pastor and lead organizer of the Lifelines to Healing Campaign, part of the national PICO faith-based community organizing network, and I am so very pleased to have Mike join us now on State of Belief Radio. Pastor Mike, welcome![REV. MICHAEL MCBRIDE, GUEST]: Thank you, Reverend, so glad to be here with you! [WG]: We’ve all heard Vice-president Joe Biden committee’s recommendations by now, and the steps President Obama took on Wednesday. But take us back for a minute. From the outside, it looked to many of us like an unusually focused week in the nation’s capital. What was it like for you to be in those meetings? [MM]: Well, certainly, it was an amazing opportunity to engage in a very constructive conversation with the vice-president and his task force around the moral imperative that I think a lot of us believe. We have to address the spiraling issue of gun violence in our country. It certainly was a lot of open communication, very serious, kind of, interrogation and interest in what was on our minds as faith leaders, in what we’re hearing; and a little bit of testing of some of the common themes that they were hearing in some of their meetings, and just trying to find some resonance. And it was a wonderful moment, personally, to be able to be there and be able to remind the vice-president and many others on the task force that this issue of gun violence is one that has been hugely problematic and challenging problem for a lot of our cities and neighborhoods all across the country. So it was just great to be there to have that conversation. [WG]: We were together, the other day, out at the National Cathedral, and I noticed that you take a lot of notes. Try to remember and tell us some of the most remarkable things you heard. [MM]: In the vice-president meeting? [WG]: Uh-huh. [MM]: Well, you know, I think certainly, hearing him say that even though there was lots of dissonance, right, there were moments of agreement. And I think that was one profound kind of takeaway: that for a lot of the talk we hear across the country, where people are not in agreement, the vice-president was seeming to suggest there were places of agreement, like universal background checks; that there were a lot of folks who were asking for mental health supports. There was a moment in those meetings where some of our Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters were talking about the shootings that are visiting their houses of worship, and how a lot of them were feeling like the conversation about tolerance and religious intolerance in our country was something that we all needed to visit.
And I think even more profound and hopeful was this unifying kind of theme among all of us, including the vice-president, that we all needed, as faith leaders, to lead a national conversation around violence, and the culture of violence in our country. And he did, certainly, express to us that he was looking to us, as faith leaders and people of faith, to help lead that conversation; that that conversation couldn’t just come from politicians, from the White House, from congressional members, but that pastors, and rabbis, and imams, and priests needed to go back to our congregations and our communities and challenge all of us to look within ourselves, to figure out how can we begin to change the culture of death and violence in our country. And I think a lot of us own that as an assignment that, quite frankly, a lot of us are doing anyway, but it was great for us to be in the space, and look around the table, and say, we think you’re right, Mr. Vice-president.[WG]: Among the religious leaders there, was there any negative voice? [MM]: No. No, and I think that’s worth mention, right, because there are lots of reasons why people divide ourselves because of our theological beliefs and assumptions. But I think, again, when it comes to life, and when it comes to how do we promote life and healing, I think that is a sweet spot, if you will, where all of us can agree. And I would like to believe that invitations were given out to people who weren’t just, kind of, be a yes-person to the vice-president. There was a representative from the National Association of Evangelicals that was there in the room, and he offered this quote that I’ve been repeating all over the place: 70% of their Evangelical leaders actually agree with some of these common sense gun laws, like universal background checks and assault weapon bans and other things. So for us, I think it was just a great opportunity for us to kind of hear that a lot of us are in the same place. But it’s not a given that our people are, and I think that’s the challenge that’s in front of us. [WG]: Well, opposition to any and all change has been as loud as it was predictable. How do you respond to the arguments of the NRA-type leadership, and do you think that the extremists on this issue are going to escalate their tactics along the NRA lines? [MM]: Well, I would hope not… I’m reminded of a passage in the Hebrew scriptures of – I think it was the prophet Elijah – he has a mentor that is surrounded by all these armies, and the mentor is kind of freaking out, and Elijah prays and says to God, “Open his eyes, because there are more with us than are with them,” right? And I think that if the polls are right and if these surveys are right that are being done, and lots of these different focus groups, there are a lot more people that agree with the common sense reforms. So I think the work is for us to get those voices out here, and to counteract some of the hysteria that is being propagated. Some people may have some fears that are legitimate; but to help people to understand that what we’re talking about is not taking anyone’s Second Amendment rights away, but it’s attempting to give us all an opportunity to be free from the fear of gun violence.
Now, in my own context, I shared story with the vice-president of a young person, his name was Larry, he was 16 years old, he was killed in the city of Oakland where I pastor a church. And I had to do his funeral. And there were 500 young people in the funeral when I did his services, and I asked the young people, “How many of you have been to more than one funeral?” And I got as high as ten funerals, and still over half of the 500 teenagers still had their hands in the air.
So for us, in a lot of our urban neighborhoods and communities across the country, where 40% of the gun murders are happening in 70 cities – 40% of all gun murders are happening in 70 cities across the country – this issue is something that requires a very important kind of honest look from everyone all across the board, and we need to just figure out how do we get to a common place that saves lives, that honors people’s rights to legally own guns, but also makes sure that illegal weapons are not being trafficked into our communities; that programs are being put in place to help change people’s behaviors and perceptions about these kinds of weapons, and that folks are really making sure that we create the kind of country and community that we all say we want: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I think that’s something all of us deserve a fair shot at.[WG]: You know, Mike, I know some people that – I actually thought they were smarter before they asked this question, but, I don’t know about that for sure now – but they would ask you, or say to you: “Gun control is not a religious issue.” How do you respond to that? [MM]: Well, I would respond by saying that, you know, maybe they’re right; but it’s a values issue. And I think all of us get our values from somewhere, and as a person of faith and as a clergy leader who helps disciple people and helps people have a meaningful relationship with God, how we live out our faith is, in many ways, a reflection of our values. And there are lots of people in our country who may not subscribe to a particular religious faith, but we all have common values. And I think even if we look at the Constitution, which really shapes lots of people’s values, we still see things in the Constitution that are guaranteed to all of us, like equal protection under the law – that’s a value that I think we all hold dear. The truth is, that some of the laws are not providing us all with equal protection. I mentioned life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – those are values we all agree on; and the truth of the matter is, you know, 30,000 people being killed by guns every year – we’re not having access to life. With people not able to send their children to the mall, to the park, or to their schools, people aren’t having liberty. With 100,000 injury shootings that are taking place every year, people are being robbed of happiness.
So I think I can accept people kind of pushing back on, you know, imagining it as a strictly religious issue; but I think we all would acknowledge that this is a very important values conversation, and I think it’s important for all of us – progressives, conservatives, independents, Black, White, Gay, Lesbian – whatever you like to identify yourself with, our values are all the same. We want to have the best quality of life, and this is an opportunity for us to make sure that happens.[WG]: That’s well said. Are you and your colleagues afraid of the pro-gun lobby – that they are going to scuttle this? [MM]: Well, you know, I think – afraid might be too harsh of a way to say it; I think I have some concern. Not just about the gun lobby, but just about the state of our American politics in general. You know, there just seems to be such an unwillingness by both parties to find common ground about anything, and I salute the President for taking their charge serious enough to really put forth some recommendations. A lot of us feel like we wish they would have gone a little farther with some targeted approaches to urban gun violence, and we hope that the Congress picks that charge up and really builds that out, but I think that there is an opportunity, again, for us to transcend the politics of party and transcend this, kind of, narrative of fear, and do what’s in the best interest of all of the members of our country. I want to believe that there are sensible and compassionate folks in the NRA – again, most of the surveys that we’ve all seen time and time again tell us that NRA members and legal gun owners agree with what we’re saying! So, it’s important for us just to, I think, take a few steps back, on both sides, an not get too entrenched in this kind of brinksmanship, and feel like this has got to a bare-knuckles fight; and let’s find out how do we get to common sense reform that honors people’s dignity, that respects the laws and the values that we all hold dear, and not live in fear. And I think that, for me, is the big thing. So I’m not going to embrace fear of the NRA, or fear of the conservatives, or fear of the progressives, or fear of anything – let’s look at the best that we have to bring to this, and let’s move forward and solve some problems for the good of our country. [WG]: Gosh, you talk like a religious leader! [MM]: Well, I’ve been told a few times that I’ve got to get my schtick together… [WG]: Well listen, I don’t want you to get away without talking about your work with PICO and the Lifelines to Healing Campaign. Tell us about it. [MM]: The Lifelines to Healing Campaign is an effort of faith congregations all across the country – multi-faith, multi-racial – at least, I’ll say three or four hundred congregations in about 20 or so states, all working on issues related to gun violence, issues related to criminal justice reform, really attempting to address issues of incarceration and reentry and second chances; and also building an opportunity framework for people who are largely locked out jobs and skills, etc., etc. So it’s been an amazing, amazing campaign. This is in our third year, and we have been able to win a wonderful set of campaign wins in local cities: stopping jail expansions and pushing the resources that were going to be used for jails into strengthening schools, and jobs. So we’re hugely attempting to make sure that gun violence, particularly street-level gun violence has a well-resourced strategy. The strategy we champion is the Boston Ceasefire Model, that is able to reduce gun-related homicides in urban neighborhoods by 60% in a couple years. It brings together law enforcement, clergy, community members, formerly incarcerated folks – realizing all of us have a role in healing the pain of our country and the pain of our neighborhoods. So, it’s a great campaign, you can visit us on lifelinestohealing.org, lifelinestohealing.org, and learn more about our campaign.
We’re having a great big event on this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, where we will engage in Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, where we have over 150 congregations all across the country lifting up our voices around stopping the violence. So it’s a great campaign, and we would love for you to visit us on Facebook and online, and sign up.[WG]: Good! We’re out of time, but I’ve got to ask one question that needs a very short answer: I’m not really a political activist, a person says, but I’ve heard you, and I want to do something about this gun situation. What’s the most important thing I could do to get started? [MM]: Well, it depends on what level you’re thinking of. If you’re just talking about street-level violence, I believe that every neighborhood in our country needs people of good will, people of faith, people of courage and love to just go outside your homes and your places of worship and your jobs and connect with people. Build relationship with folks. People just need to know that people care. And I think if you do things like that, you will find that our country will slowly begin to heal itself just by building meaningful relationships with people who are often invisible until they do something that’s a little bit beyond the pale. So just building those kind of relationships; if getting all bogged down in the political thing is not your thing, we have a lot of folks, but just lovin’ folks and meetin’ folks, and then your light shall shine, you know? I think it goes a long way. [WG]: The. Rev. Michael McBride is pastor of The Way Christian Life Center in Berkeley, California, and Lead Organizer of the Lifelines to Healing Campaign, part of the national PICO network. He’s in Washington, DC this week to attend last week’s meetings on ending gun violence.
Pastor Mike, thanks so much for taking time to come by and talk to us at State of Belief Radio, and even more, thank you for what you’re doing every day for the good of our country.[MM]: Thank you, Reverend. Glad to be here.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.