Faith Responses to Gun Violence and White Nationalism

Rev. Deanna Morgan Hollas

On Friday, August 2, I had lunch with Florence Quillin, my dear friend and New Wineskins Community co-leader. She told me about Deanna Morgan Hollas, who had recently been ordained as the first minister of gun violence prevention by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Rev. Hollas is the first person in the country to hold a national ecclesiastical role of this kind. Like Florence, I was delighted about this much-needed appointment. Later that day Florence sent me this inspiring New York Times story about Rev. Hollas and her new ministry.

The following day, August 3, we heard the news of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killing 31 people and injuring 42.

On Wednesday, August 7, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Rev. Hollas at a meeting to discern faith responses to gun violence and white nationalism, held at Central Christian Church. I was impressed by her hopeful, systemic approach to gun violence prevention and by her response to her new national platform. She told me she was just following her clear call and hadn’t thought she was doing anything unusual. She was, in fact, surprised by the national attention she had attracted and didn’t feel prepared for all the interviews. But she said she appreciated the opportunity to help bring attention to the gun violence crisis, and had now added media training to her schedule.

This story about Rev. Hollas on the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website includes a link to the Fellowship’s Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit, a helpful free resource for all faith communities and other organizations. This toolkit also inspired the Baptist Peace Fellowship to publish a gun violence prevention toolkit, based on the one published by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. You can download this resource, also free, from the link on this Resources page on the BPFNA website.

Rev. Hollas is following her call as a minister to go beyond thoughts and prayers in response to the epidemic of gun violence in our country. The NYT story includes her statement of a comprehensive approach to her ministry: “And while legislation is an important part of the work, it is not what gets me up in the morning. I am more interested in creating the cultural change that is needed along with legislation.” This hymn, sung at her ordination, reflects this approach:

If We Just Talk of Thoughts and Prayers
–by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette


If we just talk of thoughts and prayers
And don’t live out a faith that dares,
And don’t take on the ways of death,
Our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.

If we just dream of what could be
And do not build community,
And do not seek to change our ways,
Our dreams of change are false displays.

If we just sing of doing good
And don’t walk through our neighborhood
To learn its hope, to ease its pain,
Our talk of good is simply vain.

God, may our prayers and dreams and songs
Lead to a faith that takes on wrongs —
That works for peace and justice, too.
Then will our prayers bring joy to you.

Text: Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email:     New Hymns:
(Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote this hymn after the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. She generously gives permission for free use of this hymn in local churches.)

Ken Crawford, pastor of Central Christian Church, facilitated the conversation at the meeting I attended to discern faith responses to gun violence and white nationalism. Rev. Crawford listed our ideas on poster paper. In addition to contacting our elected officials to urge them to pass gun violence prevention legislation, voting for people committed to passing this legislation, and registering people to vote, we discussed things we can do to contribute to cultural change. One participant suggested studying the book White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, to change attitudes that form foundations of racism, white nationalism, and white privilege. We also talked about violence rooted in the intersection of racism, sexism, misogyny, and heterosexism.

Recent reports point to the strong connection between misogyny and violence against women and mass shootings. At the meeting we mentioned ways faith communities can contribute to changing our culture of toxic masculinity.

Later I remembered a presentation, “Men, Masculinity, and the Struggle for Gender Justice in Church and Society,” by Memphis Theological Seminary professor Matt Matthews at an Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program. Dr. Matthews questioned our culture’s definitions of “masculinity.” His presentation takes on greater urgency in the aftermath of more mass shootings by white men.

Dr. Matthews challenges men to liberate masculinity from patriarchy: “For men to become allies of women in the struggle for gender justice, they must do the hard work of reimagining masculinity and liberating it from the same patriarchy that oppresses women.”

Dr. Matthews shows how socialization of males has created and maintained violence against women. He recommends the documentary series Tough Guise, by Dr. Jackson Katz. This series demonstrates that the ongoing epidemic of men’s violence in America is rooted in our inability as a society to move beyond outmoded ideals of manhood. Tough Guise examines the violent, sexist, and homophobic messages boys and young men routinely receive from every corner of the culture— U.S. political culture, television, movies, video games, advertising, pornography, and the sports culture. Tough Guise seeks to empower young men — and women — to challenge the myth that being a real man means putting up a false front and engaging in violent and self-destructive behavior.

At the Equity for Women in the Church program, Dr. Matthews also gave us a handout titled “10 Things Men Can Do to End Men’s Violence Against Women” (Copyright © 2004, ACT Men Inc.):

  1. Acknowledge and understand how sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.
  2. Examine and challenge our individual sexism and the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.
  3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to end violence against women.
  4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.
  5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young men about our responsibility in ending men’s violence against women.
  6. “Break out of the man box.” Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand to end violence against women.
  7. Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women.
  8. Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women is due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc. Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.
  9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to develop systems to educate and hold men accountable.
  10. Create systems of accountability to women in your community. Violence against women will end only when we take direction from those who understand it most, women.

Like Equity for Women in the Church, The Gathering: A Womanist Church works to dismantle racism, white nationalism, patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny at the foundation of so much violence in our country. Each week through prophetic sermons and liturgies, The Gathering contributes to changing these oppressive systems.

New Wineskins Community also contributes to dismantling patriarchy and creating the cultural change that is needed to stop all this violence. New Wineskins Community offers rituals especially focused on the Divine Feminine, to change culture from devaluation to empowerment of females. The mission of New Wineskins is to expand experience of Divine Mystery and to contribute to healing, peace, and justice in our world.

There are many ways we can contribute to transforming our violent culture. Each one of us can play a part. We cannot let ourselves become so overwhelmed or numb that we do nothing. Our gifts and callings and social locations can guide us to choose those things we can do as individuals and communities to contribute to bringing change. Together we can bring transformation so that children and adults of all races, genders, cultures, and religions can become all we’re created to be in the divine image.

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