In a month marked by horrific mass shootings,
Survivor Sunday 2018 brings people of faith together to remember victims
of gun violence in America and pray for their grieving loved ones
“Giving survivors of gun violence the reassurance that God and God’s people still care for them is what Survivor Sunday is about. We must support, lift up and wrap arms around survivors today and every day. This weekend’s horrific mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue was a despicable act that should remind people of faith everywhere that we have to fight this epidemic head-on, utilizing both prayer AND action.” –Rev. Dr. Lorenzo Neal, Pastor of New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mississippi)
“It was an honor to join Christians across the country in praying for all those impacted by gun violence on Survivor Sunday. As a Christian, I know that our prayers have great power, and I am thankful for all those churches who responded to the call to care for survivors in this way. There is still so much work to do as we seek to create a world in which gun violence does not exist, but we know the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and that this collective action of coming together to honor and lift up survivors reflects God’s love. Together, we share the burden of sorrow and proclaim our confidence that He can and will restore the lives broken by gun violence.” –Dr. Jamie Aten, Founder and Executive Director of The Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College (Illinois)
“Survivor Sunday is the best way for Christians to respond to the terrible tragedies and enormous loss that accompany gun violence. God’s people need and want to pray for those who suffer. The recent vigils and outpouring of love from individuals across faith lines in Pittsburgh are evidence of that. For those who believe in the power of prayer, taking time to pray in a worship service or Sunday school class is the most effective way to begin bringing an end to this plague in American society. But we cannot stop at prayer. We must combine our prayers with action so that these mass shootings and everyday gun violence is brought to an end. The violence we have seen as of late cannot become a way of life in America.” –Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, President of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute and Spokesperson for Prayers & Action (Washington, DC)
(NASHVILLE, TN) Oct. 30, 2018 — From the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas (October 1, 2017) to the deaths of 11 innocent lives at Tree of Life Synagogue over the weekend, October is proving to be a deadly month in America, making times of remembrance even more important. Just days before the most recent mass shooting in Pittsburgh, faith leaders, congregations and gun-violence survivors across the nation linked arms on October 14, 2018, for the second annual Survivor Sunday. The nationwide event focused on Restoring Broken Lives, urging individuals and churches across the nation to come together for the purpose of mending hearts and stirring efforts to end America’s senseless gun violence. This day of remembrance and prayer came only days before the one-year mark of a massacre at another house of worship—First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (November 5).
Gun violence survivor and founder of Jared’s Heart of Success, Sharmaine Brown, was one of several survivors who led Survivor Sunday events in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Brown’s son, Jared, was shot and killed by a stray bullet, and today she works tirelessly to help others avoid joining the club that no one wants to be a part of. For Brown, Survivor Sunday brought affirmation, healing and hope that, with the support of believers around the country, there will be an end to senseless gun violence.
“On Survivor Sunday, my pastor asked me to stand during worship service. As I stood, he began telling the congregation about the work I have been doing in the community advocating and addressing gun violence after losing my son to senseless gun violence. He shared the name of my organization, Jared’s Heart of Success, and said that now Jared’s heart beats through the work that I do.”
Brown continued: “He then shared the stark reality and statistics surrounding gun violence and stated that change needs to take place. But what happened next was so incredibly moving: he asked the congregation if there was anyone else present that had been affected or had anyone die by gun violence. To his shock, survivors stood up one by one. He shook his head and said, ‘Wow, I did not know . . .’ This entire weekend of recognition was so important to me because it allowed each person that has been killed by gun violence and survivors everywhere to be remembered on a special day now known as Survivor Sunday. It also brings me hope that, with continued prayers and action in our communities by everyone—including pastors and our church bodies—we will make progress. I do not want another mother to ever have to experience this pain that I, my husband, daughters and family members have had to learn to deal with daily.”
Spearheaded by Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute and the subject of Abigail Disney’s Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Armor of Light, and A. R. Bernard, pastor of New York City’s largest church, The Christian Cultural Center, Survivor Sunday services and events took place nationwide, with marquee events occurring in:
- Brooklyn, New York
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Chicago, Illinois
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Orlando, Florida
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Seattle, Washington
Since the inaugural Survivor Sunday in 2017, which brought together more than 200 pastors, churches and individuals, an intense dialogue has erupted regarding the Christian response to the gun violence epidemic plaguing America. From the role of pastors in curbing gun violence as it relates to domestic violence and mental health, Christianity Today’s editorial response after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the exploration by Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck on what has changed since 58 people were shot and killed and hundreds more wounded at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas one year ago this month—evangelical pastors and church leaders who have largely avoided the topic of gun safety are calling for Christians to respond with prayers and action, but also with compassion, empathy, and support for all those who have been devastated by gun violence.
“At the age of 33, I lost my best friend to gun violence,” says Rev. Stephanie Bishop, who led a special Survivor Sunday service in her church outside Atlanta, Georgia. “Jamie, my older brother—my only sibling—was killed while teaching his introductory German class at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. My family, along with 31 other families, were plummeted into unfathomable grief. While I relied heavily on my faith to get me through, my family, friends and church family—my community—were instrumental in my healing process. My belief system centers on two simple concepts: The life and love of Jesus Christ calls for nonviolence; and the love of Christ, the will of Christ, is lived out in community. We represent Christ in all we do. Jesus did not act out of fear when he walked among us. We should follow Christ’s example and not take up arms against one another, but do our best to live courageously, acting out of compassion and love in our communities. I hope that Survivor Sunday brings awareness to the rampant problem of gun violence in our country that seems to be growing despite the numbers of people who are affected and wish to see change.”