Broadmoor church sermons to tackle guns, mental illness

The Rev. Fred Wideman is a gun owner and says he “always has been.”

“I was taught that guns are not to make you feel strong or powerful,” said Wideman, the pastor of Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. “You ought to have a healthy fear of what a gun can do if you are not careful. You never use it to hurt anyone.”

But so very often news reports are of guns being used to hurt, whether during a mass shooting at a school in Connecticut or in another homicide in Baton Rouge.

Responding to the pre-Christmas slaying of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., and in keeping with an ongoing effort by the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, Wideman on Sunday will begin a three-week sermon series on “Waging Peace.” The series will focus on “Christians and Guns” on Sunday, “Christians and Mental Illness” on Jan. 20 and “Transforming a Violent Culture” on Jan. 27.

“My goal is not to come up with a real strong statement of black and white — that this is the thing,” Wideman said. “I’m not going to jump in on the side of the Huffington Post or the NRA.”

Rather, he wants to help the church to have a “healthy, holy conversation” and consider how to make an “appropriate response in grace with Christ.”

“When we are reacting to emotional events, we don’t do our best work,” Wideman said. “The tendency when people are anxious and afraid is to isolate. We build our mental, physical and emotional gated communities at the very time that we need to be involved and grow community.”

The Interfaith Federation has sought to get the community involved in the idea of “waging peace.” In the fall, the federation asked people to talk about violence, healing and peace and submit their words for use in a musical composition.

Robert Kyr, a composer and music professor at the University of Oregon, is taking those words submitted from discussions in Baton Rouge and writing a piece of music that will be premiered in Baton Rouge in May during the federation’s annual Sounds of CommUNITY concert.

Federation leaders also are hopeful that churches such as Broadmoor United Methodist will embrace the cause and look for other ways to be involved with pursuing peace in the community, said the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, federation executive director.

“We are encouraging the federation congregations as well as others during the course of these months to have dialogues to really consider what it means to wage peace,” she said, adding she hopes the efforts will go beyond considering how to pray for peace to addressing such questions as “How do we act for peace?”

In addition to its sermon series, Broadmoor Methodist, 10230 Mollylea Drive, will serve as host for a Neighborhood Safety and Security Forum, sponsored by the Broadmoor Residents Association from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 26. The church will provide a free jambalaya lunch.

University Baptist is doing a spiritual series on the rhythms of prayer. The series includes the study of “Falling Upward” and other books by Richard Rohr and a fall retreat to New Mexico, where adults will spend time at Ghost Ranch, a retreat center for artists, and at Christ in the Desert Monastery, said the Rev. Griff Martin, who is a co-pastor at University Baptist, along with the Rev. Mike Massar.

In the fall, the co-pastors preached a couple of sermons on Christianity, peace and violence and “our response,” said Martin, adding that Christians need to respond, and there are a variety of ways to do so.

McCullough-Bade expects other congregations will have their own approaches for focusing on peace during the next few months. “What’s going on at Broadmoor is this percolating up, seeing that what happens in this town in Connecticut affects our lives and we don’t have to wait to wage peace,” McCullough-Bade said.

Sermons won’t solve the problem of violence, Wideman acknowledged.

“I can feel just as powerless as anybody else, but if we allow our feeling of powerlessness to determine our response, then we are more powerless than we think,” he said.

Instead, he plans to start with what is known and look to Jesus for a response.

“We know there is a relationship between violence and poverty and people who grow up in families where violence is commonplace,” Wideman said. “People who have no hope tend to act out on society.

“What would Jesus do? He would probably seek some of those guys out.”