By Peggy Eastman

The senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) has criticized a widespread gun culture in the United States.

“Of late we’ve fallen madly in love with the gun,” said the Rt. Rev. John Richard Bryant of Chicago, who leads the AME Church’s Fourth Episcopal District.

“We keep saying the gun will protect us and yet it seems to make us more violent,” said Bishop Bryant in a talk Aug. 12 at the National Press Club. “We are the most violent country.”

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After shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine people dead, Bishop Bryant led one of many prayer vigils that touched the nation’s conscience.

Many people want to put a gun on the hip “like wild Bill Hickok,” he said. “That’s what we’re returning to.”

“Gun ownership is such a part of the American psyche,” Bryant told TLC during a reception before his talk.

Bryant announced that the AME Church will participate in a press conference at the National Press Club on Sept. 2 “to roll out an agenda of what we need to do to make this country more humane.”

“My prayer is that the people will get enough. I don‘t see change coming from the legislators,” he said about gun-control laws.

The bishop said that Dylann Roof, who has been indicted on 33 charges, “picked the wrong place and the wrong crowd” at Mother Emanuel: “Mother Emanuel demonstrated the Christian Gospel better than any theologian in any seminary.”

Many in the audience, including members of AME churches, murmured in agreement.

By responding with forgiveness, members of Mother Emanuel demonstrated what it really means to love those who harm you, the bishop said:  “The nation was able to get a closer look at a real church and a real pastor.”

He gave thanks for national and global support for Mother Emanuel after the massacre.

“Some good stuff happened” after the shooting, he said, especially the removal of the confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds in Columbia.

Bishop Bryant commended Gov. Nikki R. Haley for advocating that change. He praised Haley and Charleston’s longtime mayor, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., for their “ministry of presence” among the grief-stricken.

Bryant believes Christians should not take up arms to protect themselves from attacks. “I do not want to see churches arm; I don’t want to play into that,” he said. “We have to trust God. I would hate that the church would have to follow suit of the culture. … I would hope that the church would be a violence-free place.”

Bryant said gun culture has been particularly devastating for black Americans. “In the aftermath we’re still stuck with racism,” he said. “Racism is eating away at the fiber of this country. … Racism is a challenge to the church.

“Right now, across this country, there is a deep feeling of frustration in the souls of people who feel that in this culture, in this society, their lives don’t matter,” the bishop said. “If you’re treated like you’re nothing long enough, you’ll act like you’re nothing.”

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