- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A Baptist church in Charleston will display white crosses on its lawn Sunday, one for every person killed in gun violence in the area this year.

In Greenville, a Roman Catholic church will place nine flowers by the altar and leave an empty pew in the front of the sanctuary. Parishioners at a Methodist church in Columbia will enter a chapel passing beneath a rustic cross with cutouts of nine handguns hammered into the wood with long nails.

In other congregations across the state worshippers will sign letters to state lawmakers and hear stories of those affected by gun violence.

The events are part of Stand-Up Sunday, coming in the wake of last year’s horrific slayings of nine black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Gun Sense SC, the nonprofit helping coordinate the events, estimates 1,300 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist congregations will participate this weekend.

The group, launched last month in the room at Emanuel where the parishioners were shot, is calling for tighter background checks on gun sales and stricter enforcement of existing gun laws while respecting people’s rights to bear arms.

The Rev. Don Flowers of Providence Baptist Church on Daniel Island, an upscale suburb of Charleston where there has never been a murder, will put up the white crosses on Sunday.

He said people in his congregation don’t kill people but it’s time to take a stand.

“What’s the number where we finally say it’s too many?” he asks. “Twenty first-graders in Newtown wasn’t. Nine people at a prayer meeting wasn’t. What is the number where we say we’re going to do something about it?”

At least 10 bills to close loopholes in gun laws have been introduced in the General Assembly this year. Gun Sense is calling on congregations to each send nine members to the Statehouse when the bills come up for key votes.

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat, told the Senate on Thursday it’s time lawmakers take action.

“This is a public health crisis. In South Carolina a person is killed by a gun every 14 hours,” he said. “The people of this state are crying out for leadership on this issue.”

Parishioners at the Circular Congregational Church and the nearby Unitarian Church in Charleston will sign form letters to state lawmakers on Sunday and include their own thoughts on the back.

The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge of the Congregational church, whose closest boyhood friend lost his father and brother to gun violence, said the gun debate has become polarized with people worried their weapons will be taken away.

“The best analogy I have is when to get a driver’s license and I have my eyes checked, I don’t scream they are trying to take my car away,” he said.

In Columbia, Dr. John Evans, the leader of the Faith Coalition on Gun Violence, has created the rustic cross bearing the names of those slain at Emanuel AME.

Those attending a Sunday afternoon service at Washington Street United Methodist Church will pass beneath it entering the church’s chapel. On the opposite side of the cross are construction paper cutouts of children’s hands with messages of hope.

“We wanted some way of being part of the sadness and the celebration and the forgiveness and all that Mother Emanuel Church has demonstrated,” said the Rev. Dr. William Childs, the church’s pastor. “This was one way churches could come together.”

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