Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall preached on Martin Luther King, Jr and opposing violence:
There are eight steps that lead up into this pulpit. Every time I ascend these steps I remember that, on March 31, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his final sermon from this very place. Four days after he preached here at Washington National Cathedral, Dr. King was killed by an assassin wielding a gun.
If we want to stand with Jesus and with Martin Luther King, we’ve also got to stand with those who, like them, die by means of violence.
The sermon Dr. King preached that morning was a call to the faith community to wake up to the world around us. He titled the sermon, “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution,” and he asked that all Christians join in the ongoing struggles against racism, poverty, and especially violence. As he said, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” He also said, “We must find an alternative to war and bloodshed.” As a student of Gandhi and a follower of Jesus, Dr. King had made nonviolence central to both his theology and his practice as a Civil Rights leader. Four days before he died by means of gunfire, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in this pulpit and asked that we all reject violence.
I remember King’s assassination very well. It happened in Holy Week, and it’s one of the events that first compelled me, as a college freshman, to go to church. I’ve always had an aversion to guns, even though I have been pretty much sheltered from them and no real sense of what it feels like to be faced with one. As I was driving to a meeting last week, I heard NPR’s Terry Gross interview the actor Dustin Hoffman, and I was surprised to learn that Hoffman has refused for a very long time to carry a gun on screen. His refusal comes as a result of having been threatened at gunpoint when he was a younger man. Here is part of what he said:
I don’t think people understand what it’s like to have a gun pointed at you. I remember when it happened to me … Every split second you’re feeling the bullet go right through you. … I was aware of how easy that finger is to just touch this thing called a trigger and it’s all over. [Fresh Air, January 17, 2013]
As the National Cathedral, we are a visible faith community in a symbolic building. We have a unique role in American religious life. We represent what is best in American civic life—we stand at the intersection of faithful and civic values. It is vital that we use our visibility and our symbolic role to keep the need for gun control squarely in the public eye. As the leader of this wonderful place, I commit myself to that work and ask you to join me as the legislative process moves forward. We can make Washington National Cathedral a visible focus of our shared commitment and so help end our national tragic scourge of gun violence.
Tomorrow is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is also the day on which we inaugurate the president and vice president. The day after tomorrow the Cathedral will host the 57th Inaugural Prayer Service. As President Obama begins his second term, I can think of no better way for this Cathedral to support him in this work than to reaffirm our commitment to Dr. King’s vision of an America characterized by justice, equality, and peace.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch. [Isaiah 62:1]
Read the sermon here.