The New York Times reports today that “religious leaders across the country this week vowed to mobilize their congregants to push for gun control legislation and provide the ground support for politicians willing to take on the gun lobby, saying the time has come for action beyond praying and comforting the families of those killed.” According to the Times:
A group of clergy members, representing mainline and evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, plans to lead off the campaign in front of the Washington National Cathedral at an event on Friday timed to mark the moment a week before when a young gunman opened fire in a school in Newtown, Conn.
The cathedral will toll its funeral bell 28 times, once for each victim, including 20 children, 6 teachers and school administrators and the mother of the killer, as well as the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who shot and killed himself.
“Everyone in this city seems to be in terror of the gun lobby. But I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, in an impassioned sermon on Sunday that has become a rallying cry for gun control. People in the cathedral’s pews rose and applauded.
Dean Hall said in an interview that he and Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington were calling on their parishioners to support four specific steps: bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tightening rules for sales at gun shows and re-examining care for the mentally ill.
They also recommend “a critical look at our culture’s’ glorification of violence,” according to Bishop Budde’s Christmas letter, issued today:
As we prepare to celebrate the child who was born for us, we grieve for the children taken from us too soon. The Newtown children and their teachers were not the only ones to be killed by gun violence this year, but we feel their deaths at a deeper, collective level somehow, as if at last we can acknowledge that by our passivity, we have allowed too many such deaths to occur.
In the aftermath of the violence that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we would be made of stone if our faith in a loving God didn’t falter. “Where was God?” we ask. “How could God let this happen?”
Yet the more compelling question isn’t where God was last Friday morning, but rather, where we were. As St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Christ has no body on earth but ours. Ours are the feet with which he walks, ours the hands with which he blesses, our the eyes with which looks on this world with compassion.”
Surely those who gave their lives for the children’s sake were running with the feet of Christ, and those who grieve are crying Christ’s tears as well as their own. But what about the rest of us? Where are we now?
As people of faith, we are good at showing up with flowers, platters of food, and candles to light a dark sky, and we need these things to remind us that goodness is stronger than evil and love is stronger than hate. But now is also a time for us to show up in ways that will prevent such deaths in the future.
There is a new Spirit blowing in our land. Surely you have felt it. Momentum is building daily as more and more voices cry out for change. I am convinced that we are at an opportune moment to fundamentally change the course of our nation, a time when even the smallest of gestures can make a tremendous difference for good.
I invite you to join with people of faith and good will across our land.
On Friday morning at 9.30 a.m. EST, hundreds of faith communities will mark the one-week anniversary of the Newtown killings with a moment of prayer. If you have a church bell, let it toll 28 times for the dead. Dean Gary Hall and I will be at the National Cathedral with an interfaith gathering of religious leaders committed to a sustained campaign against the root causes of gun violence. We will listen to the tolling of the Cathedral’s largest bell, offer prayers, and urge our elected officials to act with wisdom and courage in confronting the appalling violence that has plagued our country for decades.
In the days before Christmas, please write or call your congressional representatives, Senators, and President Obama. Express your grief, concerns and longing for an end to gun violence. You don’t need to be an expert; our strength is in moral and spiritual clarity. Speak from your faith and love of children. Invite your family and friends to do the same. Here is how you can contact them: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
If you’d like to speak of specific action, there is an emerging spiritual and moral consensus that the following steps need to be taken:
1. A clear ban on all semi-automatic weapons and large rounds of ammunition
2. Tighter controls on all gun sales
3. Mental health care reform, including improved care for our most vulnerable citizens
4. A critical look at our culture’s’ glorification of violence.
The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations has just issued a nationwide call to action and prayer, including a commemoration of the Feast of Holy Innocents. Please consider whether you and your congregation would like to participate.
Hold your children and loved ones especially close this Christmas. And in honor of those lost and those who grieve, please consider adding your voice to the chorus that is calling for change. Christ has no hands, feet, or voice on earth but ours.
May he find room in our hearts.