I was born in Washington, DC and one of my earliest memories was being taken by my mother to a concert at the resplendent National Cathedral, the towering Gothic edifice which until the recent re-making of downtown, used to be one of the tallest building in our Nation’s Capitol. The ‘cathedral,’ as we all used to call it, was much more than the seat of Washington’s Episcopal Diocese; it was also a site that attracted visitors worldwide and had been the venue for many events that symbolized what America was all about.
Some Presidents , including both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, journeyed up Massachusetts Avenue following their inaugurations to participate in prayer, other Presidents – Ford, Eisenhower – lay in repose at the Cathedral following their deaths. Although the Constitution still gives everyone the right to follow whatever religion we choose, or not to follow any religion for that matter, the Congress designated the Cathedral as the “national house of prayer,” and what the Rev. Eugene Sutton called a “soaring, majestic place” still evokes the same wonderment in me today as it did when I walked into the building for the first time as a six-year old little boy.
Leaving aside its historical, architectural and spiritual significance for a moment, the Cathedral has also not shied away from confronting public issues which impact all of us from day to day. And if you believe there’s any public issue that demands our attention more than the issue of gun violence, don’t waste your time trying to convince me that I’m barking up the wrong tree. I’m not saying there aren’t other issues that need to be addressed, but gun violence is the only public problem for which a loud and incessant chorus repeats ad nauseum that no issue exists at all. There’s no gun violence according to the NRA; there’s no gun violence according to the NSSF. In fact, the NSSF was just awarded a $2.4 million DOJ grant to help them continue their “effective” Project Chlldsafe program which is so effective that unintentional gun deaths and injuries have increased over the last few years.
If the National Cathedral is the nation’s house of prayer, it also functions as the nation’s public conscience. There is no religious organization that has been as consistently and publicly concerned about equality, promoting freedom of choice and freedom of being over all racial, religious and gender lines. In fact, the very last pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon before he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet was the pulpit at the National Cathedral. The Cathedral was the scene of lively debates about wars in Viet Nam and Iraq; its leadership, both religious and lay, spoke out about the injustices of Abu Ghirab and the Cathedral sponsors an ongoing initiative to help veterans overcome the wounds of war.
And now the Cathedral will become a focal point for voicing concerns about gun violence when they sponsor a national forum on gun violence scheduled for Tuesday, November 3rd. The meeting will bring together all the different constituencies who want to see some “common-sense” solutions put into place: political leaders, advocates, public policy experts and, most important of all, victims and survivors of gun violence themselves. There will be a webcast, exhibits and tables run by the advocacy groups; it’s an opportunity to strengthen and extend the concerns we all share about putting an end to the senseless and destructive use of guns.
I just looked at the latest video treats offered by the NRA, It’s a series called Freedom
Safest Place and it features some of our country’s most notable freedom-fighters like felon Oliver North and home-schooling expert Dana Loesch. I don’t notice that anyone who was injured with a gun ever comes out on behalf of the NRA. Isn’t it funny how the victims of gun violence always seem to end up on the other side of the debate? And that’s the reason why the people who come to the National Cathedral on November 3rd will ultimately win.