On Tuesday, November 3, Washington’s National Cathedral will hold a special event on gun violence and if you can make it, I urge you to attend. This won’t be the first time that people have gathered at the Cathedral to talk about gun violence and it certainly won’t be the last. But the event is taking place at a time when the debate about the place of guns in American society seems to have hit a fever pitch, which is exactly why having a gun event at the National Cathedral is a good thing.
The debate started heating up when all the Republican Presidential candidates discovered how much they loved the 2nd Amendment. Not to be outdone, Hillary and the Democrats volleyed back with an equally strong gun-control retort. The current political divide on this issue reflects, if nothing else, a polarization that has always existed between the two sides. According to the NRA, guns make us safe and protect us from crime; according to groups like Brady and Everytown, guns create risk. Not only do the arguments appear incapable of compromise at any step along the way, I also don’t recall another time that the arguments were as loud and continuous as they are right now.
This brings me back to an event held at the National Cathedral on December 11, 2013 – a memorial service for Nelson Mandela who died the previous week. I was a high school senior when Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly attempting to overthrow the South African apartheid state. I witnessed the civil rights movement in the 60s, the anti-War movement in the 70s, the gender equality movement in the 80s, and Mandela still languished in jail. He was finally released in 1990 because otherwise the de Klerk government would have collapsed. It disappeared two years’ later anyway and Mandela was elected President of the Government of National Unity in 1994.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined the racial breach in South Africa would ever be healed. I also never believed that Mandela would come out of prison after 27 years and immediately talk about reconciliation and peace. Which made it altogether fitting that the United States memorialized his death at the National Cathedral, a site consecrated by the commitment to finding ways for people to occupy common ground, speak in language that everyone can understand, promote commonalities instead of differences about the important issues of the day.
Nelson Mandela came out of jail after 27 years of incarceration and didn’t speak about hatred or violence, but about unity, love and respect. In the same way, the United To Stop Gun Violence event at the Cathedral on November 3 will take place in an atmosphere of understanding, fellowship and grace. You’ll meet advocates, policymakers, influencers, social media and messaging experts, folks who just want to get involved and folks who are already doing their thing. It’s a chance for you to decide how and what you can do to help hasten the end of gun violence, as well as to learn what you can say to others who then might be persuaded to get involved.
I am hopeful that everyone who comes to the meeting, including myself, will leave with a renewed sense of optimism about the daunting task that lies ahead. But I’m also hopeful about something else, which is that we will all not just learn better ways to enlist more people in the crusade against gun violence, but better ways to talk about gun violence to folks who own guns. If Nelson Mandela were alive, he would say that the problem of gun violence can only be resolved by bringing everyone to the table who has a stake in the game. We need to invite the other side to join us in the discussion; if they refuse, we need to invite them again and again. That would exemplify the true spirit of Nelson Mandela and again denote what Washington’s National Cathedral is really all about.