I have published nearly 400 op-ed pieces on guns, which adds up to more than 240,000 words. But until two weeks ago, when I posted a column about the November 3rd gun violence event at Washington’s National Cathedral, I hadn’t written a single word about the question of gun violence and religious faith, which the more I think about it, deserves a central place in the gun debate.
Part of my reluctance to write about guns and religion stems from the fact that I’m not particularly religious. So I don’t instinctively think about religion or faith when I’m constructing an argument about guns or anything else. But the good folks at the National Cathedral just sent me a notice about the Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend taking place on December 10-14, and the scope and depth of this remarkable event needs to be recognized and considered even by a non-religious sort like myself.
The event is actually designed to inject the issue of gun violence into the religious services of Christians, Jews, Islam, Hindus, Sikhs, Universalists and Buddhists – I hope I have them all. Similar events took place in 2014 engaging more than 1,200 congregations and worship sites forming a virtual coalition between the National Cathedral, the Newtown Foundation, Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence and other faith-based and anti-violence groups.
I’m going to assume that if 1,000 congregations of different faiths choose to dedicate a Sabbath observance to gun violence that easily a million people could be involved in thinking about this issue over the four-day period beginning December 10th. But it occurs to me that there’s one national organization that is somewhat conspicuous by its absence from the event, and that organization happens to be the NRA. And the reason I say that is because the annual NRA fest, which will be held next year in Louisville, always includes a prayer breakfast which, according to the 2016 program, will present speakers “who will challenge you with stirring words of freedom and faith.” So if religious belief can be used both to invoke the Lord’s guidance for those who want to end gun violence, as well as to invoke God’s blessing over those whose devotion to their guns ultimately results in 30,000+ deaths each year, how do we reconcile these two seemingly-contradictory views of faith?
I found an answer to that question in the sermon preached by The Very Reverend Gary Hall who will retire as Dean of the National Cathedral shortly after the December GVP event. Reverend Hall preached this message on December 16, 2012, just two days after the Sandy Hook massacre that took the lives of 20 first-graders plus 6 adults. After recounting his own reaction and the reactions of others to the horrifying event, Dr. Hall turned to the question that had to be answered: “What are we, as people of faith, to do?” And to answer that question, he reminded the Congregation of their sacred duty: “As Christians, we are obligated to heal the wounded, protect the vulnerable, and stand for peace. “
But if, as Reverend Hall went on to say, the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby, then shouldn’t people who devote themselves to the cross also be out there talking to people who devote themselves to guns? I’ve never attended the NRA prayer breakfast, but I’m sure the audience considers themselves to be persons of deep faith. And don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, but the religious ‘faith’ of those Republican Presidential candidates always seems to go hand-in-hand with their unwavering support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’
Don’t get me wrong. Reverend Hall’s post-Newtown uplifting sermon was a powerful antidote to Wayne LaPierre’s fear-mongering rant which constituted the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook. But there are plenty of people out there who still want to cling both to their religion and their guns. The faith-based coalition that will come together around the country on December 10-14 might consider ways to reach those folks as well.