Clergy: Would Jesus pack heat? NRA: Do pastors pack any clout?
By JOEL CONNELLY
December 31, 2012
From this Washington to Washington, D.C., church leaders shocked by Newtown are getting ready to go up against the National Rifle Association in an effort to limit or ban high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and to require background checks on all gun purchases.
The killing of 12 people inside an Aurora, Colo., movie theater did not get priests, ministers and rabbis hot under their clerical colors. Nor did the killing of six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
"But a hail of bullets inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which took the lives of 20 first graders and six adults -- was able to mobilize religious activists on gun control after years of failing to gain traction," the Religion News Service reported on Saturday.
Clergy leaders are now asking: "Would Jesus pack heat?" Gun advocates can pose a question right back: "Do pastors pack any clout?"
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., said in a post-Sandy Hook sermon:
"The Christian community, indeed, the entire American faith community can no longer tolerate this persisting and escalating gun violence against our people. Enough is enough." Hall went on to say, boldly: "The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby."
The question, however, is one of tactics and political firepower. A bevy of Seattle parsons did hold a post-Sandy Hook news conference. Sadly, the venting of hot air was testament to why gun control has secured so little traction in the Washington Legislature. Ten speakers held forth. They delivered no sense of objective or strategy to get there.
A few religious voices are, however, posing unsettling and needed questions: How can it be that "pro-life" leaders in Congress, so passionate in defense of the unborn, be at the same time among the gun lobby's most steadfast supporters?
Murder is evil. It denies the right to life. Society deserves, as much as possible, to be protected from this evil. Measures such as limiting the bullets in ammunition clips -- instruments of mass murder in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown -- would seem prudent in countering violent criminal behavior.
"Those who consider themselves religious or pro-life must be invited to see that the desire to prevent gun-related deaths is part of the religious defense of the dignity of all life," Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, wrote in the magazine America.
The pro-lifers in Washington, D.C., and Olympia should be asked, does life begin at conception but end in an elementary school classroom? Is life a gift from God that can be taken away in a movie theater? If the calling is to "choose life," shouldn't Christmas shoppers at a Clackamas, Ore., mall have that choice?
The National Council of Catholic Bishops, big defenders of life in the womb, has been notably reticent on the taking of life by guns . . . especially guns that are not designed for sport or hunting or self-defense. Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain issued a bland statement of prayer and sympathy.
In a pre-Christmas sermon, however, Fr. Michael Ryan at St. James Cathedral pondered what advice St. John the Baptist would give on the subject, and concluded it would not be platitudes or empty prayers.
"Something tells me that he would speak to us about regaining our moral compass as a society, about shunning the ways of violence that are aided and abetted by the easy availability of the most lethal kind of assault weapons, and also by the violent video games that have come to pervade our culture."
The gun lobby has out-mobilized and out-spent its adversaries, but mostly it has outlasted them. The press devours details about the latest mass assassination, but then loses interest and moves on . . . as, sadly, does the country. Sadly, it was so with Seattle after the May killings at a coffee house on Roosevelt Way.
Will it be so with Newtown? Our local Episcopal bishop, Greg Rickel, raised a key issue in his post-Newtown blog:
"Coming just days after a shooting at Clackamas Mall, just south of us in Portland, and several months away from the horrific shooting in a Colorado theater, I fear our greatest danger, and some of what I feel now, is our getting used to it. This is not something to get used to."
Washington Ceasefire is sponsoring a march against gun violence in downtown Seattle on Sunday, Jan. 13, just under a month after the shooting of 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The march will test our attention spans, whether we are "getting used to it" or whether this is indeed a mobilization of religious activism against gun and video violence. And will that activism be mobilized effectively, and directed? The gun lobby is not to be beaten on a wing and a prayer.
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