Faith leaders across the country are speaking out against the gun violence plaguing their communities. Many denominations and faith-based groups have long called for policies to prevent gun violence, but after the recent mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and Aurora, Colorado, faith leaders are now speaking out even more strongly for a permanent solution. As spiritual first responders to these tragedies, faith leaders witness the grave impact that gun violence has on our families, schools, houses of worship, and neighborhoods.
Earlier this month, more than 4,000 clergy members across the United States joined clergy in Newtown calling for gun-violence prevention legislation in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last weekend, congregations across the country participated in a gun-violence prevention Sabbath, including discussions, prayers, and sermons in their worship services. The Washington National Cathedral served as the flagship for the national event, which held a four-day series of programs that were broadcast via live web stream to nearly 400 congregations across the country. Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities shared their unique perspectives on the impact of gun violence based on years of burying victims and comforting broken families.
Faith leaders from all congregations are joining forces to stress the moral imperative for measures preventing gun violence; supporting federal legislation requiring universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines; and making gun trafficking a federal crime. Here are some of the faith leaders across the country who are bringing greater public awareness to the horrific consequences of gun violence and calling for common-sense prevention measures in 2013.
- Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington: “It is only natural to wonder in our worst moments whether God has abandoned us. Yet the more compelling spiritual question isn’t where God was last Friday morning, but rather where we were. For God has no body on earth but ours. If we only pray and offer comfort now, and do not act, we are complicit in perpetuating the conditions that allow such crimes to occur. It is time, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, to substitute courage for caution.”
- Jim Winkler, spokesperson for Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence: “Gun violence is a moral issue. It is simply unconscionable that we sacrifice 32 of our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers every day to gunfire. Just as religious leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King were at the forefront of the civil rights movement and other campaigns for social justice, now we are stepping forward to embrace the moral imperative of preventing the continuing tragedy of gun violence in America.”
- Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: “The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense against God and humanity. Our gun-flooded, violence-prone society has turned weapons into idols. And the appropriate religious response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage. When the parents across America start crying out for effective action, if there’s religious leadership, it will galvanize the community to create the moral demand that moves toward sensible legislation.”
- Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest based in Chicago: “The question is not so much how lives are ended, but how to make it more difficult to end lives. … All of these issues, at their heart, are about the sanctity of all human life.”
- Bishop Rob Wright, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta: “It is hollow to respond to parents who have lost children to gun violence that their dead child is somehow just the price of keeping the Second Amendment intact. And it is unseemly to bury our law enforcement men and women knowing we didn’t give them every advantage over the criminals they face.” Wright also called on the Georgia legislature to “lead the South again” by providing for the law-abiding gun owner and sportsman while also providing greater safety for Georgian adults and children.
- Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals: “Evangelicals are pro-life and deeply grieve when any weapons are used to take innocent lives.” A recent National Association of Evangelicals study finds that most evangelical leaders believe more gun regulations are needed.
- Daniel Darling, an evangelical pastor and author in the Chicago area: “As Christians called to care for the common good of our communities, we should be willing to endure the inconvenience if it saves one child from death. Evangelicals should not defend the use, proliferation and availability of assault weapons with as much vigor as they defend their faith. In spite of some who insist the Second Amendment is drawn from the Bible, there is no clear-cut Christian position on gun control.”
- Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of the Washington office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): “We stand today on the premise that faith does have something to say about life and death. Therefore it is imperative that we declare that our creator affirms the abundant life while giving leadership to those who will challenge the false choice between guns and freedom.”
- Pastor Michael McBride, director of the Lifelines to Healing campaign with the PICO Network and a participant in Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun-violence prevention: “We will not sit on the sidelines from this conversation. This is a conversation for the wellbeing of our family. Every NRA member should be pro-family, and I’m telling you that the proliferation and availability of illegal weapons are destroying our families. So we have a moral responsibility to speak out against it. The people of faith will not be silent about this.”
- Rev. Peter Laarman, Imam Jihad Turk, and Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater: “Each of the three Abrahamic traditions we represent has at its core the belief that every life is precious and sacred and that each person bears the image of God. We implore leaders of all faith communities to speak out and encourage discussion of this crisis within their congregations and denominational groupings. We urge each person of faith to contact their elected official and call upon those officials themselves to begin to put their own moral convictions at the center of their decision making on this matter.”
- Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: “While no set of policies or gun restrictions can inoculate us from future Newtown-like killing sprees, we believe our nation can and should take some preemptive actions to quell gun violence in ways that do not infringe on the Second Amendment.” Land also called for mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales and for making gun trafficking a federal crime.
- Very Rev. Gary Hall—dean of Washington National Cathedral: “Everyone in this city seems to live in terror of the gun lobby. But I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby, especially when we stand together as people of all faiths across the religious landscape. In a political climate unwilling to address the realities of gun violence in America, a wide range of faith traditions, including the Episcopal Church, has strongly advocated gun control for several decades.”
- The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of nearly 1,500 Catholic women religious leaders in the United States: “There is much to mourn, but mourning is not enough. The killing must stop. America is losing its future. Gun regulation is an imperative. Automatic weapons created for the battlefield have no place in the hands of children or adults incapable of taking responsibility for their use. This societal rupture has been going on far too long and demands immediate action by our national leaders. This is not about protecting the second amendment, but rather protecting the most precious resource we have—the gift of life. This is also a time to restore civility to our world and work to change the pervasive culture of violence found throughout this nation, and especially in the entertainment industry.”
Faith leaders are not the only ones speaking out for reform. Inspired by their faith, people in the pews are also calling on their representatives to enact sensible reform. In February more than 10,000 people of faith—including 75 denominations and organizations—called their senators as part of a national faith call-in day on gun-violence prevention. The faith community is raising its voice, and now more than ever, we need action.
Eleni Towns is a Research Associate with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.