Faith community must be heard on guns

As I begin to sort through my emotional response to the horrific killing of 27 people — 20 of them children — in Newtown, Conn., last Friday, my first response is a kind of wounded horror at the thought that these children were killed so brutally and that the children around them were terrorized as well. Children were precious to Jesus, and an attack on them is a violation of humanity in the deepest possible sense.

We are overcome with questions. Why do we as a society tolerate these massacres in increasing numbers? What does it say about us as a society that we continue to tolerate so much violence against children? What kind of a society would let itself get to this point, to where teachers and students routinely have to practice what they will do when a shooter comes on campus? If we simply pause for a moment, we realize that our continued shared tolerance of this violence and our unwillingness to address its cause is insane.

People of faith have the moral obligation to stand for and with the victims of gun violence and to work to end it. For far too long, we have tolerated school shootings, mall shootings, theater shootings, sniper shootings, workplace shootings, temple and church shootings and urban-neighborhood shootings. The Christian community — indeed, the entire American faith community — can no longer tolerate this persistent and escalating gun violence directed against our people. Enough is enough.

For a variety of reasons our political leaders have been unwilling and unable to address the question of gun control, but now it is time that all people of faith help them to do that. Our political leaders have heard from us on matters of healthcare and caring for the poor. They have heard from us about immigration and protecting God’s creation. And now, not when it’s politically safe, not when “this all calms down,” but now — and urgently — they must hear from the faith community about gun control.

In a promise to the nation on Sunday, President Obama said, “I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.” 

So I ask all people of faith to raise their voices and engage our government. Our political leaders need to know that there is a group of people in America who will serve as a counterweight to the gun lobby, who will stand together with our leaders and support them as they act to take assault weapons off the streets. 

We must become the rallying point for faithful advocacy of gun control, calling our leaders to courageous action and supporting them as they take it. Politicians seem to live in terror of the gun lobby. But I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby. 

This isn’t about taking away someone’s hunting rifle, but we can no longer justify a society that would allow concealed handguns in schools and on the streets, or that allows people other than military members and police officers to buy assault weapons, or that lets people get around existing gun laws, avoiding background checks, by purchasing weapons at gun shows.

Christians are led by one who died at the hand of human violence on the cross. As we approach Christmas, we recall the birth of a child, who, like the children of Sandy Hook Elementary, died at the hands of violent people. We know something about innocent suffering and we are obligated to heal the wounded, protect the vulnerable and stand for peace. 

The cross, once a symbol of violence, is now the sign and the seal of that obligation. We know both from faith and experience that the cross is mightier than the gun. The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby. It cannot prevail against those of us who would, with our voices, our advocacy and our dollars, beat weapons into tools for work. 

We pray that we may have the courage to act and preach love at the center of the Christian Gospel, the Hebrew Bible and the Holy Quran. We pray that our president, our congressional representatives, our state legislators and every person who runs for office in the future will hear from people of faith on the issue of gun control, so that the murderous violence done last Friday may never be repeated, and that all God’s children may live lives of wholeness, blessing and peace. 

The Very Rev. Gary Hall is 10th dean of Washington National Cathedral.