By Jackie O’Ryan
They gathered at the temple and it was the first of such a gathering. They were interfaith leaders speaking out in unison on a political issue. They were rabbis, bishops, an imam, cathedral pastors, several reverends, women religious, an evangelical pastor, a Jesuit priest, and more. And, regardless of the particular faith each held, all were there to denounce gun violence with one voice.
The gathering was at Temple De Hirsch Sinai and they were there to urge a moral response to those killed in the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut just one week earlier. They asserted that preventing gun violence is not only a political matter; it is a solemn religious obligation and the only appropriate religious response is sustained moral outrage and focused moral action until something substantial is accomplished in Congress and in our Washington State Legislature.
Rabbi Daniel Weiner stepped forward first. “We understand that preventing gun violence is not a simple matter and that honest, well-intentioned people will differ on exactly what measures are required,” he said. “But we must make a start. We ask our elected officials to put the welfare of our children and the safety of our citizens ahead of partisan concerns and enact substantive gun violence preventative measures in 2013.”
Rev. Dr. Sandy Brown, pastor at Seattle’s First United Methodist Church, was—and still is—a main force in the call for a faithful voice. He said, “I feel clergy are moving beyond the mourning phase and we’re now impatient for an end to gun violence and mass shootings. We believe our faith traditions challenge our communities to live in peace. That’s why we now take this prophetic and public stand.”
“If we are honest about whether or not we are doing enough to protect children, the answer is no,” said Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia. “There have been 181 shootings at schools across the United States since Columbine. We are getting used to it, and this is something we should never get used to.”
Clergy have mourned with families all too often. That must have been part of the motivation behind this landmark gathering. They are calling for an end to the violence that lands them in the living rooms of families who have lost loved ones to gun violence year in and year out. That’s why 200 clergy from across Washington State signed Faith Action Network’s petition denouncing “Gun Appreciation Day” on Martin Luther King weekend.
Leslie Braxton, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Renton, said, “Why can’t we move away from the gun war and gun culture of the 18th and 19th century? For us to not have the courage to change laws that don’t make sense, makes us all enablers to mass murder.”
Since Newtown, how many people have been killed by guns? The running count by Slate is 1,619 (at this writing).
There are no words in the sacred Scriptures of the Christian, Jewish or Islamic traditions that either opposes common sense gun violence preventative measures or supports any right to automatic weapons that fire 100 shots in a single minute.
But what can we do?
House Bill 1588 is one of the most significant gun violence prevention measures introduced in our legislature in decades. It would require universal background checks for ALL gun sales in the state—including gun shows. Please tell your legislators and the governor that you support this legislation. The bill will be getting a hearing soon in the House Judiciary Committee.
Leave a message for the Governor, your 2 Representatives, and your Senator by calling the Legislative Hotline: 1-800-562-6000.
If you don’t know who your Legislators are, look them up on the Find Your Legislator webpage.
“We need to do more than just wring our hands about terrible things that happen,” said Fr. Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral. “Those things happen in a society that we are all part of, a society that we have the power to influence and to change—maybe not in big ways, but certainly in real ways,” he said. “And it’s time to do it.”
It is our solemn religious obligation.
Jackie O’Ryan is the Co-Director of the Faith Action Network (FAN).