WASHINGTON -- The dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, vowed on Sunday to mobilize the nation's faith communities to fight the influence of pro-gun lobbying groups and advocate for stronger gun control laws. In a morning sermon delivered to more than 1,000 congregants in Northwest Washington, D.C., Hall said, "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."
Hall delivered his sermon in the wake of Friday's massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a tragedy that has horrified the nation and reignited the debate over gun control laws.
An ordained Episcopal priest, Hall presides over an institution that Congress has designated as the National House of Prayer. But in Sunday's sermon, Hall placed the Cathedral in a rare position at the center of a contentious political debate. “If we are truly America’s ‘National’ Cathedral, as we say we are, then we must become the focal point of faithful advocacy of gun control, calling our leaders to courageous action and supporting them as they take it," Hall said.
For Hall, positioning faith communities as a force opposed to the powerful pro-gun lobby was a bold move. In many parts of the country, Christian congregations also tend to be politically conservative and to favor a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, whereby any attempts to limit gun ownership are seen as an affront to the Constitution. Since 2004, organizations representing the gun lobby have donated more than $5 million in campaign contributions to pro-gun congressional candidates, who overwhelmingly tend to be Republicans.
Hall preached on a passage from the Gospel of Luke, in which he said John the Baptist addresses the crowds, "who are coming to him out of some kind of personal and spiritual and social desperation."
"What does he say to them? 'Bear fruits worthy of repentance.' [3: 10-14] What he means is: stop doing the crazy thing you’re doing and do a new thing, a new thing that will bear fruit, that will bring about the change you seek," Hall explained.
It was unclear Sunday exactly what any future advocacy efforts would look like, but Hall strongly indicated that they would involve communicating with elected officials, although not necessarily in an official capacity. "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," he said.
Hall was joined in his call to action on Sunday by the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who recalled the words of Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermon following the death of three children in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. There, King called on mourners to ensure that the girls' deaths served as “a redemptive force."
“I suggest to you that we must resolve, as a nation, not to allow the Newtown children and their teachers to die in vain,” Budde told the congregations at two separate services on Sunday. “If we only pray and do not act, we are complicit in perpetuating the conditions that allow such crimes to occur. It is time, once again, to substitute courage for caution."
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