Episcopal bishops, priests, and lay people from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., yesterday to demand federal legislation that would help end gun violence, urging lawmakers to take action on the issue while celebrating a special version of the Christian devotion known as the Stations of the Cross.
Hundreds of participants braved wintry conditions on Monday morning as they gathered in front of St. John’s Church for the event, with many attendees wrapping heavy scarves around their clerical collars and brandishing signs that read “Stop the killing of our children” and “Thou shall not allow murder.”
Participants then sang hymns as they processed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, stopping at several locations along the way to recount the Biblical story of Jesus’ crucifixion and pray for those affected by gun violence.
“Today we walk in acknowledgement of the things done and left undone that have contributed to a culture of violence,” said Bishop Laura Ahrens, Suffragan Bishop of Connecticut, as she read from a statement written by another Connecticut priest. “We must acknowledge our sins, individually and collectively.”
Leaders of the event, which included more than 20 Episcopal bishops from all over the United States, met with White House officials before the march to discuss the need for legislation that would prevent gun violence. Speakers at the service praised elected officials working to end gun-related tragedies, noting how incidents such as the recent killing of elementary school students by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut could be prevented with the help of new laws.
“The victims of each of these shootings are members of our families, religious congregations, and communities, and we continue to grieve for the living as well as the dead,” said Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark, as he read a statement written by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. “I commend the resolve of lawmakers who believe the time has arrived when our nation must come together to ask the difficult questions, and to discern what may be equally challenging answers, about how we can begin to break the cycles of violence that lead to massacres in suburban schools and routine death on the streets of our cities.”
But while bishops were upbeat about positive developments on Capitol Hill, they also expressed impatience with Washington’s beleaguered attempts to push gun violence prevention legislation through Congress. They urged lawmakers to break partisan gridlock and take meaningful action, particularly in light of the string of high-profile mass shootings that rocked American communities and congregations this past year.
“Leadership is sensitivity that identifies when an event has to have a response,” said Bishop Steve Miller of Milwaukee as he read a statement penned by Barbara A. Campbell.
Dozens of faith groups and religious leaders have spoken out against gun violence in recent weeks. Organizations such as PICO National Network and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence helped organize a “National Gun Violence Sabbath” earlier this month, where more than 1,000 congregations – including the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. – held Sunday services and events that called for federal legislation that would end bloodshed caused by gun violence. In addition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a video in mid-March that showcased clergy members calling for sensible legislation on the issue, and PICO recently announced that clergy from Newtown, Connecticut have joined more than 4,000 other religious leaders from across the nation in signing a letter to the Senate demanding action on gun violence prevention.
Our guest blogger is Jack Jenkins, a Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.