WASHINGTON - Religious leaders from a broad range of faiths gathered Friday at Washington National Cathedral to call for their congregations to lobby Congress to enact gun control and mental health reforms to address pervasive gun violence after the Connecticut school massacre.
Leaders representing Roman Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Muslims, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Evangelicals, Sikhs and other faiths said they would mobilize their congregations to join a national call-in day to Congress on Feb. 5. They pledged to press for an assault weapons ban and reforms to close the gun show loophole and ensure background checks for all gun sales. Others will visit lawmakers in person.
In a garden beside the National Cathedral, they paused to listen as a funeral bell tolled for each person who died a week earlier in Connecticut. The victims included 20 young children.
"There is hope because this tragedy will move us to action," said the Rev. Michael Livingston, past president of the National Council of Churches.
The National Cathedral also issued a response to the National Rifle Association's call for placing an armed police officer in every U.S. school.
"That the NRA seeks to answer the problem of violence with more violence shows that their answers are directly at odds with the teachings of all faith traditions of the vast majority of people of faith in America," said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral. "We must urge our legislators to support a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, and commit ourselves to improving mental health treatment and critiquing our culture of glorified violence."
Others on Friday said silence wasn't an option for people of faith after so many mass shootings have shown the nation's gun culture needs to change.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, said Catholic bishops had called for confronting the nation's culture of violence almost 20 years ago. He said stricter gun laws are essential, along with mental health services.
"I think we get to a moment where we can't take it anymore," McCarrick said. "We've got to rededicate ourselves to who we are."
Evangelicals especially need to be converted on the issue of guns, said the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive Evangelical group.
"American Evangelicals need to be born again on this issue," he said, calling to close down access to "weapons of war" that defy "everything we say we stand for."
The National Latino Evangelical Coalition, representing 3,000 congregations, also joined. The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, the group's president, said the nation needs an immediate and healthy response from its lawmakers.
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, said Christians have an obligation to not just pray but to take action to end gun violence. The Washington National Cathedral is coordinating the faith groups with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
After the cathedral's funeral bell was rung for each victim, Budde said a prayer.
"We will never forget them, oh God, and we pledge to honor their memories by doing what we all know to be right," she said.
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