At makeshift National Mall graveyard, clergy demand gun control

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Symbolic grave markers are placed April 11, 2013 on the National Mall in Washington, DC as part of a 24 hour vigil held by religious leaders who will call upon Congress to vote on  legislation to prevent gun violence. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network/Sojourners

Symbolic grave markers are placed April 11, 2013 on the National Mall in Washington, DC as part of a 24 hour vigil held by religious leaders who will call upon Congress to vote on legislation to prevent gun violence. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network/Sojourners

WASHINGTON (RNS) Clergy from California to Connecticut created a makeshift graveyard symbolizing victims of gun violence on the National Mall on Thursday (April 11) as they exhorted Congress to pass legislation to limit access to firearms.

Standing in front of 3,300 grave markers — representing the number of people who have died in gun violence since December’s massacre in Newtown, Conn. — more than 25 ministers, rabbis and other religious leaders decried as “idolatrous” a society that values guns more than human life.

“We don’t have a Second Amendment issue,” said the Rev. Matt Crebbin of Newtown Congregational Church. “We have a Second Commandment crisis.

“The near infatuation with the gun is moving dangerously close to becoming a full-blown worship of a false idol,” continued Crebbin, whose in December presided over a nationally televised memorial service for Newtown victims.

Other clergy, speaking to a crowd of mostly reporters, picked up on the idolatry theme. They singled out for particular blame those lawmakers who take gun-lobby money and ignore the national will. Polls show that most Americans support universal background checks and tighter gun control.

Religious leaders from around the United States, including Reverend Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners (2nd left) walk to the lectern to speak at a vigil on The Mall in Washington, DC, April 11, 2013 to commemorate the 3,300 lives lost to gun violence since the shootings in Newtown, CT and to call upon Congress to pass legislation to curb gun violence. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network/Sojourners

Religious leaders from around the United States, including Reverend Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners (2nd left) walk to the lectern to speak at a vigil on The Mall in Washington, DC, April 11, 2013 to commemorate the 3,300 lives lost to gun violence since the shootings in Newtown, CT and to call upon Congress to pass legislation to curb gun violence. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network/Sojourners

“The nation is so far ahead of where our political leaders are,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a liberal Christian group that organized the grave-markers project and a 24-hour vigil on the National Mall with PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing campaign.

“Our political leaders need to catch up,” Wallis said.

Most of the grave markers were wooden crosses, but some were placards printed with the symbols of other religious traditions — Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Each represents a life taken, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“Every one of those religious symbols represents one of God’s children,” he said. “See the one there? That’s a mother, who won’t be there to comfort her child the next time they’re sick.”

Emotions ran high among the clergy. The Rev. Sam Saylor of Blackwell Memorial AME Zion Church in Hartford, Conn., broke down in wails and fell into the arms of his fellow pastors after he spoke about Newtown and his son, Shane Oliver, who was 20 when he was gunned down last year.

Reverend Samuel Saylor, Hartford, CT, speaks at a vigil on The Mall in Washington, DC, April 11, 2013 to commemorate the 3,300 lives lost to gun violence since the shootings in Newtown, CT and to call upon Congress to pass legislation to curb gun violence. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network/Sojourners

Reverend Samuel Saylor, Hartford, CT, speaks at a vigil on The Mall in Washington, DC, April 11, 2013 to commemorate the 3,300 lives lost to gun violence since the shootings in Newtown, CT and to call upon Congress to pass legislation to curb gun violence. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network/Sojourners

Since Oliver’s death, life will never be the same for his family, just as, since Newtown, life will never be the same for the country, Saylor said.

“We can’t ever go back home again,” he said. “Business in Washington can never be the same again. We can never take life for granted again.”

It is unclear whether members of Congress feel similarly. Even supporters of the background-check bill introduced this week in the Senate acknowledge that it faces high hurdles. And opposition looms even larger for other gun control measures, including an assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines.

One passerby shouted at the clergy, as a closing prayer was offered, that people have a better chance of going to jail than getting shot.

But most tourists strolling by the gathering seemed sympathetic to the clergy’s cause.

“It’s silly that the American people so overwhelming want something to happen and Congress refuses to act on it,” said Tim Keene of North Yarmouth, Maine.

DSB/AMB END MARKOE

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  • Donald Kosloff

    Over the last ten years gun sales have skyrocketed . As a result, crime, including homocide, has dropped significantly. The state with the fewest “gun control” laws, Vermont, consistently has one of the lowest homocide rates in the nation. If the clergy could abandon their hysteria and remedy their ignorance, they would be demanding more government support for gun purchases and marksmanship training. But why are they ignoring the so-called “wall of separation” between church and state? Perhaps their mindless hysteria has driven them completely insane.

  • The “idolatry” claim is pretty bizarre coming from a group of Leftist “reverends” whose political party worships abortion (their platform calls for no restrictions and taxpayer-funding). How about if those pastors just focus on their congregations and preach to them?

  • These people ignore that the Newtown killer broke 41 gun laws. More gun laws isn’t the answer. Locking crazy people is part of the answer.

  • It is ironic that they used 3,300 grave markers (aside from overstating their case — many of those were suicides). There are 3,300 abortions per day and these “social justice” religious types do nothing. No, it is worse – they try to increase them via taxpayer-funding!

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  • Michael Gabriel

    So many of those 3300 shootings (the ones that were not suicides, at least) were related to gang violence, yet you don’t see any effort by the clergy here to address the underlying economic or societal causes of gang violence. Of course, that would require them to give up their idolatry of ideology.

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