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April 10, 2013

US Clergy Speak Out For, Against, Gun Control

by Jerome Socolovsky

As Congress wrangles over demands for tighter gun control in the wake of recent shooting rampages, American faith leaders are speaking out on both sides of the issue.

Leading a march against gun violence in Washington recently, Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde said men and women in the pulpits should speak out because it is they who often end up comforting the bereaved.

"I think we're tired of presiding at funerals, frankly," she said.

U.S. clergy have been getting increasingly involved in the gun control debate since 20 small children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. Six adults also died.

The Reverend Matthew Crebbin of Newtown Congregational Church and Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel helped push through Connecticut's new bipartisan gun law and have called on Congress to follow suit.

The two men were with parents at the Sandy Hook firehouse December 14 when they received the news that their children were among the dead.

"Why is it that we accept that we can lose 30,000 people a year to guns" asked Crebbin. "If this was a war, where we were losing soldiers or we were losing other people, we would not accept that."

Crebbin said Jesus himself responded to violence with non-violence and love.

But Maryland evangelical pastor David Whitney sees it differently. He is a self-described "Second Amendment pastor," who believes that amendment's guarantee of the right to bear arms is God-given.

"Jesus did teach, 'Turn the other cheek,'" he said. "But there's a difference. If I were to slap you on the cheek - I have offended you, I have embarrassed you, I have insulted you, I have done you some damage, maybe I have even bruised your cheek - but I have not threatened your life.

"Jesus didn't say if someone pulls out a sword and stabs you, turn and let him stab you again," he added.

"You can find pretty much anything [in scripture] to justify anything you want to justify," said Crebbin, who believes that gun worship in America borders on idolatry.

"Sometimes people are so intent on looking at the Second Amendment that they forget about the Second Commandment," he said.

The tragedy that befell Newtown, horrific as it was, has breathed new life into the idea of gun control in America. But the question remains whether a religious initiative - by no means supported by all U.S. clergy - can keep it from dying a quick death in Washington.

One tactic followed at the pro-gun control rally was to shame opponents of gun regulation.

Bishop Budde read from the legislative testimony of Veronica Pozner, whose six-year-old son Noah was one of the school shooting victims.

"He lies forever motionless in the Earth. He will never get to attend middle school or high school, kiss a girl, attend college, pick a career path, fall in love, marry, have children or travel the world."

Noah's family belonged to Rabbi Praver's synagogue.

"There was an outpouring of love from all over the country," the rabbi said, as he showed the boxes of items in his office that people had sent in from all over the country for all the victims' families.

"We had teddy bears up to the ceiling," he said.

According to Praver, Judaism teaches that regulation is needed to prevent crimes of opportunity. He said the ancient sages illustrated this with a simple parable.

"The Talmud speaks - it's kind of an interesting story - about a mouse that tries to get the cheese," he said. "But the mouse can only get the cheese if there's a hole in the wall."