Washington DC, March 20, 2013—This Lent, many Episcopalians are venturing far outside church walls to observe the Christian penitential season by participating in activities and advocating policies to reduce gun violence.
On Friday in Chicago, organizers of CROSSwalk, a prayerful four-mile procession led by Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee, expect more than 2000 people to walk in memory of the city’s murdered children. The event, now in its second year, begins at the city’s Episcopal cathedral on the Gold Coast and ends at Stroger Hospital, where many victims of Chicago’s gun violence epidemic are treated or pronounced dead.
“We simply cannot continue to ignore the heartwrenching loss of young life that occurs with such horrifying frequency in Chicago and other cities in northern Illinois,” said Lee. “CROSSwalk calls us to pray, to build relationships and to act as though lives depend on us. And they do.”
On Monday in Washington DC, more than 20 Episcopal bishops from around the country will lead clergy and laypeople in praying the ancient Lenten service of the Stations of the Cross along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the U.S. Capitol. Organized by the bishops and Diocese of Connecticut, bishops from Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC and Wisconsin are expected to participate in the ritual, which will stop in front of memorials, government buildings and works of art to offer prayers for an end to violence, the culture of violence, and the economic conditions that spawn violence.
“The death-dealing realities of violence are brought home to us as Christians when we recall the crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross this Holy Week,” said the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Episcopal bishop of Connecticut and one of the event’s organizers. “Walking the Way of the Cross invites us, compels us, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.”
Although the leaders of the Episcopal movement have vowed to continue their advocacy for as long as it takes to change gun laws and cultural norms about violence, they see Lent as a particularly apt season for action. Often seen as a time to seek forgiveness for wrongdoing, the 40-day season of penitence which commemorates Jesus’ sojourn in the desert is also a time to repent for what we have neglected to do, explains the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington. “If we only pray and do not act,” she said recently at Washington National Cathedral, “we are complicit in perpetuating the conditions that allow violence to occur.”
In the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut the cathedral’s dean, the Very Rev. Gary Hall preached a widely-quoted sermon in which he declared that “the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” and helped galvanize the church’s advocacy efforts.
In February, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori submitted written testimony on gun violence to the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
“I urge lawmakers to press for comprehensive and universal background checks for firearm ownership, regardless of where and how a gun is purchased; for bans on the availability to civilians of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and for policies designed to better regulate the manufacture of guns,” the Presiding Bishop wrote.
Later in February, the church’s Executive Council passed a comprehensive resolution summarizing its support for background checks for gun buyers, mental health services, gun trafficking restrictions and a ban on assault weapons. In a letter to clergy and lay people, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the church’s House of Deputies, and the Hon. Byron Rushing, vice president, openly repented for the church’s seeming indifference to urban gun violence.
“Far too many of the dead are poor, young people of color,” wrote Jennings, a priest in Ohio, and Rushing, who is also assistant majority leader in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. “They have been dying for years, too often unnoticed, on the streets of Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans, Newark and scores of other cities and towns. We have not been galvanized as we should have been by the cries of their anguished families and friends. As we work to end gun violence now, we must repent of not having done it sooner.”
Last weekend, Washington National Cathedral and other Episcopal churches around the country participated in the Gun Violence Sabbath organized by Faiths United Against Gun Violence, whose national coordinator, Vincent DeMarco, has also spoken to the Episcopal Church House of Bishops.
“We … are in this gun violence work for the long haul,” Hall said in a recent sermon. “We won’t give up until our streets and our schools and our children are safe.”
Episcopalians Against Gun Violence is an ad-hoc group of bishops, clergy and lay people disseminating information about Episcopalians who are working, collectively and individually, to curb gun violence. On Facebook at facebook.com/EpiscopaliansAgainstGunViolence and on Twitter at @TheCrossLobby.