WASHINGTON (RNS) As bells tolled across the country on Friday (Dec. 21) in memory of lives lost in Newtown, Conn., religious leaders gathered outside the Washington National Cathedral to push congregants and Congress to prevent further gun violence.

Gun Campaign

Washington Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said prayer alone was not a sufficient response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary during a speech in front of Washington National Cathdral on Friday (Dec. 21). RNS photo courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

“Is the need for sensible gun control a religious issue?” asked Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “Indeed it is, for our worship of guns is a form of idolatry.”

Saperstein was among 20 faith leaders who gathered outside the Washington landmark Friday to mark the one-week anniversary of the mass killing at the Newtown elementary school. They paused as the cathedral’s funeral bell tolled 28 times in memory of the 26 children and adults from Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as the gunman and gunman’s mother, who also died.

Washington Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said prayer alone was not a sufficient response to the massacre.

“Now is also a time for us to show up in ways that will prevent such deaths in the future,” she said. “If we only pray and offer comfort now, and do not act, we are complicit in perpetuating the conditions that allow these crimes to occur.”

The National Council of Churches has declared Jan. 6 “Gun Violence Prevention Sunday,” and is providing its members with a tool kit of resources, said the Rev. Michael Livingston, former NCC president.

From mosques to Sikh temples, clergy are being encouraged to support gun control in their pulpits, send their sermons to newspapers and Congress and start interfaith community discussions to reduce bullying and address mental illness.

In Connecticut, the shooting deaths have prompted several calls from clergy for parishioners to turn in their guns.

“I asked them to look at their lives, to purge themselves of the symbols of violence, not only guns but violent video games,” said the Rev. Sharon K. Gracen with Trinity Episcopal Church in Branford, Conn. “I asked them, ‘If you are a gun lover, is there anything that you love more? What would it take for you to give it up?'”

Evangelical and Jewish leaders are supporting initiatives by mayors to reduce illegal gun ownership. The Progressive National Baptist Convention will consider gun buy-back programs, said its president, the Rev. Carroll Baltimore.

In addition to calls for changes in laws – banning assault weapons, restricting ammunition sales and conducting stricter background checks – some are also calling for changes of heart.

Gun Campaign

“Is the need for sensible gun control a religious issue?” asked Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “Indeed it is, for our worship of guns is a form of idolatry.” RNS photo courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“We need a conversion,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. “American evangelicals need to be born again on this issue.”

On Friday, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a “call for action” on gun violence, telling lawmakers that “guns are too easily accessible’’ and calling for parents and producers of violent entertainment to acknowledge its negative effects.


Speaking outside the cathedral, retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said the unified response of faith officials reflects a national sense that “we can’t take it anymore” after previous massacres in Colorado, Wisconsin and Arizona.

“I think the religious leaders of our country have often said after these things we’ve got to do something, but now there have been too many of them,” he said. “We have reached a moment that we cannot wait anymore.’’

(Ann Marie Somma of Hartford Faith & Values contributed to this report).



  1. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I do not own a gun and will never own one. But I object to the media’s monotone on aiming at guns as THE problem. THE problem, in my opinion, is our violent culture:: Blood splatter movies, video games that tutor who to be a mass murderer, etc.
    But to show the gross media bias (also called protecting their own media conglomerates) on this issue–I have been reading in the media poll after poll asking if people want stricter gun laws. Fine! I agree with some of what anti-gun people want to do. But, not one, NOT ONE poll was reported on (if there were any) asking if people want both stricter gun laws AND stricter laws governing video games and violent movies. Consequently one can rationally conclude that the media is using polls on the gun control issue to help draw attention away from what many, many Americans really want:: Controls regarding vicious violence put on the video game and movie industry (which many surveys show are all interlocked in ownership and personnel).

    • Rev. Alan Peacock

      The good Deacon is right. The idolatry includes not only guns but a culture of death and glorification of retributive violence that is promoted by movies and video games. As a teacher of young ones as well as a Pastor of a community of Christians, I understand that this is as great a problem in our society as we have ever faced. People of all faiths should indeed cry out for and end to the glorification of violence and seek peace.

  2. I think they are all missing the boat. Its not guns, video games,movies…its an immoral culture. All of these churches need to take responsiblity for becoming PC and tolerant and straying from the Bible. Your child should be able to discern wrong from right from the time they can operate a controller. If we preached a moral environment, these things would not be so coveted in the first place. And lastly, none of those desires will send you to Hell unless they come before your faith in Jesus.

  3. I disagree with the overall premise of this post but I still think its pretty useful. I really like your writing style. Keep up the great work.

  4. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Today the 2 Boston dailies ran reviews of Tarantino’s latest blood drenched movie epic.
    The Herald reviewer extolled Tarantino’s wonderful use of bloodshed and violence as entertainment.
    But the Boston Globe Reviewers were in virtual religious ecstasy over the blood and gore they say are in the movie (I won’t give the makers a cent of blood money to see it.)
    In the column where the Globe awards stars to movies, Tarantino’s movie got double the stars of any other current movie even though it is described as “grisly kitsch” in the same story praising the movie.
    Globe reviewer Ty Burr listed Tarantino’s “Django” in this year’s top ten movies and refers to it as “bullet-riddled..shamelessly violent– and one of Tarantino’s best.”
    Then Globe reviewer Wesley Morris put Tarantino’s blood feast in his top 10 ( number 5) after describing it as “a grisly romance western”
    So why doesn’t the media go after its own blood crazed “whackos” who are turning our culture into a nurturer of massacres. Instead I frequently see the word “whacko” or the like used by media people to describe the NRA or other defenders of the Second Amendment who own guns for self protection.
    But which is truly sick (and more dangerous to society)– someone owning a gun for self protection — or someone waxing enthusiastic in public about blood, gore, and violence as entertainment.

  5. You should know that many clergy are standing up for the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment. As an Ordained Minister, I have started “Clergy in Support of the 2nd Amendment” and I am working to get as many clergy as possible to sign on! Check it out:

    An open letter to my fellow clergy:

    Joint Statement:

    Facebook page:

    Second Amendment Debate Underscores Need for Moral Consideration – Pennsylvania Pastors’ Network Urges Christians to Consider “What Does God Say?”