The newly-installed dean of Washington National Cathedral dove headfirst into the firearms debate on Sunday, calling upon the cathedral to be the “focal point” of gun control advocacy in a sermon about the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings.
In what might be a first for the Episcopal cathedral, Dean Gary Hall’s sermon was touted in a press release issued on Friday afternoon almost immediately after the shootings were reported. While a call for stricter gun control measures from an Episcopal Church official will surprise few (the denomination has publically advocated strict gun control since the mid-1970s) the sermon displays Hall’s ambition of having the prominent church at the center of American public life, not just as the flagship of the 1.9 million member Episcopal denomination. If local media coverage is any indicator, Hall was successful in bringing attention to the church, with local television affiliates, radio stations, CNN and the Washington Post all reporting on the sermon.
With the exception of hosting prominent funerals for astronaut Neil Armstrong and former President Gerald Ford, the cathedral has mostly been in the news for unenviable reasons in recent years: repeated staff layoffs and a struggle to cover the seemingly insurmountable costs to repair the earthquake-damaged structure.
In his sermon, Hall briefly reflected on his time as a parent and dismissed calling the shooter “evil” as “reflexive” and dehumanizing. The cathedral dean quickly pivoted to gun violence, and condemned what he asserted is society’s “tolerance” of such crimes. Asking what people of faith should do, Hall turned to John the Baptist, quoting Luke Chapter 3:
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
“In today’s Gospel, we’re asked, simply, to repent, to turn around, and then to bear fruits worthy of repentance,” Hall explained. “We’re asked to live mutually and honorably and compassionately for the well-being of all.”
Saying that followers of Jesus have the “moral obligation” to work to end gun violence, Hall charges that Americans have tolerated shootings for too long, and that the Newtown attack is the “last straw.”
“The Christian community—indeed the entire American faith community—can no longer tolerate this persistent and escalating gun violence directed against our people,” Hall declared. “President Obama called for “meaningful action” in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and I pledge my and this community’s help in crafting and taking that action. Our political leaders need to know that there is a group of people in America who will serve as a counterweight to the gun lobby, who will stand together with our leaders and support them as they act to take assault weapons off the streets.”
Pledging to work with national leaders to enact gun control measures, Hall offered that the best way to mourn the Newtown shooting “is to mobilize the faith community for gun control.”
“Today we grieve, but soon we act,” Hall stated. Asking what Jesus or John the Baptist would do, Hall said it was to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
“If we are truly America’s “National” Cathedral, as we say we are, then we must become the focal point of faithful advocacy of gun control, calling our leaders to courageous action and supporting them as they take it,” Hall demanded, concluding that “the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby.”