Published on Saturday, May 6, 2000 in the St Paul Pioneer Press
Religious Groups To Join the Million Mom March Next Weekend
by Shelvia Dancy
As thousands of advocates for stricter gun control prepare to converge in Washington, D.C., on Mother's Day for the Million Mom March, the nation's religious communities -- from Muslims to Roman Catholics -- are adding their voices to the appeal.
Nearly two dozen social action coordinators from seven states -- including Rhode Island and Michigan -- will represent the United Methodists' Women's Division at the May 14 event, said Susie Johnson, executive secretary for public policy with the Women's Division and head of their office in Washington, D.C.
``There is definitely keen interest in the religious community,'' said Johnson. ``I think the level of interest reflects a feeling of urgency.''
Endorsed by such varied religious groups as the American Jewish Congress and Church Women United, the Million Mom March is expected to be the largest-ever rally for gun control in the United States, and has spawned plans for same-day rallies in more than 36 cities from California to Florida.
Event organizers hope to persuade Congress to pass laws requiring safety measures such as built-in safety locks and one-a-month limits on handgun purchases.
That's a message in which the religious community has a vested interest, said Archie LeMone, associate director of the Washington office of the National Council of Churches -- a union of 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations nationwide.
``Essential to every faith is the sanctity of human life, the necessity of safeguarding life,'' explained LeMone. ``The church has to be in line with the forces of humanity and justice in order to make society livable for everyone.''
Caroline Kunin, director of the department on religious action for Women of Reform Judaism, agreed.
``I think the faith communities have a special interest in this in that faith communities are dedicated to the well-being of all people,'' she said. ``We see it as a religious obligation to do this.''
Faith groups will gather at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill the day after the march to teach march supporters ``how to turn their support into action,'' said Doug Grace, outreach coordinator for the Washington office of Presbyterian Church (USA).
``We want to educate people about what the religious community is saying about sensible gun legislation, and we'll encourage them to meet with their own legislators,'' said Grace. ``We have national elections right around the corner and it's important for people to let their representatives know we want something done about this.''
Ann Delorey, legislative director of Church Women United, said she hoped the Million Mom March would spur legislators to embrace tougher gun-control laws -- a move the faith community believes is long overdue, she said.
``We think that the legislators haven't been pushed hard enough on this issue,'' said Delorey. ``There have been all these shootings in the last couple of years that many of us thought would be enough to motivate legislators to take action, but it hasn't. I think in some ways we've been pushed to the edge, so we have to be in their faces demanding stricter gun laws.''
That demand for a get-tough stance on gun legislation is one lawmakers can no longer afford to ignore, said retired Presbyterian minister Jim Atwood, who served as interfaith coordinator for the Million Mom March.
``I think we will prick the consciousness of Congress,'' said Atwood, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. ``A lot of Congress members feel as we do, but they want to keep their jobs so they vote with a very, very vocal minority. But I think this Million Mom March is going to the catalyst for some significant change. Everybody should abhor violence, and when we in the faith community see it, we've got to speak out.
``This isn't a radical thing,'' he said. ``It's just common sense we're talking about.''
© 2000 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press