Beliefnet
WASHINGTON (RNS)--As thousands of advocates for stricter gun-controllegislation prepare to converge in Washington, D.C., on Mother's Day forthe Million Mom March, many in the nation's religious communities--from Muslims to Roman Catholics--are adding their voices to the appeal.

"I probably get 50 e-mails a day and about a dozen phone calls frompeople who want to participate in the march," said Frances Jett,program director of the General Board of Church and Society of theUnited Methodist Church, the church's social policy arm. "Even thepeople who can't come to Washington are calling because they want toparticipate in the rallies in their states."

Nearly two dozen social-action coordinators from seven states--including Rhode Island and Michigan--will represent the United Methodists' Women's Division at the event, said Susie Johnson, executive secretary for public policy with the Women's Division and head of their office in Washington.

"There is definitely keen interest in the religious community,"said Johnson. "I think the level of interest reflects a feeling ofurgency. No doubt, incidents like the Columbine shooting and the zooshooting have heightened awareness. People have the feeling that now isthe time do do something."

Endorsed by such varied religious groups as the American JewishCongress and Church Women United, the May 14 Million Mom March is expected to be the largest-ever rally for gun control in the United States and hasspawned plans for same-day sister rallies in more than 36 cities, fromCalifornia to Florida.

Event organizers hope to persuade Congress to pass laws requiringsafety measures such as built-in safety locks and once-a-month limits onhandgun purchases in an effort to stamp out gun-related violence anddeaths.

That's a message in which the religious community has a vestedinterest, said Archie LeMone, associate director of the Washingtonoffice 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, thenecessity of safeguarding life," explained LeMone. "The church has tobe in-line with the forces of humanity and justice in order to makesociety livable for everyone."

Caroline Kunin, director of the department on religious action forWomen of Reform Judaism, agreed.

"I think the faith communities have a special interest in this, inthat, 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 CapitolHill the day after the march to teach march supporters "how to turntheir support into action," said Doug Grace, outreach coordinator forthe Washington office of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

"We want to educate people about what the religious community issaying about sensible gun legislation, and we'll encourage them to meetwith their own legislators," said Grace. "We have national electionsright around the corner, and it's important for people to let theirrepresentatives know we want something done about this." Concern for gun-control legislation is no new cause for many faithgroups. In 1998, the general assembly of the PCUSA approved a policyasking all Presbyterians to "intentionally work toward removinghandguns and assault weapons" from their homes.

"We've been concerned about this issue for a long time," said theRev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, director of the PCUSA office. "We see it aspart of our message to care for others, and one way of caring for othersis to withdraw weapons from society."

As far back as the late 1960s, the NCC's governing board passed aresolution calling for greater gun-control legislation, a commitment thegroup's executive board renewed earlier this year, said Lisa Wright,acting director of the group's Washington office.

"It's been a long-standing concern for the churches," saidWright, noting that a number of council denominationshelped establish the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence--a group of about44 religious, civic, and professional organizations that support banningthe sale and possession of handguns and assault weapons in the UnitedStates. "It really is based on the whole concern about the sanctity ofhuman life and the need to protect it.

Events like Columbine and the [April 24] shooting at the NationalZoo [in Washington] help to emphasize for people why this is an issue of suchconcern."

Other groups, including Women of Reform Judaism and Church WomenUnited--a grassroots ecumenical movement of some 500,000 Protestant,Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and other Christian women founded in 1941--have done the same.

"We passed a resolution in 1981 specifically urging women to workfor the enactment of legislation that would provide for specific thingslike licensing of gun owners, registration of gun owners, and amoratorium on the manufacture and importation of handguns," said AnnDelorey, legislative director of Church Women United. "Just this year,we passed a comprehensive policy on violence, and included in that is acall for limiting access to guns and other weapons of violence."

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