WASHINGTON (RNS)--As thousands of advocates for stricter gun-control legislation prepare to converge in Washington, D.C., on Mother's Day for the 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 from people who want to participate in the march," said Frances Jett, program director of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the church's social policy arm. "Even the people who can't come to Washington are calling because they want to participate 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 of urgency. No doubt, incidents like the Columbine shooting and the zoo shooting have heightened awareness. People have the feeling that now is the time do do something."

Endorsed by such varied religious groups as the American Jewish Congress 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 has spawned plans for same-day sister 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 once-a-month limits on handgun purchases in an effort to stamp out gun-related violence and deaths.

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 the 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." Concern for gun-control legislation is no new cause for many faith groups. In 1998, the general assembly of the PCUSA approved a policy asking all Presbyterians to "intentionally work toward removing handguns and assault weapons" from their homes.

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

As far back as the late 1960s, the NCC's governing board passed a resolution calling for greater gun-control legislation, a commitment the group'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," said Wright, noting that a number of council denominations helped establish the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence--a group of about 44 religious, civic, and professional organizations that support banning the sale and possession of handguns and assault weapons in the United States. "It really is based on the whole concern about the sanctity of human life and the need to protect it.

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

Other groups, including Women of Reform Judaism and Church Women United--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 work for the enactment of legislation that would provide for specific things like licensing of gun owners, registration of gun owners, and a moratorium on the manufacture and importation of handguns," said Ann Delorey, legislative director of Church Women United. "Just this year, we passed a comprehensive policy on violence, and included in that is a call for limiting access to guns and other weapons of violence."

Delorey 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 congressmembers 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."

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