Bahai News - Rejecting the Call

Rejecting the Call

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 13, 2000; Page B01
Last month, Betsy Gerdeman placed a brief announcement about the upcoming Million Mom March in the newsletter of Lorton's Pohick Episcopal Church, noting that it had been endorsed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and inviting those who favor stricter handgun controls to take part.

After some of Gerdeman's fellow worshipers became irate, questioning her use of the parish newsletter to promote the march, the matter was thrashed out in a meeting of the church's 15-member vestry, or council. And the next issue of the newsletter carried this disclaimer:

"The opinions and ideas of the organizers of the Million Mom March as presented in the April issue of the Pohick Post do not necessarily reflect the collective views of the . . . church nor do they constitute an official endorsement by the vestry of Pohick Church."

"I didn't necessarily expect our church to become proactive," said Gerdeman, who works at the Public Broadcasting Service in fundraising. "But I did expect them to allow the facilities of the church to be a vehicle to carry a message. And I was surprised with the reaction of some parishioners and response of the vestry."

Some Pohick members were mindful of the historic irony of the dispute. Two famous founding members of their church--George Washington and George Mason--vehemently disagreed over whether the U.S. Constitution should be ratified without a Bill of Rights. Mason, who said no, was satisfied only when those 10 amendments, including the one currently under heated national debate, were added.

The recent dispute at Pohick illustrates how handgun control, much like abortion and homosexuality, is an incandescent issue that can ignite sparks even in congregations such as Pohick, one that anti-poverty activists call socially responsive.

"Even in a church community, it can show you the divisiveness of this issue," said Pohick's interim rector, the Rev. Roy Benjamin. "We need to listen to each other, and my lament is, this is such a hot issue in this parish that people aren't listening. That grieves me."

Despite the controversy, however, tomorrow's Million Mom March has garnered endorsements from more than 50 national religious organizations spanning a wide range of denominations.

The six-hour event begins with an interfaith service at 10 a.m. at Madison Drive near Ninth Street NW. Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Bahai and Sikh representatives, among others, will participate, said Clark Lobenstine, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Washington.

By contrast, only one faith-based group, the Wisconsin-based Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, appears on a Web site list of organizations backing a counter-rally by the gun-rights group Second Amendment Sisters. That event, the Armed Informed Mother's March, will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.

The Rev. Jim E. Atwood, a retired Presbyterian minister in Springfield who is the Million Mom March's national interfaith coordinator, said he is gratified by the support from the faith community, even if some local pastors aren't following their denomination's lead.

"One of my sadnesses is that so many churches are so timid in not wanting to make any waves in their churches . . . that they sort of have laryngitis when it comes to gun control," said Atwood, a hunter who owns a rifle and a shotgun.

Some religious figures and churches see handgun control as less a religious or moral issue than a political one and are ignoring the march.

Janet Parshall, whose nationally syndicated talk show on WAVA-FM in Arlington has a strong following among conservative evangelical Christians, said neither she nor her callers have discussed it on the air.

"A lot of people don't see this as a march but as a political move... because this has everything to do with President Clinton's position on gun control," said Parshall. "I have to tell you that the vast majority of moms on this Mother's Day will be in church and with their families. Being in a march is not a high priority for them."

At McLean Bible Church, one of the area's most vibrant evangelical Christian churches, a spokeswoman for the Rev. Lon Solomon said that "McLean Bible has no position on the march" and that Solomon would not comment.

Other local pastors, however, have made the march's cause a top priority.

"As long as we allow having guns in homes, having no license, no registration, no safety locks--that is a form of child abuse," the Rev. Susan Andrews said she told her congregation at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda recently. "Speaking out about gun control is our Christian responsibility."

Bahijah Abdus Salaam, a Muslim who worships at Masjid Muhammed in Northwest Washington, also intends to march with members of her mosque.

"We've had several people in D.C. who've lost people to gun violence, so it's something we all had to address," said Salaam, who sent information about the march to all area mosques. "The Koran states we should go toward all that is good as if in a race... so it's up to us to answer this call."

Other religious congregations in the area have offered lodging, airport transportation, hot showers and food to visiting marchers, organizers said.

And Marilyn Hathaway of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda has written "The Million Mom Song" for the event. It will be sung, she said, to the tune of "Marching to Pretoria."

Staff writer Susan Levine contributed to this report.


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