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
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
"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
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
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.
©Copyright 2000, The Washington Post Company
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