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As victims of Tucson shooting rampage recover,
religious leaders continue to react to the tragedy

New York, January 11, 2011 -- As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lies in critical condition in an Arizona hospital and other innocent shooting victims make hopeful recoveries, religious leaders around the nation continue to express grief and anger over the January 8 Tucson shooting rampage.

"It's hard to assess the tragedy in any way that makes sense," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Clearly the overheated political climate in this country is provocative and unhealthy. The constant use of guns and ammo metaphors in political rhetoric may lead an unbalanced person to think it's okay to bring guns to public meetings."

Kinnamon's comments came on the eve of a memorial service Wednesday for six who died in the attack, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. President and Michelle Obama will attend the service.

Kinnamon said he hoped other media executives will follow the lead of Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, and tell their commentators to "tone it down, make your arguments intellectually."

But regardless of the political tone, the major problem, and the underlying reason behind Saturday's events, "is that guns of all kinds are too easy to get by anyone who wants one," Kinnamon said.

He called on sporting and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association "to help us make new rules about gun ownership in light of this and other shooting disasters."

The NRA "is known across the country as the best place to go to learn how to use guns safely for hunting and sport," Kinnamon said. "It's hard to understand how a rational safety program can coexist with lobbying for the right of people to own semi-automatic concealed weapons that can carry more than 30 rounds in a clip. It doesn't make sense, nor is it consistent with the gospel."

An NCC resolution adopted by the Governing Board in May 2010 notes that 100,000 Americans are killed by guns each year. "Ending Gun Violence: A Resolution and Call to Action by the National Council of Churches" calls for "developing avenues for dialogue among gun owners and gun control advocates within our congregations, and offering a faithful witness in cooperating with inter-faith and nonreligious anti-gun violence advocacy organizations."
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Kinnamon said the member communions of the NCC continue to pray for the recovery of Giffords and other victims of the shootings.

Heeding God's Call

Heeding God’s Call, the faith-based movement to prevent gun violence, expressed sadness at the predictable loss of life and damage to society, and called for citizens and the faith community to ‘step up’ and take the country from those who would use the deadly mix of guns and political extremism to endanger democracy and sell guns.

The Rev. James McIntire of Hope United Methodist Church in Havertown, Pa. and Chair of Heeding God’s Call’s Steering Committee, said, “We mourn for those needlessly lost, we pray for those wounded and recovering, we cry for the families whose lives have been changed forever. And, we call on all Americans and, especially, those of faith to see the frightening and dangerous conjunction of guns and political extremism to which this horrific event points so clearly and to commit to combating it.”

McIntire continued: “The faith community must act to combat the insidious initiatives and motives of those who would encourage gun violence by allowing the gun lobby to hold the field.  I and many others of faith are eager to act to reduce the carnage.  We seek to bring the faith-based and grassroots movement to prevent gun violence, Heeding God’s Call, to our state and nation.  Heeding has enjoyed success in Philadelphia in confronting the flow of guns to that city’s streets.  We believe Heeding can be a means for the faith community to take action to make all streets safer from gun violence (see

Rabbi Linda Holzman of Mishkan Shalom Synagogue in Philadelphia said: “I call on all of my sisters and brothers of all faiths to take courage, get off your couches and out of your homes to bring this country to a place of safety and sanity where persons like the Tucson shooter cannot easily acquire guns and where there is no tolerance for those who would use the deadly mix of guns and extremism to seek power or disrupt our democracy.  It is high time the faithful in this country said no to extremists and the gun industry and lobby.  We can no longer allow their narrow single-mindedness and selfishness to dictate policies and laws.”

The Rev. Isaac Miller, former Rector of The Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, said: “The massacre in Tucson shows clearly that we live in dangerous times in this country.  We have allowed a lobby whose main goal is to protect and encourage the sales and profits of the gun industry to dictate what is acceptable in law and practice – the result being that we tolerate incredible levels of gun violence.  And, when extremists are encouraged to use guns by irresponsible politicians and the leaders of the gun lobby, we are shocked.  No one should be, as extremists like Sarah Palin and NRA boss Wayne LaPierre have been using threatening words and images for years.  Now our country is reaping what they and others have sown.”

The organization Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence is asking its members to note the number of rounds this weapon could hold. The organization has added to its Prevent Gun Violence Resolution a call for action to "decrease the firepower available to civilians by prohibiting high capacity ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds." The Glock pistol used in the attacks had an extended magazine containing 31 rounds.

Religious leaders call for calm, civility

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

(RNS) Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas was thousands of miles away from the shooting rampage that rocked his Arizona diocese on Saturday (Jan. 8), but the emotional shock hit him hard.

"It broke me up," said Kicanas, who was in Jerusalem attending a meeting of Catholic bishops on peace in the Holy Land. "I could not sleep. I just wanted to return home as soon as possible," the bishop wrote to his spokesman.

The victims of Saturday's shooting include a federal judge and devout Roman Catholic who attended Mass daily, and a 9-year-old girl who had received her First Communion at St. Odilia Parish in Tucson last year. Four other victims died and 14 were wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who police believe was the target of accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner.

After news of the shooting broke, Kicanas said Catholics in Jericho asked how to prevent further brutality. "I wish I knew the answer," the bishop said.

"But as the world continues to seek an answer to that question, we can, each in our own way, strive to respect others, speak with civility, try to understand one another and to find healthy ways to resolve our conflicts."

Religious leaders across the country offered similar sentiments on Monday, balancing lamentations about the dire state of political dialogue in the U.S. with cautions that Loughner's motives remain murky.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said a lack of respect for human dignity -- political opponents included -- underlies society's incivility problem.

"It's a failure to understand, from the perspective of the Abrahamic faiths, that we are all made in God's image," Gutow said. "There is a real problem in our society when things like that happen."

Even though the accused shooter's intentions are unknown, Americans cannot ignore the country's increasing culture of violence, particularly in political discourse, said Rabbi David Saperstein, whose Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has worked closely with Giffords.

"Dehumanizing language and images of violence are regularly used to express differences of opinion on political issues," Saperstein said. "Such language is too often heard by others, including those who may be mentally ill or ideologically extreme, to justify the actual use of violence."

Four out of five Americans share Saperstein's concerns, according to a November PRRI/Religion News poll, saying that a lack of respectful political discourse in the U.S. is a serious problem.

"While we as bishops are also concerned about the wider implications of the Tucson incident, we caution against drawing any hasty conclusions about the motives of the assailant until we know more from law enforcement authorities," said New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Giffords, a member of a Reform Jewish congregation in Tucson, is a moderate Democrat who supported the health care reform bill and opposed Arizona's new illegal immigration law, both stances that drew heat from conservatives.

Sarah Palin's political action committee depicted Giffords' congressional district in crosshairs, and the congresswoman's Tucson office was vandalized after the health care bill passed last year.

Giffords, like the other victims, was shot at close range at a constituent event at a Tucson shopping plaza; she remains in critical condition.

It is unclear, though, whether Loughner was motivated by partisan politics. In a video posted on YouTube, the 22-year-old rails against government conspiracies to brainwash Americans through grammar and rants nonsensically about currency. Loughner's former philosophy professor described him to Slate magazine as "someone whose brains were scrambled."

Some Christian leaders also said the shooting shows the need for stricter gun-control laws.

The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said he was "angered" by Saturday's shooting.

"Ours is a society in which such acts occur far too often," Morales said. "Sorrow and compassion when people are murdered are not enough. We must rededicate ourselves to creating a culture where differences are resolved without violence, where the mentally unstable do not have ready access to lethal force."

A number of religious scholars and leaders urged politicians to weigh their words carefully and recognize the potential consequences of using violent imagery.

"No one questions the power of well-chosen words and images to sell automobiles or beer or pharmaceuticals," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a good-government group based in Washington, and former general secretary of the NCC.

"Surely we should acknowledge that when poorly chosen they can provoke despicable acts like those we've now witnessed in Tucson."

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell),

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