CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some Charleston churches, such as historic St. John's Episcopal, are pondering a call for U.S. congregations to unite in a nationwide crusade -- against the "cult" of guns that idolizes weaponry, causing 30,000 U.S. violent deaths each year.
The crusade is based on a new book, America and its Guns, by retired Presbyterian pastor James Atwood, published just before the Connecticut school massacre. The book says U.S. politicians won't protect American families from gun murder, so churches across the nation should join in a mass movement for gun safety.
Gun-lovers are more than just shooting fans, the book alleges -- they actually worship weapons like members of a cult. The minister-author says America's "Gun Empire" is rooted in shoot-'em-down video games, violent movies and toy guns cherished by American boys. The cult has more than 5,000 U.S. assemblies per year: gun shows drawing throngs.
The book quotes former National Rifle Association leader Warren Cassidy: "You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world."
The Rev. Rick Barger, an Episcopal priest who tended victims of the 1999 Columbine school massacre, reviewed the book in Congregations magazine, saying:
"In the 17-year period between 1979 and 1997, there were 651,697 deaths by guns in America. This is more than the number of all U.S. servicemen and women who have died in all of our wars since 1775. The belief in guns and their proliferation is such that a child in the United States is 12 times more likely to die from a gunshot wound than in 25 other industrial nations combined. Between 1997 and 2007, there were 41 separate school shootings in the United States -- Columbine plus 40 others."
(The priest's math may be faulty, since more than 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War -- but his conclusion about the terrible U.S. gun toll is on-target.)
White evangelical congregations probably won't join the nationwide church crusade, because they're strongly Republican, and the GOP strongly supports gun-carrying. But high-steeple traditional faiths may participate. We wonder how many churches will mention it this weekend.
America has about 230 million adults -- but only 8 million have obtained permits to carry concealed pistols. This implies that about 96 percent of U.S. adults don't want to be law-abiding pistol-packers. However, millions carry guns illegally. That group poses the most danger, and should be the focus of the church effort.
Is America's gun obsession a cult? Do passionate owners worship their weapons? Will some church congregations mobilize for safeguards that politicians have failed to provide? Will the horrifying Connecticut massacre of first-graders finally seize America's conscience forcefully enough to trigger a national attitude change? Or will Americans soon forget, and do nothing?We aren't sure about answers. Stay tuned, and keep watching the national drama as it unfolds.