On December 14, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, approximately 200 faith leaders from across U.S.—including about 150 Unitarian Universalist ministers—held a worship service outside the headquarters of the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Virginia.
The “National Interfaith Clergy Witness at the NRA” drew approximately 500 people, said the Rev. David A. Miller, senior minister of the UU Congregation of Fairfax, Virginia, who was primary organizer of the event.
The objective was to put moral pressure on the NRA for stricter gun laws and to remember all those who have been impacted by gun violence, especially the twenty 6- and 7-year olds and seven adults murdered on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. Since that shooting, another 1,500 people have been killed in mass shootings in the U.S., Miller said.
“We want a rising tide of moral clarity from faith leaders across the country to speak loudly and act boldly in their communities for safe and sane gun laws, for candidates who will support safe and sane gun laws, and against the lobbying, greed, and lack of humanity of the NRA and the gun lobby,” said Miller, who noted that many people worked to organize the event. “This was a very coordinated effort on a lot of people’s part, because people are sick of gun violence.”
Among the UU ministers who traveled to Virginia for the vigil was the Rev. Chris Buice, senior minister of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. I n 2008, a gunman killed two people and injured seven others during a Sunday morning children’s play at the church he serves.
The seven speakers at the vigil included Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant clergy. UUs Miller, Buice, and the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi also spoke; the Rev. Jason Shelton, a UU minister, served as musical director.
Miller said he was inspired by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II to be a “voice of moral clarity” on this issue. Barber has urged religious leaders and all people of faith to be moral leaders on major issues of the day.
The event was peaceful at the request of organizers, Miller said. The NRA had no response, “but they never do,” Miller said. He noted that a loose coalition of gun violence opponents have held a monthly vigil at NRA headquarters for the past fifty-nine months since the Sandy Hook shootings.
“It was exciting to see people of so many faiths gathered together along the road,” said Buice. “There were a lot of inspiring messages from leaders of different traditions. I left buoyed by the whole experience.”
UU ministers participated with other faith leaders in sister vigils in at least two other places including Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and Walnut Creek, California, Miller said.
Miller hopes to continue to pressure the NRA with future events. “I hope to get 10,000 people in front of that building, to close that street,” he said. “I want to continue to apply moral pressure from a place of our shared faith traditions.”
“I wasn’t impressed by the NRA building,” said Buice. “I figure if you put the headquarters of all the world’s religions next to it, we’d be a lot bigger.”
An earlier version of this story reported that weekly vigils have been held outside NRA headquarters since the Sandy Hook massacre. The vigils have been monthly.