Jan 30 2013
Written Testimony of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary,
for the Hearing Record on "What Should America Do About Gun Violence?"
January 30, 2013
As a Baptist minister, a patriotic American and the President of Interfaith Alliance, I submit this testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "What Should America Do About Gun Violence?" A national, non-partisan organization, Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom and is dedicated to protecting faith and freedom with members nationwide who belong to 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition.
Interfaith Alliance, an organization that focuses on religious freedom and on uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism, is engaging in the initiative to prevent gun violence because our deeply divided nation could experience a modicum of healing by finding common ground on which legislation could be structured to make our nation a safer and healthier place. The support for immediate action to end gun violence coming from religious leaders from diverse religious traditions is thrilling to me. It's also indicative to the moral value that all religions place on protecting all people, especially children. As members of this distinguished committee well know, the reforms necessary to prevent gun violence cut across numerous issues that must be addressed—from the impact of concealed-carry laws on houses of worship to anti-bullying measures—all of which affect all our nation's citizens, including worshipers in churches, synagogues, mosques, and gurdwaras, as well as children in schools.
For years now, I have been an outspoken opponent of legislation that would permit concealed firearms to be carried in houses of worship in states such as my home state of Louisiana, also the home of the congregation in which I serve. This is a congregation that I have led to support a policy of no guns in our worship center despite a civil law passed to the contrary. Our houses of worship should be places where people find comfort and solace, not where they fear for their lives. Amidst consideration of policies such as prohibiting concealed-carry of firearms, as well as a renewed assault weapons ban and universal background checks, I hope this Committee and Congress as a whole will not lose sight of policies which can prevent individuals from seeking dangerous weapons in the first place—namely, improved mental health services and anti-bullying initiatives. However, these policies cannot be a substitute for policies related to the ownership of weapons. We need both stricter gun laws and government-based initiatives to deal with mental health issues and bullying. Let me assure you that many of us who lead houses of worship are already hard at work on mental health matters and anti-bullying tactics.
Whatever our disagreements, be they substantive policy arguments, misguided bigotry, or petty misunderstandings, we as a nation need to be done forever with the thought that guns, that killing, settles anything. Rather than disrespecting people because they hold ideas with which we disagree and turning on them with violence, we must find our way back to civility. And guns should not be readily available to those who cannot embrace civility. Otherwise, as a nation, we will lose both our democracy and our moral compass. What then?
The year 2012 will forever stand out as a particularly tragic year for gun violence in America: a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. And then there are the countless other victims whose deaths did not draw national media attention. I offered commentary on the memorial ceremonies from two of these tragedies on the set of a national television broadcast. I felt the pain I saw on the faces of the people. I hurt with those who could not stop weeping or those who were two emotionally frozen to cry. These tragedies do not just come and go as life moves on; for many, life is never the same after one of these events. As a nation, surely it is time for us to act in a manner that prohibits us from arriving at the end of 2013 only to see the trail of violence extended.
More often than not, when we find ourselves faced with unimaginable tragedy, we struggle against the feeling of helplessness—but presently we are in a situation in which to grieve for those whose lives have been lost to gun violence is to imagine what we can do to stop needless grieving, needless deaths in the future. With the ancient Hebrew prophet, I find myself repeatedly asking, "How long, O God, how long?" What will it take to stop these needless deaths?
Jan 16 2013
Washington, D.C. –Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement in response to actions being taken by President Obama to stem gun violence in America based on recommendations by Vice President Joe Biden.
Today’s actions by President Obama are a welcome and important step forward in our nation’s effort to reduce and ultimately eradicate gun violence and I urge Congress to move quickly in approving and implementing these recommendations. Far too many people already have died as a result of the obscene number of guns among us with capacity far beyond what any private citizen needs for either sport or protection. I am delighted at the support for immediate action coming from religious leaders from diverse religious traditions.
This much-needed current effort is important, but it does not absolve our political leaders or past administrations of their failure to act for well over a decade out of concern that they would be challenged by the radical elements on the political spectrum. Vice President Biden’s recommendations to the President are sensible measures to restrict access to weapons that have no place outside the military, and that provide resources for mental health. I join all who thank the administration for acting quickly, responsibly, and compassionately, but I remain saddened by the long and deadly path we have traveled to get here.
Jan 11 2013
Washington, D.C. – Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy today voiced his concern about any attempts to change FEMA policies to enable emergency grants to houses of worship and urged the agency to maintain its current rules against the practice.
Hurricane Sandy’s tragic devastation continues for millions of Americans. Its impact reminds us of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, communities devastated by tornados, forest fires, flooding and other natural disasters. In times such as these, there is an understandable, compassion-based temptation to steer federal funds to houses of worship that have been damaged, but it is a temptation we must resist. An act of compassion must not be allowed to erode our historic Constitution; a small act of well-meaning can set in motion a violation of religious liberty that ultimately hurts a house of worship more than helps it. The independence of houses of worship from government regulations is more important than a few federal dollars with which to do reconstruction. To be sure, FEMA does not currently allow this practice, and I urge them to maintain that stance against pressure they are receiving to change.
Interfaith Alliance has long been critical of efforts to funnel tax dollars to religious institutions whether through the faith-based initiative, or in emergency situations like this, because of reverence and respect for these important institutions in our society. To steer such money to religious institutions clearly violates the boundaries between religion and government, and opens the door to government intrusion into the affairs of the house of worship. Making an exception in this case will only result in damaging a principle that has ensured the ability of diverse faith and belief to flourish in this country.
Government can do so much to help communities recover from these tragedies. And so much has been learned from the mistakes made in the wake of Katrina. But to violate a principle inherent in the foundation of our religious freedom would be a disservice to all Americans, including those whose places of worship have been impacted by natural disasters.
Dec 26 2012
The Right Reverend Jane Holmes Dixon
Grief and Gratitude
by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
The death of Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon has left me with a swirling mixture of emotions without precedent in my personal experiences. Gratitude for her life and gifts comes easily. But so do selfishness related to the enjoyment of her presence, protest aimed at giving her up, and disappointment fed by recognition of the need for her conscience and influence in the realms of both religion and politics at this crucial moment in our nation. I know, too, the hurtful impact Jane’s death will have on her family. Some empty places simply cannot be refilled.
In addition to losing a collegial religious leader of immeasurable influence, an integral participant in Interfaith Alliance—as a board member, chair of the board, staff member, major donor, encourager, and program person—I also lost a confidante, a wise strategist, a pastor, a truth-teller, and a supporter all wrapped up in a much-loved personal friend. That hurts.
Jane and I kept a somewhat erratic breakfast schedule, both of us knowing that time together was as essential as it was enjoyable. Jane and Dixie (her husband) and Judy (my wife) and I relished Mexican dinners together in which the laughter was always as rich and lasting as the salsa on my tie. Whether alone or with our spouses, no subjects were off the table, and sheer honesty was the common thread in our conversations. Judy and I spent the Election Day evenings of the past two presidential elections in Jane and Dixie’s home with others of their closest friends. Most remarkable, however, was the reality that this woman was true to her convictions and identity regardless of the topic of discussion and the number of people involved in it.
Many times, Jane and I reflected on our shared experience of growing up in the deep South and forever having to grapple with the racism, parochialism, and closed-mindedness of some of the people who were/are most important in our lives. We both laughed and grieved over that heritage—wanting badly to see a better day in the regions in which we lived as children.
Jane loved the Episcopal Church with all of its liturgical beauty and drama—I smiled as I thought how proud she must be knowing that she quietly died in her sleep on a Christmas Day morning. Yet, she never was out of touch with the poorest and weakest of people in that communion or people related to no communion at all. Jane knew the best of many worlds and never lost her focus on justice in any of them. Dixie once told me that Jane was the only person he knew who would have her nails done before going to march in a protest.
Last month, Jane was the person chosen to present to me Interfaith Alliance’s Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award—the award I had been privileged to present to her a year earlier. She was so herself on both occasions, last month confessing to me her reticence to giving another award to an older white man given how many people of color and outstanding women had been overlooked for awards through the years. That she had that thought did not surprise me. That she made an exception for me, thrilled. But, honestly, I was even more thrilled by the ringing truth of her repetitive high call for fairness and justice. That is who she was. That is who all who knew her and loved her and wanted to be like her, must be.