An old journalistic saw about what's newsworthy goes a little something like this: "When a dog bites man, that's not a new story. Now a man bites a dog, that's a story." The idea is simple: News is something that is unusual, out of the ordinary, has a twist that makes it unexpected and shocking.
There's nothing unexpected or shocking about a preacher in a mainline liberal Protestant church preaching a pro-gun control sermon after a shooting tragedy, and yet CNN, the Washington Post, and NPR's All Things Considered have all hyped Dean Gary Hall's December 16 sermon at the Washington National Cathedral. For her part, Dean's boss, Washington Episcopal Archdiocese Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, also leveled a similar call at a confirmation service on Sunday at St. Alban's Church in Washington, D.C.
"For the Very Rev. Gary Hall, 10th dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Connecticut killings are the last straw in the debate about gun control," Jeannine Hunter and Hamil Harris opened their 18-paragraph page A13 Washington Post story. Although Hunter and Harris confessed in the next paragraph that "The Episcopal Church has advocated gun control for many years." Indeed, liberal clergy and laity in the Episcopal Church USA have repeatedly gone off half-cocked about gun control after mass shootings, all but condemning owning a semiautomatic rifle or handgun as an egregious sin.
RAZ: At times like these, there are many who look to people like you for answers. What can you say?
HALL: In a tragedy, there really isn't much to say, aside from just being with the people who are suffering. The problem of evil and the problem of why God allows suffering is probably the major religious problem for all religious traditions. And no tradition really finally gives a satisfactory answer. Almost every tradition just holds it up, finally, as a mystery.
So in the face of that, it seems to me that people of faith are called not so much as to try to explain why something happened as to simply stand with and put our arms around and care for people as they go through tragedy.
RAZ: In your sermon this morning, you said: The best way to mourn the victims in Newtown is to mobilize the faith community for gun control. There is no doubt, Reverend, that there are those who will say you are politicizing a national tragedy. And what would your response be?
HALL: Well, first of all, whenever the church speaks prophetically, it's accused of engaging in politics. And it's important to remember that most of the Bible is concerned not with personal morality but with social and public morality. In fact, the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of the Hebrew prophets, the teaching of Muhammad in the Koran, those teachings are essentially social teachings.
And so in response to a national tragedy, the church's response needs to be a public response. And the way our society has decided that it engages and does its public business is through our political structures. So, yes, in some sense, you might say I am politicizing a response to a tragedy, but I for one can't listen to another conversation where someone says: Let's talk about gun control, and people say: Well, it's too soon to talk about gun control. Let's grieve.
And then there's a few days of grieving, and then the narrative gets changed. My intuitive sense and the sense of my bishop, Mariann Budde, and with the other faith leaders I've talked about is it's just really time for the faith community to be a countervailing force and to stand against this kind of violence.
RAZ: That's the Reverend Gary Hall. He's the dean of the National Cathedral here in Washington, D.C. Reverend Hall, thank you.
HALL: Thank you very much.
Gun rights advocates would argue that criminals quite simply don't, by definition, obey the law, while law-abiding ones by definition do, leaving the former armed and powerful and the latter disarmed and defenseless. As a Christian minister who allegedly would have a biblically-informed view of human nature and sin, Hall should most certainly know that changing laws doesn't and indeed cannot change the wicked human heart. Raz need not be an expert in Christian harmatology or anything, but it's a little much as the host of a show called "All Things Considered," to let the good reverend state his piece without any significant exploration of other perspectives.
The secular news media generally have little use for religious conservatives, but the religious Left and its priorities are an entirely different story, especially when they are singing from the same hymnal on the issue du jour.