By Aaron Gaglia (GagliaAC)
Hundreds of Episcopalians gathered in D.C. on Monday to go through the Stations of the Cross in an event challenging our culture of violence. “Walking the Way of the Cross invites us, compels us, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” says Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut (from media release).
This event, entitled “Challenging a Culture of Violence: The Way of the Cross”, started in Lafayette Square near the White House. Participants marched down Pennsylvania Ave., stopping at various points for the Stations of the Cross, and then finished up at the U.S. Capitol. The event, created because of the Sandy Hook Massacre, was organized by the Diocese of Connecticut and featured a number of Bishops from the ad hoc group, Episcopalians against Gun Violence. Participating Bishops included Ian T. Douglas, James E. Curry, and Laura J. Ahrens of Connecticut, and Shannon Johnson of Virginia.
The Liturgy for the stations was very focused on gun violence and at times had very little to do with the station and its Scripture. For example, the Third Station: Jesus Falls For The First Time, was used as a platform to reflect on the violence of American culture. The reflection was an excerpt from Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Yet gun violence was not the only political issue that found its way into the liturgy. At the 10th station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments, we mourned the marginalization brought about by colonialization. Yet more surprising was the environmental meditation for the 12th station: Jesus Dies on the Cross: “’Why have you forsaken me?’ We hear Jesus’ cry in the din of melting glaciers as they tumble into the ocean, in the crash of ancient forests as they are felled…in the bellow of elephants running from poachers and searching for water in lands scorched by global warming…At the foot of the cross, we hear the despairing cry of all God’s creatures whose bodies and habitat are destroyed by human violence, neglect, or greed.”
After finishing up the last stations at the Capitol Building, participants made their way to the Library of Congress for a briefing that included politicians and religious leaders. Chairs were not set up in the room so most of the participants sat on the floor.
The speeches had a mix of inspiration and urgency and had religious overtones. Congressman John Larson of Connecticut reminded the audience that the Way of the Cross was “where under the law of the day, both in Israel and in Rome, the Prince of Peace was put to death.”
D.C. Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, christened an Episcopalian, spoke of our responsibility in this issue: “It is we who are culpable if we do not act this time.” She said we cannot do nothing as we did in reaction to shootings in the past.
Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, applauded the audience for not keeping silent. “We can sin through our acts of omission. Thank you for not sinning.”
Bishop Dinis Sengulane of Mozambique,a country in which approximately 800,000 guns have been relinquished and destroyed, said some very vivid words about the danger of guns. After saying that guns are made to kill, Sengulane said: “A gun is a very bad advisor. Once you have it, it will advise you to do what it’s made for.”
The resolve and enthusiasm of the participants in this event was very inspiring. Many drove 4+ hours to get to D.C. then walked 2 miles in cold snow/rain slush. Their desire and commitment to see an end to gun violence is praiseworthy.
Yet the Stations of the Cross is not the right medium for conveying this message. This politicization of the Stations of the Cross missed the meaning of the Cross of Christ. Though, I am a proponent of having Scripturally informed political views and I believe it is our responsibility as Christians to address this problem of violence, the politicization of the central event and tenet of our faith is not the answer.
The trauma and agony of Jesus’ cry on the cross is blurred and distorted when compared to environmentalism or even the violence of our culture. The trauma of the cross is not adequately conveyed in looking at the human violence of the cross; we must look deeply into the agony that Jesus suffered. Jesus was not merely unjustly put to death; on the Cross, God the Son was actually forsaken by God the Father. He tasted the disease of sin and the wrath it deserves. He stared into the abyss and was swallowed. Jesus experienced both the temporal and eternal consequences of the sins of the world. He suffered the consequences of all of our personal, corporate, and systemic sins. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV). The Cross was not just a picture of human injustice, but more properly a pictured of preordained divine salvation.
The Stations of the Cross is an invitation to join in the grief of Christ so that we can share in his joy; it is a call to die so that we may live. The Cross indeed has applications to all aspects of life, including gun violence. Yet the power to confront these issues and change is only found when we experience the trauma of the cross in its full meaning. To jump immediately to an application is missing the point.
May Episcopalians continue working to address our culture of violence but may they not do it at the expense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.