Opposing gun violence, Seattle Episcopalians join in faith march

By Liz Sloat
Posted Nov 4, 2014

[Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral] Members of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle joined with more than 30 other Washington faith communities in a “March to the Ballot” on Oct. 19 in support of Washington State Initiative 594 (I-594). This initiative is one of two gun-related measures on the ballot for Washington voters this fall. I-594 closes the so-called “gun show loophole.” If passed this measure would apply the currently used criminal and public safety background checks required of licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

The march began at Temple De Hirsch Sinai and made stops at St. James Cathedral (Roman Catholic) and Plymouth Congregational Church for interfaith prayer, song and community. The march ended at the King County Administration Building in downtown Seattle, the site of a ballot drop box. Because Washington State votes by mail-in ballot, marchers were able to cast their ballots in a collective and highly visible vote in favor of Initiative 594.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also joined the marchers. Earlier this summer following the shootings at Seattle Pacific University, Murray had remarked that Initiative 594 was a “small step toward a more rational conversation about gun violence.”

The Very Rev. Steven L. Thomason, who serves as the dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral and rector of the Parish of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, spoke during the march. “We join here today bearing the wounds of loss, each in our own ways,” he said. “It is a lamentable fact that no family in this country is untouched by gun violence. It seems no child is immune from the terror anymore. We can do better.

“As Washingtonians, we have the opportunity to lead the nation, to set the example, with I-594 and with our efforts to save lives. We stand here today in solidarity with all who bear the wounds of senseless gun violence, with the majority of people in this state who say ‘enough’. It is time.

“As people of faith, we are compelled by a divine narrative that inexorably draws us to healing and wholeness. This initiative and our support for it is a part of that journey of faith.

“Today, we make a symbolic journey together as a sign of the commitment that we collectively say, we demand better for our state, for our communities.”

I-594 was endorsed this summer by the Saint Mark’s vestry after a careful listening process and vote. This process was designed to answer requests to take a position on current controversial topics. The first step was reception of the request by the dean and wardens and a decision for or against sending this request into the process. The second step was the listening event attended by parish and vestry members: a facilitated and structured session open to the parish. A speaker representing each side of the topic was listened to respectfully and a comment and question period followed.

The listening session for I-594 was held on July 20, when Phil Watson from Washington Gun Rights and Zach Carstensen from the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility spoke to members of the Saint Mark’s community.

Just over a week after the listening session, the vestry voted unanimously in favor of endorsement of the request. On July 29, on action by its vestry, Saint Mark’s Cathedral Parish voted unanimously to endorse I-594. The cathedral joined other faith and business communities at the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, “a coalition of concerned citizens and organizations working together to forge commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence.”

A second bill on the ballot, I-591, would “prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.”

— Liz Sloat is communications director for Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.


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Comments (3)

  1. Rich Basta says:

    I’m glad St. Mark’s allowed an open and honest debate at their church before the vestry decision. That’s representing the best of democracy, and the Episcopal Church. A question out there to any tax attorneys: does a vestry of a church that advocates publically for a specfic bill or voter initiative, rather than issuing a position on the general issue itself, put into jeopardy the church’s 501(c)3 tax exempt status? I’m not an expert in these matters, so I would appreciate any insight anyone with professional expertise in this area could offer. Thanks.

    1. In answer to Rich Basta’s question: yes, we considered this carefully, and sought legal opinions which consistently have concluded that this endorsement is within the scope of our gospel mandate. Specifically, I offer the following explanation, and we encourage other faith communities to consider how their voice is needed in the political arena as we seek justice, respect and dignity for every human being.
      As a 501(c)(3) organization, (a) St. Mark’s cannot participate in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office and (b) no substantial part of the activities of St. Mark’s may consist of attempting to influence legislation. The Cathedral’s support of I-594 relates to (b) and, given the full scope of the Cathedral’s many programs and activities, the efforts on behalf of I-594 clearly are not a substantial part of the activities of St. Mark’s.

  2. mark hatch says:

    You might want to read this article, on the very topic. Churches really risk the ire of the Feds if they are not wise.
    http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/2014-elections-pastors-endorsing-candidates-irs-112434.html

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