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Interfaith leaders plan prayer vigil, call for peace before Richmond gun-rights rally

Posted at 7:42 PM, Jan 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-19 22:58:08-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Interfaith leaders will hold a vigil Monday morning before thousands are expected to attend a gun-rights rally on Lobby Day at the Virginia state Capitol.

Organizers said the prayer vigil at a church not far from Capitol Square seeks to give the community another layer of security.

"We felt it was just important not to let fear be the overcoming vibration," Rev. Linda Higgins of St.John's United Church said. "If it was just the annual gun rally, this event [the prayer vigil] would probably not happen."

But Higgins said Lobby Day is completely different in 2020.

"This event is happening because of the fear mongering that has been happening around the possibility that there will be people from out-of-state who may be here to cause violence," Higgins said.

“Possession of firearms or other weapons in Capitol Square during period of emergency is prohibited.”

“Possession of firearms or other weapons in Capitol Square during period of emergency is prohibited.”

Northam: Militia and hate groups plan to 'disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence'

Gov. Ralph Northam said violent threats from out-of-state militias and hate groups prompted him to issue an executive order to temporary ban on guns and all other weapons from Capitol Square through Tuesday p.m.

"We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies of threats of violence surrounding the demonstration planned for Monday," Northam said during a Wednesday news conference. "This includes extremist rhetoric similar to what has been seen before major incidents, such as Charlottesville in 2017."

Northam said those militia and hate groups plan to "disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence."

Examples, according to Northam, include "threats of storming our Capitol," weaponizing drones over Capitol Square and individuals conducting surveillance operations on Capitol entrances and exits.

Officials said state and city police will be on patrol and monitoring the areas surrounding Capitol Square.

Rev. Linda Higgins of St.John's United Church

Rev. Linda Higgins of St.John's United Church

Businesses on alert 

Businesses near Capitol Square like Edible Arrangements , Capitol Waffle and Maple Bourbon are taking precautions by either closing up shop or keeping watch.

Madison Ellis, who works at Edible Arrange is hoping Monday will be peaceful.

"We’ll probably lock this door in the morning for when the protest starts," Ellis explained. "But by the end of the day, we’ll probably unlock it.... I hope that everything goes smoothly and safely that there's no trouble."

Reverend: 'We are simply wanting peace'

Meanwhile, Higgins said prayer is the best defense for threats of possible violence.

"We are not aiming at those people who want to talk to legislators," Higgins said. "We're not trying to stop people from doing that, we are simply wanting peace and for people within Richmond to feel safe."

The Prayers and Words for Peace vigil is slated to begin at 9 a.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church at 411 E. Grace Street.

"Faith leaders representing a wide variety of faith traditions will lead us in prayer, reflection, and silence," organizers said.

Centenary United Methodist Church

Centenary United Methodist Church

Joint statement from faith leaders:

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

The words from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” were written at a moment of deep crisis in American democracy. Dr. King confronted the challenges of his time by courageously voicing a message of community rooted in our common humanity.

Our nation once again faces such a moment of profound crisis. Intolerance and bigotry are all on the rise, emboldened and empowered through the silence and sympathy, encouragement and incitement of too many of our leaders. And now, on the very day we set aside to honor the life and enduring legacy of Dr. King, these dark and dangerous forces threaten to converge on our city and our Commonwealth, bringing hate and violence.

In this difficult moment, and in the face of these threats, we seek to muster Dr. King’s moral courage, speaking words of fellowship and community; giving expression to a vision of a just, inclusive, and peaceful society; and joining together to perfect our city, commonwealth, and union.

In Dr. King's words, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.” The challenge of this moment is also the opportunity of our time, to move from enmity to harmony, from widespread division to beloved community.

Our differences are profound, the path of reconciliation is difficult; yet clearly, we are called to establish a common understanding of how to end hatred, violence, and oppression. King’s words extend an invitation to us all. In a world of arrested justice and delayed peace, we must choose to speak words of community, affirm our common humanity, and build a better world.

May we be blessed with wisdom of the divine, so that we can work together in love and justice for the sake of future generations of Virginians.

Signatories include:

Imam Ammar Amonette, Islamic Center of Virginia, Richmond, VA
Rev. Dr. Matthew D. Bates, Centenary United Methodist Church, Richmond, VA
Rev. Joel Blunk, Co-Pastoral Director, Richmond Hill, Richmond, VA
Kim Bobo, Exec. Director, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
Pastor Lacette Cross, Restoration Fellowship RVA, Richmond, VA
Rev. Ben Campbell, Pastoral Associate, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA
Rev. Courtney Allen Crump, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Richmond, VA
Imad Damaj, Chair Outreach Committee of the Islamic Center of VA, Richmond, VA
Rev. Charles Dupree, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA
Rev. Dr. Faith Harris, Professor, Virginia Union University and Vice-Chair, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Linda Higgins, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Richmond
Rev. Carla Pratt Keyes, Pastor, Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Rabbi Michael Knopf, Rabbi, Temple Beth-El, Richmond, VA
Rev. Sherman Z. Logan. Jr., Executive Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church
Richmond, VA
Archana A. Pathak, Hindu, Standing Together Steering Committee, Richmond, VA
Jeanne M. Pupke, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church, Richmond, VA
Amy Russell, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Community Church
Adria Scharf
Amy Starr Redwine, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Amy Russell, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Richmond Peace Education Center
Rev. Drew Wilson, Pastor, Boulevard United Methodist Church & Centenary United Methodist Church
Rev. Hollie E. Woodruff, Seventh Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Richmond, VA
Rev. Dr. Corey B. Walker, Standing Together Steering Committee and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy