I’m not going to wade into the deep aftermath of Orlando – that space is already thick with people screaming at each other, and surrounded by those weeping too hard to read the political debates about gun control, immigration reform, definitions of terrorism, the interplay of race and fear, and how tone-deaf Donald Trump can be at a time like this.
I’m pretty sure you can find all of that for yourself thanks to Google.
But a friend of mine said something on Facebook that stopped me cold: “For some people in the discussion, guns are tools. For the others, guns are a sacrament.”
She went on to point out the Messiah-like thinking that many Americans attribute to gun ownership:
See, I think she’s on to something there.
In the American Religion of Individualism, we have rituals and liturgy. We bear the marks of the faithful on our bodies and in our lifestyles and in our encultured practices of what we purchase and support. (I *highly* recommend James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom if you want to unpack that idea further.)
And many of us have fallen into the trap of seeing the Right To Self-Preservation as one of the highest virtues. Just as John Piper, who was viciously slammed by many conservative Evangelicals when he dared suggest that Jesus did not intend us to shoot home intruders dead should the unthinkable happen.
The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question.
The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life.
Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.
Piper went on to reasonably suggest 9 reasons why retaliation isn’t a Christian response, and taking another human life – even when that action would be justified – may not be the most Christian response. And ooooohboy did that set off a klaxon resounding across the Internet, calling every gun-owning pastor and theologian to write a counterpoint.
Why is gun ownership such a rallying point for conservative Christians?
Is it because we have succumbed to the idea that we deserve political and personal power, never mind the New Testament promises that Jesus’s Kingdom is not of the sword?
Is it because we Christians refuse to be the minority? Because we refuse to give up our rights so that others may share in power?
Is it fear? Are we so afraid of non-WASP people and gay people and immigrants and “terrorists” that we cannot even consider that Jesus may call some of us to love others to the point of sacrificing our right to own an assault rifle (a weapon created solely for the purpose of murdering humans)?
Are we unwilling to follow God’s commands to “Honor the King” and “Obey the rulers who have authority over you” and to recognize that the government is an agent of good in the hands of God to bring justice to evil doers?
Just, uh, go back and read that sentence again. Because the Bible calls government an agent of righteousness. Setting out to destroy government in the name of God (as a cultural value, at least) may not actually be biblical.
Is it because we, too, worship at America’s altar of Individualism?
We may preach grace for salvation, but we sure live as if succeeding in this life depends entirely on us, as if protection is entirely a quotient of gun ownership, as if mass shootings are merely a failure of an individual to be mentally healthy or subscribe to the right worldview tenets, as if personal responsibility is all that’s needed for someone to bootstrap their way out of poverty.
Karl Barth wrote a meaty essay about The Church and the State. As you might expect from a man who survived Nazi Germany, the idea of the Church gaining political power and military might made him start twitching.
Here. It’s a long read but you should give it some attention. Because Barth forces us to consider the limitations of the Church in grasping power in the political sphere. We are not here to build a political partnership with the Republicans (or Democrats). We are not here to write gun policy. We are not here to demand our rights above others (like the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook, or the night club dancers in Orlando, or the movie theater victims in the West, or…..)
And when we Christians lose sight of our mission, when our Americanism clouds our judgment so that we cannot remember the Great Commandments, we do a disservice to our countrymen.
Am I arguing for pacifism? No. And before you jump all over me, I own guns. Always have.
But you are not a Savior. Your gun is not a Savior. You are not going to be the Hero in some medieval morality play where a Bad Guy walks in and threatens your family or people in your ChikFilA during lunch, and you protect everyone else by pulling out your concealed pistol.
No. While you may save lives that day, you also fed into the insistence that weapon ownership is more important than having a conversation about whether our “rights” have gone to far. And that inability to even consider that we Americans might be wrong in our approach to gun ownership is the biggest problem we’re having right now.
When really sensible, expected limits on weapons like assault rifles have become to taboo to discuss, we must acknowledge there is a problem.
But hey, don’t take my word for it…