Guns, Sex, and the Total Depravity of Everyone Else

Jesus Gun
If I were a non-Christian looking from the outside in, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that American Christians’ two highest priorities right now are keeping the government from taking away our guns and stopping gay people from getting married. And I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to assume that Jesus sure must love guns and hate sex. But should these really be our priorities as Christians? And if not, how did they rise to the place of prominence they have?

The Arkansas legislature this February passed a law overturning the ban on carrying loaded guns into church. Here’s an excerpt from the text that describes this as an “emergency” measure:

It is found and determined by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas that personal security is increasingly important; that the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States ensures a person’s right to bear arms; and that this act is immediately necessary because a person should be allowed to carry a firearm in a church that permits the carrying of a firearm for personal security.

Now go ahead and say it: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Many Christians frame this issue as a debate between the liberals who don’t believe in sin, so they want to regulate everything to death and Christians who understand that gun violence, like all other sin, is an “issue of the heart.” But there’s something else going on here. Let’s say I do go to a “right-to-carry” church. The reason that I’m not going to tense up if Deacon Billy’s pistol falls out of his pocket while he’s passing the offering plate is because good people like Deacon Billy don’t shoot people; bad people do.

Related: A Pastor’s Struggle with Sex and Porn Addiction – by Michael John Cusick

If I carry a gun into church, I am embodying a two-fold doctrine of sin: 1) There is no danger that I would be tempted to sin with my gun (like in the heat of an argument over the church budget or a sermon that sounds un-Biblical). 2) There is enough danger from the wickedness “out there” that I should be armed in case the bad people storm our building and start shooting. This two-fold doctrine of sin could be termed the total depravity of everyone else.

While the right-to-carry churches express this doctrine most dramatically, I would say that the total depravity of everyone else is the ideology of suburbia as such. It’s true that the suburbs have changed a lot since white people moved out of the city to get away from the black people. There is a mishmash of reasons why people live there, but the primary appeal of the suburbs remains the same: they’re far away from bad people.

I think the way that Christians give sex priority over every other moral issue is another product of the same suburban ideology. The Bible says what it says, but our ideological needs do influence which teachings get our prioritized focus. Now I do need to say as a former high school teacher that sexual promiscuity is a huge problem. A lot of my former students will earn minimum wage for the rest of their lives because they had kids when they were kids. I cannot express emphatically enough how much I hate the way that capitalism uses sex to sell everything and turns a beautiful sacramental gift of God into a consumer product.

And yet, the attitude within the suburban American church about sex has not been healthy, as attested by the backlash in the female evangelical blogosphere against the idolatry of female virginity and modesty (here, here, here, here, and many more). There is a paranoid hysteria and overemphasis that goes far beyond the legitimate goal of creating a healthy community of worship and hospitality that hasn’t been ravaged by the false intimacies and libidinal typhoons of “hookup culture.”

Searching for a more beautiful Christian vision for human sexuality than the message proclaimed by our miserable market-driven pop culture is a very worthy, commendable cause! Where suburban Christian sexuality goes wrong is when it becomes about protecting our daughters from bad people, which is the message exemplified in events like the suburban churches’ purity balls that fathers attend with their daughters in order to sanctify their virginity pledges.

Related: What Would Jesus Say to the NRA? – by Shane Claiborne

Here’s why this looks to me like an expression of the total depravity of everyone else. As long as fathers are in charge of their families and their daughters avoid bad people, then we can keep bad seeds out of our households literally. Handguns and purity rings have become the two most important weapons keeping suburban Christians safe from the bad people out there.

These are only two prominent examples of the suburban doctrine of sin. When you believe in the total depravity of everyone else, constantly talking about sin is the litmus test of Christian discipleship and the way that others know you’re “on the right side.” Usually this is not actual confession of your own sin, though confessions of your own sin in a safe, generalized, banter-ish way do help prove that you’re not one of the depraved. More often the suburban discourse of sin involves pontificating about sin as an idea, decrying the wickedness of the world in general, and questioning whether other Christians are really saved based on the frequency with which they talk about sin.

Brave New Films

The way that you tell if a church is really “preaching the gospel” or has “Biblical values” is how tough the pastor talks about sin and the wickedness of the world out there. The harsher the sermons are, the safer you feel, because they serve to validate your sense that you live in a world of danger in which handguns and purity rings are hugely important.

I realize this is a caricature, but it’s a caricature with some truth. Certainly, God works to bring deliverance to His people in all kinds of contexts. All of our churches are a mix of spirit and flesh. And yet, I have witnessed so many times the astounding hypocrisy of Christians talking about sin as a means of reassuring themselves that they’re with the “good people” and leveraging themselves against other Christians who focus “too much” on things like hope and love and joy which is dangerously naive at least and possibly indicative that they’re with the bad people.

If there’s one thing we should believe as Christians, it’s that the world is not divided between good and bad people. Whenever Paul hammers us with the wickedness of humanity in Romans, the point is not to validate our judgments about the total depravity of everyone else (which is how many Christians unconsciously appropriate the text). Paul’s purpose is “that every mouth may be silenced” (Romans 3:19) by the realization that “no one will be justified in his own sight” (3:20). Self-justification is the enemy that God is trying to crush. That’s what provokes His wrath, because it makes us far more evil than clumsy rule-breaking.

Also by Morgan: Why Gender Hierarchy Makes No Biblical Sense to Me

When everything I do has the purpose of validating my correctness, I become a dangerous, poisonous person capable of ruthless cruelty, even if I master the art of hating other people while technically avoiding every explicit sin that’s listed in the Bible, or being a Pharisee. Pharisees take great pleasure in the practice of subtle contempt, that form of politeness constitutive of the Old South in which every condescending thing you say is wrapped in a saccharin sweetness that cannot be criticized. This form of living is holiness without love. Every Pharisee is a soft-core sociopath, because self-justification destroys our capacity to love others.

James 2:12-13 says, “Speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” That last sentence is the whole gospel summarized in four words. When God’s mercy is able to crush all the sneaky tactics we use to self-justify and make ourselves judges, that’s when we have been saved. People who have been smitten by God’s mercy aren’t oblivious to the reality of sin; they just don’t need to talk about it all the time. They’ve been set free of the need to justify themselves by parading their vigilance against the total depravity of everyone else.

In any case, I don’t care if you’ve got a handgun or a purity ring as long as you understand in your heart that you’re no less a damn sinner than anybody else. You don’t need to go on and on about how worthlessly sinful you (and the rest of humanity) are unless you’re trying to prove something. If you ever tire of the mental exhaustion of maintaining your spiritual gated community that’s safe from all the bad people, I would encourage you to try putting down your gun and purity ring to step outside it just once. Because you just might find Jesus there, eating and drinking with the sinners.

Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at Follow Morgan on twitter at


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About the Author

Morgan Guyton

Morgan GuytonMorgan Guyton is the author of How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity. His blog Mercy Not Sacrifice is hosted at Patheos. He and his wife Cheryl are co-directors of NOLA Wesley, a Reconciling United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans, LA.View all posts by Morgan Guyton →

  • This is a great article. In the midst of my own discussion on Facebook over gun control, so I posted this on my wall.Thanks Morgan, I love your writing.

  • otrotierra

    Another fantastic article. Many thanks to Morgan and RedLetterChristians for always pointing us toward Jesus.

  • Quintessential Examples of Straw Man Red Herring arguments and juxtapositions.

    Anathema Fallacy Number 1: At least quasi-equating homosexual matrimony predicated upon sodomic sex with God-ordained heterosexual marriage predicated upon dual-gender natural sex that ALONE makes possible “two flesh becoming one.”

    Fallacy Number 2: Jesus had anything to say about firearms that did NOT exist; while He did say something explicit about the weapon of his day: swords. “Sell you cloak and buy a sword” which HE NEVER retracted.

    Fallacy Number 3: Implies American Christians should NOT, like their elected leaders, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, so help them God” by exercising all the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness affirming rights in the Bill of Rights.

    Fallacy Number 4: Implies Christians should not hunt, enjoy firearms competitions and hobbies, and should NOT defend their family, loved ones, homes and selves against violent, weapons-armed criminals.

    Fallacy Number 5: Implicitly ignores the heinous murders by violent criminals armed with firearms perpetrated against defenseless clergy and unarmed sheep in churches the last several years.

    First truthful & non-cowardly statement noted: “The reason that I’m not going to tense up if Deacon Billy’s pistol falls out of his pocket while he’s passing the offering plate is because good people like Deacon Billy don’t shoot people; bad people do.” NOTE: Even if you are too cowardly NOT to tense up tension, like guns, do not kill. You will recover from your anxiety shortly thereafter.

    Anathema Fallacy Number 6: With or without a legally owned firearm anyone can and sometimes is tempted to harm another person, even in church. Good News: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Cor. 10:13. Anyone with a gun ever succumb to temptation? Has anyone without a gun ever succumbed to temptation and killed another with a knife, glass vase, beer bottle, bat, stick, rolling pin, crowbar, car keys, or his bare hands? You betcha!

    Conclusion: Your heretical conjecture of “Total Depravity of Everyone Else” is entirely debunked because wo/men armed with a set of car keys or Swiss army knife has succumbed to temptation and harmed others, sometimes lethally.

    Fallacy Number 7: “…the suburbs have changed a lot since white people moved out of the city to get away from the black people.” You’ve never lived in a partially re-gentrified mixed neighborhood in a major urban city like New York, Boston or Philadelphia? Your ignorance is shameful and demeaning, if not racist.

    Fallacy Number 8: “Where suburban Christian sexuality [sic] goes wrong is when it becomes about protecting our daughters from bad people, which is the message exemplified in events like the suburban churches’ purity balls that fathers attend with their daughters in order to sanctify their virginity pledges.” You really don’t get out much do you? At least NOT out to urban, inner-city churches? Do you take some kind of socio-economic delight in denigrating suburban churches and implicitly elevating inner-city churches — which you evidence you don’t often visit? Do you really believe that inner-city churches don’t preach virginity and don’t have purity ring ceremonies and celebrations? Gotta get out much, much more!

    Fallacy Number 9: A handgun is a weapon; a ring is a piece of jewelry and a symbol of something that may or may not be true.

    Anathema Fallacy Number 10: Implying that Christians who don’t sin (much) must be Pharisees. As if God hasn’t reserved for Himself true followers of His Son who live lives of purity and holiness. These Godly saints are found in BOTH suburban and urban churches, among Blacks, Whites, Latino/as, Asians, et al. They hate sin finitely much akin to the way God hates sin infinitely. And they love God finitely as God infinitely loves people and beckons everyone to repent, believe, obey and leave their lives of sin.

    • What a strange comment. It was very hard to follow.

      • Questioning

        That’s because William…. er I mean Joe, likes to wax verbose in an attempt to mesmerize and baffle, what with all the enema fallacies and such. I think he must have a Piled Higher and Deeper in…. well never mind.

  • KBH

    Does anyone else appreciate the subtle irony of this website and articles like these. You judge another Christian camp for pointing out the ‘depravity’ of other camps, while clearly painting them as the bad guy, the guy with his priorities out of whack, the guy who’s not being a ‘red-letter’ Christian.

    Must be nice to so easily identify the logs on the eyes of the evangelical right. and to so casually identify Christians concerned about modesty and sexual purity (how dare they) as “idolatrous”. Does that make you and your readers feel more like Christ? Talk about self-justification. Can you not see the “suburban doctrine of sin” embedded in this article?

    Of course, every group must fight the temptation to judge other groups for not being as passionate about what they think are the “main things”. And sometimes that judgment is called for. For example, I could write a blog about how there has been nothing said on this page about the black babies murdered by Gosnell or the racist treatment of poor black women. If suspect if there was an article about Gosnell, I suspect it would be about how the right is hypocritical in being so outraged. Always pointing out that the right is passionate about the wrong things.

    The evangelical right is a pretty huge target. And you will never run out of true life anecdotes of imbalanced people and movements within it to shoot at on this blog. But I think it would be refreshing and healthy to occasionally direct that 20/20 vision inward toward your own camp.

    I think it would be healthy to print this article, invite a conservative pastor in your town to coffee and read it. I suspect it will be humbling and help you on your journey in liberation from self-justification.



    • Todd

      What if red-letter Christians judged conservative evangelicals as charitably as they want conservative evangelicals to judge others?

      The picture associated with this article alone shows that there is a need for humble reexamination of how this movement is going to engage in conversation with believers who aren’t where wish they were. Its this page going to be better than caricatures? Is the goal to be like Jesus or to be about political lampooning of those we disagree with.

      Moderate Christians can be as holier-than-thou as any backwood fundamentalist

    • Digger

      Amen, Kevin. Fantastic post. Well said.

      • High five trolls!

        • KBH

          you bio says that you are on a journey away from self-justification, but clearly you think you are pretty righteous and your journey is to identify the log of self-justification in other peoples eyes.

        • Digger

          ! (You will know them by their fruit.)

    • You didn’t engage the argument at all; you just criticized the practice of critique itself. You could cut and paste what you wrote in response to any other article on this site. Jesus argued ferociously with Pharisees. Paul argued with the circumcision party. Christians argue because we care about being true to God and being evangelists to the world. Some people are going to raise more points about being true to God; some people are going to raise more points about what we do that makes the world uninterested in Jesus. Do you come here just to troll or do you occasionally have your mind changed by what’s written?

      • Frank

        There’s very little here that’s actually challenging. Bias has a way of invalidating even good things.

        You would do well to pay attention to KBH.

      • Drew

        It doesn’t take any maturity or integrity to respond to everyone that disagrees with you that they are trolls. Morgan, you are not a prophet; we are allowed to disagree or critique what you post. KBH has a valid point (reinforced by 9 up votes and 1 down vote), that your condescending, snarky attitude towards the Evangelical Right is the same attitude you condemn when the Evangelical Right exhibits it towards the Left. You’re in critical danger of becoming another jaded ex-SBC’er on this website full of angry, jaded ex-SBC’ers. You even say your caricature of the Evangelical Right is a caricature but it’s okay because it might be a little true, and what’s a debate without a good caricature now and then?

      • 22044

        KBH presented some good points, and he deserves better engagement from you.

      • KBH

        the fact that you could cut and paste that into any article is self-indicting. Because its clearly a theme that your movement needs to address.

        Also you validate the main point I make in casually labeling those who disagree with where you are “the pharisees”, aka “the bad guys”.

        Also ironic that you see that value of challenging “pharisees” who need to be humbled, but those who challenge your motives the charitable way you engage or caricatre other believers as trolls.

        I could have engaged with the points, but couldn’t get past the picture and the first couple sentences that uncharitably framed the issue and prompted me to say what I did.

        My question to you is there anything I wrote that caused you, atleast on a small level to reevaluate your approach.

        Its clear by reading various comments than many hear live in a bubble, that I suppose they assume evangelical right live in.


      • 22044

        If you have no responses to us, I think we can all safely conclude that you are no imitator of Jesus or Paul here.
        Perhaps you need to spend some time studying the passages you cited. I’ve also noted Frank Turk’s comment below that your citation of James 2 ignores the context as well.
        Based on the above & as a comparison that seems apt, I spend some of my time each week doing work that isn’t full-time ministry, but I’m left with the impression that I know the gospels & the Bible better than you, someone who is a full-time minister. Some of the other posters probably do so as well. That’s disturbing. I hope you don’t spend your days as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    • SamHamilton

      I cannot agree more about the “red-letter Christian” label. It’s so self-righteous. That’s not to say there aren’t good, true and challenging things posted on this website (which is why I read), but the label needs to go.

    • smithflight

      Morgan is challenging the reader to look outside
      themselves at how the ambassadorship of Christ looks to non-Christians. Self examination, as individuals is necessary, but also self examination as a community of faith is also a good thing.

      i also think it is fair to point out apparent contradictions in
      our lifestyle and our faith. People on opposite ends of the faith
      spectrum have been do this all the time.

  • 22044

    A man with an opinion here. Unfortunately it’s not a very good one.

    • 22044

      To clarify a bit, it’s nothing new that occasionally good things (saving sex for marriage, owning or carrying a gun for protection) can become perverted and become idols. Another idol is picking out only certain sins to throw darts at in a show of hubris, as this post unfortunately reveals too well.

    • Digger

      I’m starting to look forward to your posts. They are like a glass of cold water in a desert. (And I can never remember which word has one ‘s’ and which one has two; I wasn’t talking about a glass of water in a cherry pie!)

      • 22044

        Hey Digger. Thanks for the comment. I feel blessed to be able to “contend for the faith” as outlined in Jude. I like your posts as well, when I see them.

  • You guys always articulate what I’m already thinking. I appreciate your courage in actually saying it out loud.

  • OK — a coupla housekeeping items:

    1. it’s “damned sinner” not “damn sinner,” unless you simply want to swear gratuitously. You may want to; that’s your trip.

    2. That’s the worst reading of that section of James 2 I have ever read anywhere, and if we eventually get there I’ll tell you why in detail, but for the sake of brevity, context is everything, and your citation here lacks all of it.

    3. The complaint here in the comments that anyone has not engaged your argument when you openly admit you are attacking a caricature is, in the best and most generous reading, hilarious.

    Housekeeping finished.

    So having read this wide-spanning rant with some amazement, what exactly is the complaint or complaints that those you are criticizing should take away and review for the sake of their own sanctification? Here’s what worries me: the primary examples you have cherry picked here as demonstrating a lack of (I’m guessing here since it’s not clear in the essay what they really lack) personal humility because, darn it, they are sinners, too, are actually examples of where the secular culture is in full-press assault against the previously-prevailing, Post-Constantinian Christian context and culture of the West — and where the self-respecting Christian has to respond with something other than, “gosh, if I wasn’t a sinner, maybe I could respond — but I’m just a sinner, so who am I to defend my child’s purity, or my home from invaders, or the sacred ordinance of Marriage?”

    What you are giving the side-eye to here, Morgan, is the defensive reaction to the assault on the remnants of Christian culture. If you think it will be fine to simply give them up since we are in a post-Christian mode in our culture, say that and let’s discuss that. But: to say that Christian political engagement has to be based on the idea that we have no basis to speak to any moral issues in the general culture because none of us are perfect is, in the very least, capitulation to the culture, and abandonment of the Gospel.

    If you want to say, “we shouldn’t be wholesale haters like the Phelps Clan,” I agree — but then now we are stuck with proclaiming the actual Gospel to actual people who are actually sinners and who actually need and actual savior, and not merely a greeting card that plays, “for he’s a jolly good fellow” through a cheap Asian chip when you open it. If not the Phelps clan, then what? For Jesus sake: then what?

    • SamHamilton

      You made some well reasoned arguments Frank. Thanks. I wish Morgan would deem them worthy of a response. He’s responded to others here. I wish he would respond to you.

  • SamHamilton

    I think Frank Turk raises some good points, as do some of the other critics here. I wish you would address Frank’s points.

    The reason that so many Christians are talking about gun control and gay marriage isn’t because American Christians are unhealthily focused on these issues, it’s because they’re some of the most talked-about issues in politics today among Christians and non-Christians. I guarantee American Christians wouldn’t be talking about guns or gay marriage if people weren’t talking about changing current laws regarding these two issues. Hot political issues changes. A couple years ago it might have been taxes or health care. Next year it might be immigration. Are these issues off-limits for Christians too? Christians, just like non-Christians, for better or for worse, talk about hot political topics. Now if you want to make the argument that Christians should think more long-term or broadly than the average cable news show attention span, that’s a decent point. But then that point wouldn’t apply to just the Christians you want to criticize. How many blog posts on guns have been posted at God’s Politics in the last three months? hmmm…

    I also wonder what’s with the attacks on “suburban Christians” and the “suburban doctrine of sin?” What does that even mean? I live in a city of 125k people that is a suburb of a major city. Is this a criticism of my community, my faith or where I’ve chosen to live? Do Christians in rural areas and cities not own guns or care about the chastity of their children? Do they not talk about these issues?

  • “When everything I do has the purpose of validating my correctness, I become a dangerous, poisonous person capable of ruthless cruelty, even if I master the art of hating other people while technically avoiding every explicit sin that’s listed in the Bible”

    Amen! Jesus consistently shows us that our hearts are what matter. If we focus on getting the heart right, the actions will follow. And you can’t focus on getting your heart right if you’re focused on judging other people and their “terrible” lifestyles or whatever.

  • EasyJim

    Hmmm. I used to live in Burke, myself. Unfortunately, I found this blog to be guilty of the very thing it condemns. Obviously Guyton is not one of those misguided folks who cling to “guns and religion.” But he raises a noxious stereotype and then smashes it.
    Question, does Guyton know any members of the NRA? Has he every had lunch with one?
    I rather suspect not. On my last elk hunting trip, I and four other guys had a great time. One was a retired orthopedic surgeon, NRA member. One was an emergency room doctor, NRA member. One was a retired carpenter, NRA member. One was a mechanical engineer who designs heavy equipment, NRA member. Then there was me, elder in my church, retired from 30-year career in natural resource management, US Department of the Interior, and NRA member. I see no resemblance to Guyton’s caricature in any of the guys in our hunting camp. He needs to get out a little.
    Shameless plug: Check out my book “Cross Currents: Making Sense of the Christian Life” on Amazon.

    • otrotierra

      The radical teachings of Jesus are more interesting that the narrow political opinions of the NRA and its followers.

  • bluecenterlight

    There is a reason Jesus never delved into the politics of His time, this forum is a good example. The problem with politics is that it puts people in opposing camps who see the other side as complete morons or disingenuous. No one has a category for the idea that people who disagree with you might have just as thoughtful and reasoned out conclusion on the issues of the day. If we did, we might have thoughtful discussions with each other. But it goes beyond that. Right and left wing politics have crept their way into the church like a cancer leaving us bitter, and nasty little people. If we cannot even love each other, what hope does the world have? No issue is black and white, we live in a complicated world. As much as the two parties want to dissolve everything down into bumper sticker slogans. Christ transcends politics. We need to stop straining at the proverbial gnat, there is a lost and dying world all around us.

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