The Central Valley of California is similar to most of rural America. It’s an area with lots of traditional folks, many who love God and desire to serve Christ in all things. Places like the Valley at times carry the baggage of some sloppy theology, handed down from fundamentalism and the Religious Right. For this reason, I grew up believing that the will of God and the will of the conservative version of the United States were one in the same. I also grew up believing that the US Constitution and its Amendments were God’s gifts to humanity, including the law that gave us rights to own guns. In fact, guns were normal in my family and shooting shotguns at skeet is admittedly fun. I never considered myself a gun enthusiast, but I was certainly willing to shoot them when I was at a family gathering or with the guys.
As part of a “man pact, ” I even owned a shotgun for a time. About 6 of us agreed in college (prior to my transition into Anabaptist theology) to pitch in $100 each time one of us got married. What this meant was that we would end up with $500 to spend on a gun of choice. Some chose handguns, but because my interest in guns was minimal, I used the money for a shotgun so that I could shoot skeet on occasion (I only ended up using my gun 3 times total).
Now, having embraced the nonviolent ethic of Jesus and the early church, I no longer have such a strong appreciation for guns. Yet, because of my history and my close friendships/familial relationships with gun enthusiasts, I’m not willing to demonize all people who are members of the NRA or who like to shoot stuff. I would question why some people like to kill (non-human) creatures “just for fun, ” as I don’t think it honors the Creator who cares for the birds of the air. I would equally question why any Christian would have a loaded gun in their house when Jesus clearly teaches non-retaliation, but now I digress.
As a follower of the way of Jesus, I do what I can to stand outside of political debates, at least as the media tries to set them up. Binary categories and false demonization does nothing to facilitate the kind of dialogue that brings life-giving results. In order for Christians to maintain their witness, we would do well to start thinking about better ways of talking about gun ownership. I’m not anti-gun, but I do believe that these sorts of weapons should have limited (if any) use for those who are disciples of rabbi Jesus.
Can we really imagine Jesus with a loaded handgun under his pillow or a concealed weapons permit? The only uses that make sense, based on what I see in Scriptures under the New Covenant, include: 1) sport (with no intention of harming life), 2) hunting (for those who choose to hunt their game rather than participate in the corruption of factory farming), or 3) protection from predator-animals (not killing animals for fun, but saving human life when no other option exists).
If we concede that these are the only uses for guns in the United States, then I submit that following Jesus would be the best form of gun control. Imagine if every Christian either gave up their guns or drastically reduced their intent for using these weapons; gun control would become a non-issue for us believers to argue about!
I realize that this one article is not going to convince those who are not pacifists, but I feel compelled to be upfront about my actual convictions on this issue. With that said, I do think that some important things need to be stated about the sort of things I see Christians reasoning in support of low-restrictions on guns. I invite fellow Christians to consider a life where we all simply decided to S-T-O-P… stop; stop using the following arguments or taking the following stances to justify positions on gun control.
#1 Stop appealing to the 2nd Amendment as if it were the lost ending to the Gospel of Mark.
Something that makes zero sense is how people who love God could EVER make the Constitution the center of their argument. For the past several years, I’ve been disappointed by this tendency that I see in many sectors of conservative evangelicalism. And when it comes to the 2nd Amendment, do we really have to elevate it as though it were holy writ? If you believe that gun ownership is a “right, ” show us that through the Scriptures, specifically through solid narrative/historical exegesis of the New Testament. After all, it’s not like the Amendment is the lost ending to the Gospel of Mark that has kept theologians scratching their heads for centuries. This is a law made by a pagan nation – let’s treat it as such.
#2 Stop metaphorically connecting the loss of certain guns to the Apocalypse.
Let’s get practical for a second, friends. First, the book of Revelation is primarily about something that happened in the past, specifically during the reign of the Caesars of the first century. Avoiding the connection to the last book of the Bible is a simple matter of biblical integrity.
Interestingly, many people have gone on record saying that private citizens need guns in case the US government becomes even more corrupt and forms a tyrannical dictatorship (or the like). Even if we believe that Christians can justify the use of violence, do we really believe that semi-automatic weapons would even stand a chance against bazookas, rockets, grenades, or even nukes? I’m not sure that this fanciful thinking justifies an outcry for low-regulated sales of the most destructive of guns.
#3 Stop clinging to guns as if they are central to one’s identity.
We all have hobbies or things that make us feel alive. Some of us play sports. Others love underwater basket weaving. Still others can’t get enough of Dungeons and Dragons. But, as Christians, any time these things become central to our identity, we may want to consider doing some soul-searching. The same is true of guns. Many people love weapons, and I get that. But, based on the passion in some of the people I’ve observed, I wonder if guns (like any other hobby) can become too centralized in one’s own self-understanding?
#4 Stop ignoring the rest of the modernized world as if American culture has the corner on gun control (or the lack there of).
One thing that I continue to discern is that most conservative Christians are quite content to view the world through an American-centric lens. Unfortunately, we often ignore our neighbors in all global directions, when in fact they may have some practical wisdom to offer. Why are US murder rates higher than many other Western cultures? I can’t claim to have the answer to that all sorted out, but we need to listen to voices that may expose our blind spots. Let’s avoid being so proud to be an American that we fail to recognize that this comes just before the proverbial fall. Maybe nations like the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and others have something to contribute to the gun discussion.
#5 Stop trusting guns as a source of personal security.
Many Christians have loaded guns in their homes. They honorably wish to protect their family against home invasion. I respect the motives of many of these good folks and refuse to cast judgments about their character. With that said, does this say anything about where our trust is rooted? I worry that if I had a loaded gun in my home for the protection of life and limb, that my source of security would be fixated in something other than God.
If we can stop the previous five approaches to the issue of guns, then perhaps we could start implementing several life-giving approaches to the gun conversation.
#1 Start appealing to the New Testament (which includes the Gospel of Mark, amongst other things).
I’m not suggesting that we should thump our Bible in the national political debate, but Christians would do well to posture themselves as humble, love-filled, Jesus followers. In order for this to happen, we really need to recapture the peaceful vision of the New Testament as evidenced in the life of the early church. Anything we say about our understanding of guns and violence ought to be informed by our only holy text! If we do so, we may find that much of the bantering that happens from Christians of various stripes may be rendered void.
#2 Start choosing to trust in God’s faithfulness to see us through even the worst of “apocalypses.”
No matter the circumstances, it seems to me that our freedom comes from the love of God, the self-giving of Christ, and the liberating power of the Holy Spirit. No nation or weapon guarantees this; for proof, just look at the church during the reigns of Tiberius, Nero, or Domitian. When Revelation was penned, the Christians had to choose to embrace the path of the peaceful Christ, even though it often led to persecution, and at times, death. God’s faithfulness, as we experience life in the Kingdom of God, can become the only thing we cling to, no matter the cultural conditions. Even if a new “beast” rises up and forces us to take the “mark” (of course I’m speaking metaphorically and not regurgitating futurist views of the “end times”), we can learn to trust the Father. Guns don’t save, only Jesus does!
#3 Start building one’s identity on the biblical and relational person of Jesus Christ and nothing else.
Our identity as followers of Christ can become immersed in the life of God if we relinquish ourselves to the reign of God. This is a lifetime sanctifying pursuit, but is indeed the life Jesus invites us into. This is something that I continue to struggle with, but I don’t want to give up. If our identity becomes dominated by hobbies, accomplishments, family, social groups, or even guns, we have a serious discipleship gap. Fortunately, we have a gracious God. Nevertheless, let’s strive to be the kind of people who avoid abusing God’s grace for our wants and agendas. Imagine a life where Christ is the center of our identity!
#4 Start recognizing that we are citizens of a global kingdom, not an isolated nation called the United States.
The reason that I named my blog “Pangea” is because of the vision of the Kingdom of God as one that transcends borders. In Ancient Greek, Pangea means – “entire” “earth.” It was the “super-continent” that was formed prior to the tectonic plates eventually shifting to break apart the world into the seven continents we currently know. Where this becomes a theological concept is the idea that God’s kingdom is one that unites the world under God’s perfect reign. We are united as a global church that takes our citizenship from a kingdom devised of every tribe, nation, and tongue. To this kingdom and to the King of Kings we give our full and primary allegiance, even as we sojourn in a land that is called America. Our identity as Christ-followers transcends the borders of any nation or anything else our culture creates to divide people. Listening to fellow Christians from other nations as legitimate sources of wisdom is the part of recognizing our true citizenship. This includes how we understand gun control.
#5 Start trusting that Christ is our only source of security and that our only weaponry is “spiritual” and never lethal.
As I’ve already said, I believe nonviolence is clearly taught in the New Testament. Even if you struggle with my conclusion, we both can agree that the only time that a weapon is talked about positively in the New Testament is when Paul speaks of the “armor of God” (see this series). We have all we need in God’s own resources to execute justice in the world. The only weapons we actually need is God’s weaponry. God is the ultimate source of security for those who follow Jesus. And as followers, we need to get better at knowing the Spirit of God inwardly so that we are empowered to express the deeds of Christ outwardly. When Jesus went to the cross, he did not pull out a weapon to fight back. Rather, Jesus “entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” providing “…an example so that you might follow in his footsteps” (see: 1 Peter 2.21-24). By entrusting our lives to God, divine resources become ours in life and in death.
I believe that following Jesus is the best gun control ever. If we become a united people who choose Christ’s Kingdom over our agendas, I believe that much of the debate would be rendered irrelevant. May we stop giving in to the rhetoric of popular culture and start embodying the way of Jesus when it comes to guns.