taking the words of Jesus seriously

I attend an Evangelical seminary, one of the largest in the country, in the heart of the Bible belt. This seminary is also in the heart of gun country. The city to the east of us recently declared themselves a 2nd Amendment sanctuary city. I really love my seminary, particularly the faculty in the school where I am working toward my PhD. 

No school is perfect, however. During the 2018–19 school year, an armed, plainclothes police officer started joining us for our chapel worship services, sidearm in full view of everyone who entered the building. There was no forum, no conversation, no announcement. One day we were worshipping in chapel without weapons and the next day we were worshipping in the presence of a loaded gun.

What I find most remarkable about the lack of candor about this decision is that we have world-class biblical studies, theology, and ethics departments. Certainly we have the necessary level of critical thinking to at least have a conversation about the rationale and implications of this decision.

Going to seminary is incredibly formative. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be formed academically and spiritually by faculty, staff, and fellow students. I have been turned inside-out and flipped upside down on so many points that I scarcely resemble the Christian I was entering seminary in the first place. We take a course in catechesis where we learn how to form others into the image of Christ. We take New Testament courses to teach the Bible proficiently. We take pastoral care courses to learn how to counsel others. And we worship together in our beautiful chapel building, and a great deal of our formation as ministers happens here.

James K. A. Smith, in his Desiring the Kingdom, demonstrates that we are, always and everywhere, being formed into certain kinds of peoples. We are more than just rational creatures, who make logical, spreadsheet-like decisions. Rather, we are “gut-thinking” people: “We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends” (p. 40).

READ: Ears to Hear

Smith uses the example of the shopping mall to show how a materialistic culture shapes us into consuming beings through the liturgy of shopping. Pilgrim shoppers flocking to the glass-topped cathedral mall. Seekers are oriented through mall maps, and all shoppers worship according to the consumerist calendar of holiday and seasonal clearance sales.

If you accept Smith’s thesis that we are formed below the level of our thought life as much as by our critical thinking, then how are we forming future pastors and church leaders through the liturgy of guns in our worship services? What are we teaching our students below the level of their thought life? I propose that we are teaching the beliefs of the NRA: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

We are not teaching as Christ taught us. Jesus warned his followers that following him would be costly (Luke 14:25–33). Why? Because the world hates Christ and followers of Jesus, if they are following properly, will receive the same (Matthew 5:11–12). With a gun in our worship services, we are teaching the world that following Jesus need not cost us all the much, actually. We can protect ourselves against the evil of this world that Jesus gave himself up to for others. What is doubly problematic is that we are training ministers to take this practice into worship services all over the country, which is literally dying for a better message.

I think the broader Church wants to have this conversation. Barna Group did some research into Christians’ views on violence and found that 57% of Christians believe they have a right to defend themselves but only 11% think Jesus would agree with them. If we are out of sync with Jesus, then the fault is our own. We must do the necessary work of becoming peacemakers and increasing our imagination for peace.

Christopher will host a conference on peacemaking and gun violence on April 3-4. Read more about it at pursuingpeace.com.

About The Author


Christopher Ashley is Pastor of Peace at Plowshares Church in Lexington, KY, as well as a PhD student in Intercultural studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is interested in the movement of Christians from right-wing political evangelicalism into historic peace traditions, which is also autobiographical. He lives with his wife, Alicia, and two sons, Owen and Ira, who are hilarious.

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