On June 17th, our nation bore witness to another mass murder at the hands of a person who should not have had access to a weapon. Predictably, the internet is also bearing witness to another flood of gun-supporters advocating that it’s not really about guns and that stricter laws won’t do anything useful aside from turn our nation into some authoritarian Marxist paradise led by Herr Obama (see crazy fantasies of a dystopian future). At this point, I cannot imagine what it would take for gun-advocates to concede, even a little, that America has a gun-problem. Yes, these shooting deaths are is related to mental health, no, they weren’t using automatic weapons, yes, people will access guns illegally if they want to, and no, a total crackdown wouldn’t solve all of the problems. But for crying out loud, waving our 2nd amendment flag surely isn’t changing anything! You do know what the definition of insanity is right? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
But this post isn’t simply about gun-control and gun-violence. This is directed at CHRISTIANS who believe that it is their God-given right and duty to bear arms, and that nobody, especially the government, can take those rights away.
I want to let you in on a little secret…are you ready?
…Jesus doesn’t care about your gun rights!
In fact, Jesus doesn’t care about guns at all, except that they are an expedient method of violence and death which serve as tools of the enemy to bring about division, destruction and tragedy. Although I would imagine that he is extremely disappointed that for a large percentage of Christians, guns and the kingdom of this world is trumping peace and the Kingdom of God. Nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that a person has the right to take up arms against their fellow person, or to own weapons to protect the lives of themselves or others. Not one single time does Jesus command us to encourage a culture of violence so that we can own the freedoms of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (where is this found in Scripture again?) And Jesus certainly never asks us to tout what we believe to be personal freedoms as Americans and Westerners at the clear expense of the lives of others, especially the innocent (i.e. children). (By the way, I find it fascinating that those who are the most vehement supporters of the right to bear arms, which has indirectly caused the massacres at Sandy Hook and Columbine as well as all of the accidental shooting deaths of children across America, are also rabid pro-life missionaries, whose stance is that all children have the right to live, except if that interferes with the right to bear arms.)
I am tired of sitting passively by while my blood pressure rises over the ways in which Christ-followers react to these tragic events by buckling down and sitting on their gun rights like an insane mother goose on her eggs. The question at hand for me is not whether or not gun control, restriction, or collection will solve the issue of gun violence and massive shooting deaths in America (though I suspect it would certainly help). The question is, why are so many Christians choosing to bow down to the golden calf of gun ownership and worship the NRA rather than to take up their crosses and follow Jesus? How are so many people who claim to follow Christ unable to recognize that the allegiance to “gun-rights,” even if only for personal safety, and the allegiance to Jesus are completely incompatible?
So, what are the primary reasons why Christians choose to own guns? Besides hunting, it comes down to self-defense and the belief that by owning and carrying a weapon, a person can when the time comes protect themselves, their families, or the general public from the violence of another person bearing a weapon. But what is the root of self-defense: self, the belief that self (including the selves of family) is most important. And the perseveration of self is the heart of the Kingdom of this World and the root of sin.
So, I think it is important, at this juncture, to be reminded of Jesus’ words while being taken prisoner prior to his crucifixion. They serve not only as an indicator of the ministry of Jesus, but as a benchmark of allegiance for all Christians who desire to truly be followers after Him.
John 18:36 (NRSV)
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Jesus himself declares that violence is not a part of God’s plan, but rather the way that the world chooses to deal with opposition.
Instead, he presents an alternative Kingdom, which celebrates peacemaking and the laying down of one’s life for another.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares “blessed are the peacemakers” and “blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” These two proclamations made by Jesus really work together as a cause and effect; if you decide to follow after Jesus’ example and actively make peace in the world, then you will no doubt experience persecution. But, Jesus also promises that His peacemaking disciples will receive heavenly rewards. Consider how Jesus’ words of peacemaking would’ve been received by the disciples and the people, who were expecting the Messiah to bring war against the Romans for occupying their land and attacking them because of their faith. His words would’ve challenged their ideas of God and their sense of justice against the Romans. And I would suggest that in the hearing and application of these words, our presuppositions about God and justice will be challenged because we too have culturally influenced expectations that justice means retribution. However, we should know that the path of following Christ through peacemaking is the path of most resistance and is the path that we are called to follow.
Now throughout church history, Christians have been persecuted and even killed for their faith; most of the disciples and apostles were martyred, the Roman Empire fed Christians to lions in the Coliseum, Mennonites were martyred because of their belief in adult baptism, and today we see Coptic Egyptian Christians killed for their faith by Isis, and African American Christians gunned down in church because of the color of their skin. Should we be surprised? Jesus warned us in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” And so maybe our response to violence is to retaliate, to protect ourselves, or to destroy the enemy, but remember what Jesus did when arrested and tortured and killed at the hands of his fellow Jews and the Romans? Jesus did nothing. He received what the world had to give because His ways weren’t ways of violence.
Living as a peacemaker and seeking righteousness in heart and action is to ultimately live like Jesus. This Kingdom lifestyle will stand out as foolish in the eyes of our culture and may result in negative consequences for the faithful.
So, what then are Christians called to do? We aren’t called to promote gun rights, but rather, we are called to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him.
The Greek word for “deny” is “aparneomaia.” This is a strong word which means to “reject.” And what are we being called to reject? We are rejecting our self-oriented, sinful nature which corrupts that perfect and life-giving image of God that we have been created into.
William Barclay writes:
“To deny one’s self means finally, once and for all to dethrone self and to enthrone God. To deny one ’s self means to obliterate self as the dominant principle of life, and to make God the ruling principle-more, the ruling passion-of life. The life of constant, self-denial is the life of constant assent to God.” (Barclay 176)
Denying yourself then means to leave what is safe, which in this case, is the right to own, carry and use a weapon. In Matthew 14:25-31, Jesus calls Peter out onto a lake as an act of faithfulness. Now, by all logic and laws of physics, this act was pure craziness. But Jesus was calling Peter to trust.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
When Christians choose to espouse gun-rights as the primary means of security, we should expect Jesus to point his finger at us and say “Ye of little faith.” So what does this mean? Do we let others rob us, hurt us, or hurt our family? If it means not using lethal violence against them, then yes. And by the way, I am married, I love my wife, and I would do anything to protect her, including stepping in the way of a bullet or non-lethally defending her against an attacker. But I refuse to carry a gun with the intent to murder another person to save her or myself because as a Christ-follower, I am called to meet violence with peace. I believe in following Jesus’ example in John 15:13, 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This, for many, is a terrifying prospect, but it is THE way of Christ.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins quotes something that his uncle Bilbo had said to him about the dangers of journeying.
"He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. "It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”
And so it is with the Christian’s journey in life. To step out in faith is to go on a dangerous adventure which we can’t plan for, predict, or know where we are going and what will happen when we get there. All we can know is that Jesus walked that path before us and calls us to be faithful in that same path.
This post is not directed at governmental policy or gun-ownership, but towards Christians who have lost their way in this great debate. We aren’t called to defend ourselves at the risk of hurting others, and we aren’t called to defend the war-machine which leaves so many Americans dead each year in the wake of its false sense of security. Christians, Jesus doesn’t care about your so-called right to bear arms. He never gave you that right. The only right you have is to deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow him. You can choose to ignore my words, to cast me off as some kind of leftist hippie-nut job. And that’s all well and good. But recognize that in doing so, you really aren’t casting off my words, but Jesus’ words and example.
So please, next time a massacre occurs at the hands of someone who shouldn’t have a gun, don’t post up some asinine Facebook meme about how someone used a box-cutter to hijack the plane that caused the events of 9/11, or how cars kill people too, or some quote by the founding fathers about how the government should be scared of its people. Instead, consider praying for the families of the deceased and for the perpetrator and his or her family. Consider what it might be like if the Christians in this nation would spend less time defending a right that is NOT AT ALL Christian, and instead sought to bring peace to a society broken by its obsession with guns.