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Why Aren’t Christians Pushing for Gun Control?

"Jesus was crystal clear on the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to violence, on whether arming ourselves with fists or swords or guns is the way to protect ourselves from fists and swords and guns." So says Ellen Painter Dollar today in response to the horrific deaths of twelve people. Why are American Christians so slow to question our society's knee-jerk protections of the right to bear arms?

Please read the entire post here. Here is a highlight, including the sentence I already quoted:

Christians ultimately look for guidance not only to common sense, but to Jesus and God as portrayed in Scripture. On issues of sexuality and babies, Jesus and the Bible can be a bit murky. Yet Christians consistently speak on these issues with certainty and passion. In contrast, Jesus was crystal clear on the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to violence, on whether arming ourselves with fists or swords or guns is the way to protect ourselves from fists and swords and guns. Nonviolence—turning the other cheek, keeping your sword in its scabbard even under threat, loving your enemy—is a centerpiece of Jesus’s gospel.

And yet Christians (at least, the conservative Christians who frequently represent our faith, however incompletely, on the national media stage) have largely been silent on guns for more than a decade, as the front-page stories have piled up—lone gunmen able to give deadly voice to their rage, alienation, and mental illness by mowing down fistfuls of human beings in seconds, because they could easily obtain weapons that make such fast and furious violence possible.

Dollar wants to know why Christians have been silent on this issue, at best. I second her challenge. Americans willingly accept limitations on our First Amendment rights -- we believe in freedom of the press, for example, but we also have checks in place in cases of libel; we uphold the freedom of religion, but not where such freedoms impinge upon the rights and safety of other people. But Second Amendment rights are largely off the table. Politicians know that to discuss their limitation would be political suicide. And as Dollar points out, even Christian publications don't want to touch the issue, judging from Christianity Today's decision to kill a gun control post she wrote last year.

Second Amendment rights are not absolute. They arose in a particular historical context, when a new nation remembered how British soldiers had disarmed ordinary colonial families and quartered themselves in the colonists' homes. Disarming the colonists robbed them of their right not only to defend themselves against attack, but to hunt for their food. Guns were often necessary tools of survival in the late eighteenth century.

The framers of our Constitution and the authors of the Bill of Rights could not have conceived that the Second Amendment would be used to defend the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons purchased anonymously on something called "the Internet" and inflicted upon fellow citizens in peacetime.

Having just read Os Guinness's new book on sustainable freedom (see Saturday's post), I am aware that freedom and license are not the same. What Americans are guaranteed is freedom. What we are practicing, however, is license -- an unchecked and potentially dangerous licentiousness that exacts a human cost.

When will Christians step up to the plate to question this? Why are the Christians who think it is God's will to close down abortion clinics in the name of life not equally outraged at the way gun culture threatens life?

Tags: aurora, colo., christianity today, christians and guns, ellen painter dollar, flunking sainthood, gun control, patheos blogs, second amendment rights, shootings in aurora, colo.

Comments

  1. “we believe in freedom of the press, for example, but we also have checks in place in cases of libel; we uphold the freedom of religion, but not where such freedoms impinge upon the rights and safety of other people. But Second Amendment rights are largely off the table.”

    The perpetrator is in jail right now precisely because the Second Amendment does not allow anyone to impinge on the rights and safety of other people.  It’s analogous to the check we have on libel: our recourse is to prosecute someone after the fact. 

    As for the OP, the problem with Jesus’ counsel is that it applies equally to violence by the police and military, and an apparent demand that rather than prosecute or stop thieves and rapists, we turn the other cheek and offer them our cloak, also. I imagine that these outcomes lead most Christians to interpret his statements as aspirational.

  2. I don’t condone the purchase of semi-automatic or automatic weapons, but the fact is, making laws does not prevent lawless people from getting guns. I would support stricter regulations on semi-automatics and automatics, but I believe I have the right to defend myself and my family. If all of Christ’s followers just laid down and gave up when persecuted, there would be no Christians in the world today. In the Old Testament, God not only supports, but He COMMANDS His people to kill others! I’m not saying that He commands that nowadays, but think, do you believe He wants us to let our families and friends become victims to all of the psychopaths and lawless people out there? I cannot believe that. There are things worth defending in this world, even to bloodshed, and I have the right to do what is necessary to defend them, including getting a weapon. I don’t believe every man has the right to an AK-47, but I do believe having a firearm doesn’t mean that you are blatantly rejecting Christ’s teachings.

  3. It’s the same reason that American Christians tend to be just fine with the fact that our nation obscenely spends more on our military than nearly all of the other nations of the world do on theirs - combined.

    Answer: Because more of us apparently place our faith in guns than in God.

  4. Wow, Roger, you are so right. I have never heard an argument against guns more succinctly and (to my mind) correctly put. Thank you.

  5. There’s lots of things for Christians to ponder here related to this issue. However, I must point out that Jesus and the Bible are not “murky” on the issues of sex and babies. Quite the contrary. And I also need to stress what, to Christians, should be the obvious: that more than any of the big problems we are facing, the biggest one we have is a SIN problem. Unless we address the spiritual problem of individuals, and our rebellion against God as a people, the solution for which Christ’s death and resurrection achieved, we can legislate all we want and there will be no hope of redeeming our culture. Furthermore, I wonder how Jesus, who, as you have pointed out, was all for non-violence, feels about the fact that 50 millions babies, in a most violent act, have been aborted legally since 1973. As Christians we believe that every human life is precious—the 12 that were killed on Friday as well as those 50 million, all created in the image of God and loved by him, and whom I mourn equally.

  6. The framers of the Constitution knew quite precisely what they were doing. They had just fought a war of liberation from a tyrannical occupation force that had a standing militia, very well armed. The people however were never to be deprived of the right to keep and bear arms. And it was not simply to “hunt for food” but to protect themselves against tyranny and those who would threaten them.

    Further, as a Lutheran pastor and avid gun collector and shooter, I consider bearing a firearm to be an act of love for neighbor. The police respond to problems, they can not protect me from them.

    In an evil world, evil people do evil things. I am thankful that in this nation I’m permitted to keep and bear arms to defend myself, my family and others. As a Lutheran Christian I view this as a way of being faithful to the commandments that tell me I am to help my neighbor to improve and protect his body and life and all that is his. Here is how Luther explains our duties according to the commandment, “You shall not murder” “We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].” And here is how Luther explains our duty according to the seventh commandment, “You shall not steal.” “We should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business [that his means are preserved and his condition is improved].” From the Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther.

  7. Oh, one more thing….nobody can purchase assault weapons “anonymously” on the Internet. That simply does not happen. Every person must go through a federal background check and be approved to own any firearm they purchase via mail order, from any source.

    Perhaps you should turn your attention to those who knew what this young man was like and apparently did not lift a finger to intervene in what was clearly an ever deepening mental illness.

    Your are ascribing blame to the wrong sources and persons.

    And, by the way, we saw how effective the “gun free zone” worked, didn’t we?

  8. The words of Jesus
    Luke 22:36
    Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

  9. Wow - has this conversation ranged all over the place. I am not sure what Matt is saying but it sounds like he is suggesting that the status quo is just fine because we can always arrest and punish people after they kill a couple of dozen innocent folk. If I am reading that wrong Matt - I apologize - feel free to correct me. Secondly I find myself wondering what the second amendment has to do with the discussion of what Jesus might say to America’s love affair with guns. We are inarguably the most violent western nation on the planet. We have by far the highest homicide rate per capita. And we are the most churches people of the developed nation. Does this not all suggest to anyone else that something is deeply wrong. That maybe we Christians have become so American that we accept the violence around us as normal and don’t see the need to take steps to deal with it. I certainly agree with Terri that our deepest problem is sin, but dealing with sin requires that we name it and face and maybe one of the sins of our specific culture is that we accept and even celebrate violence far too much. I know it is not easy to believe that Jesus would encourage us to allow our children to be killed but I also can’t get even a whiff in the gospels of a Jesus who would suggest anything like, “You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you go out and buy yourself guns to protect yourself from your enemies.

    I’m wrestling with this one because I am not likely to let people hurt my loved ones either - but it does not then follow that Jesus would be cool with me stock piling weapons. I mean - I thought Jesus came to show us a better way.

  10. My reading of scripture teaches me that Jesus would have us learn self restraint,
    self discipline and the schooling of our emotions. He does not advocate force, at
    all, that I can see. I believe that he understood that we have complete freedom to choose our path, and that this journey can be precarious and dangerous, in both a
    physical and spiritual sense. Even as he was being detained by the Roman soldiers and Peter cut off the ear of one of the guards, he told Peter to put away his sword,
    not to get rid of it. Forcing people to be righteous is not the answer, and cannot work. Confiscating guns will not make people righteous. Nor will it prevent evil from acting. As much as we hate to see all this violence and evil, we cannot take away people’s right to choose their actions. I think that would be counter the teachings of Christ.

    I believe that the parable of the sower tells us, among other things, of the different outcomes in life. Not all will arrive at the destination that Jesus would want. Some will fall victim to evil, and some will not. Some will embrace evil and others will not. But as Christians must we believe in His atoning sacrifice and that its power can save us in the end. All those who die in the Lord will go to His rest.

  11. Thank you David for quoting Luke 22:36 which no one has yet to even discuss.  Jesus commands His disciples to arm themselves, for the very reason that people would after them and they would be under persecution.

  12. Not to be argumentative but…. are we really going to base our embrace of guns on one verse? Especially when in the immediate aftermath of this verse Jesus tells the disciples to put away their swords, and the fact that in Matthew’s version of this story Jesus tells his disciples that they who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Besides - I don’t think it is about finding a verse here or there that supports what we want to believe, it is about following Jesus by understanding the message he preached as a whole, and the message he lived which is clearly one that rejects violence as a solution to life’s problems.

  13. To eliminate the threat from firearms, you would have to abrogate not only the Second Amendment, but also the Fourth Amendment.  Only if the police could walk into your house and search it from top to bottom could the government ensure that no one was higding a pistol or rifle.  Then we would be perfectly safe—except against the totalitarian state that would now have the means to arbitrarily invade our lives at a whim, with total monopoly on the any weapons. 

    We know how to make a place safe from gun violence:  It requires guards and metal detectors ot other sophisticated search devices that can find firearms, and guarantee that if I am unarmed, so will be everyone else in the airport, or the courthouse, or other public venue.  But unless you operate a way to actually detect the guns being hled by people with criminal intent, any rule that merely tells people they will be punished for bringing a firearm into a place, like a movie theater, offers no real deterrent to people who re willinig to commit multiple murder. 

    Washington DC had a draconian gun law for years that prohibited people from even having a firearm in their home.  The homicide rate in DC showed that the city was lying to itself about any protection such laws offer the law abiding. 

    Given a choice between a society where I depend on the mercy of police who have unlimited power to search myself, my car, my office, my home art any time of the day or night, and a soceity where I can depend on myself and my good neighbors to help defend me against viiolence, I would rather take the latter option.  Totalitarian countries have proven over and over again that there is far more violence involved in prohbiting citizens form having firearms than there is in allowing owenrship.  At least if a criminal shoots at me, I can shoot back and defend myself legally.  If the police can intrude in my life at a whim, I am no more than a slave, and self defense would be a crime. 

    A few years ago, a gunman started atytacking people at a shopping mall in Salt Lake City.  Within a couple of minutes, an off-duty policeman fired at hiim and stopped him from continuing his attack, and within a couple more minutes other uniformed officers were on scene and killed him.  The shopper with a gun saved the lives of several people that day, even though police were at the scene within 5 minutes.  If we encourage more law abiding citizens to carry their firearms in public places, it will cut back on the harm that these senseless killers can do, especially as they begin to understand that they could be shot by the next person they see after they start firing. 

    One simple expedient would decrease the risk of a repeat of the murders in Aurora:  Invite every law enforcement officer to attend any movie with his or her family for FREE, whether in or out of uniform.  The idiot who attacked people in Aurora was clearly afraid of being shot himself, with all his body armor.  If he had known there was likely to be a couple of policemen in the theater complex, he might well have changed his plans. 

    the thinkiong that “guns kill people” was causing idiots in the Department of Transportation to oppose the arming of commercial airline pilots so they could defend themselves against hijackers, somehow out of fear that pilots might kill passengers.  but a pilot can kill passengers by crashing the plane.  they don;t need a gun.  Many pilots learned to fly in the military, and may continue to serve in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.  On any given day,. if a plane is hijacked, one of the fighters that responds and may be asked to shoot the plane down could be flown by a commercial pilot pulling Reserve duty.  If he can be trusted to fly aan F-16 with missiles and a machine gun, he can surely be trusted to carry a pistol on board.  We nee to TRUST good peoople with firearms, and we will then have real protection against BAD people with firearms.

  14. One other point.  It is one thing to say you will “turn the other cheek.”  but when someone is shooting at you, the bullet will go through both cheeks.  A doctrine of refusing to oppose evil will result in 12 people dead and 60 wounded.  How is that a solution?  We have police to defe3nd us against killers, and they are trained to disable and if necessary shoot to kill, even if the attacker is retreating. If we as a society can endorse violence under certyain circumstances carried out by police, or the military, we should recognize that it is legitimate to allow violence in defense of the innocent.  I don;t see anything in scripture that says I have an obligation to let a rapist attack my family, or a violent bigot hit them with a baseball bat, or blow thenm up with a bomb, or shoot them with a gun, or attack with a sword.  If I have the means to defend them that involves harming and even killing a violent attacker, I will do it with a clear conscience.  Those who are so enamored of pacifism refuse to admit that a strict pacifism leads to death of the innocent.  It does NOT protect against violence.  the violent don;t care if you don;t defend yourserlf.  they will not desist.  They love to hurt the innocent and helpless.  As long as we live in a world where evil men live, we need to be prepared to physically stop them, and often the only way to do it is with tools that turn violence back on them, who so richly deserve it.

  15. The “argument” of this article is so belligerent and foolish that it doesn’t even warrant a response, except to say, if this person (the article’s author) is so fond of Scripture, why have they completely ignored Luke 22:36, in which Jesus commands his disciples to arm themselves before entering a city: “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
    Moral of the story: don’t just pick one section of Scripture and build a theology off of it.  Look at the who council of Scripture.  Additionally, anyone who is not willing and in a ready position to protect their family from a psychotic executioner should be in a mental home themselves, and stripped of all rights.  Those who abdicated their right and obligation to protect their loved ones are now dead, possessing no more rights.  The only one who still has all of his rights in tact is the murderer.  Think about it.  To fail to plan to protect your family, is to agree that it will be “ok” to stand by and watch them executed by a murderer, on his time frame, in his own way.  THAT is pathetic.

  16. I guess I should not assume that everyone who reads this blog is a christian but I wonder who we are when we start calling those who disagree with us idiots and crazy - deserving of being in a mental home. I think Jesus also said that they will know us by our love for each other. The conclusion that I come to when I read the four gospels and listen to Jesus’ teachings is that the single distinguishing characteristic of those who follow Jesus is love for God and for the neighbor. The second and fourth amendments to the constitution of the United States are not at issue here. The question is what is the consistent teaching of Jesus Christ regarding how we relate to one another. It seems to me - in my humble opinion - that Jesus was generally for love and against violence. You can make all the constitutional arguments you want, but for those of us who are Christians - the teachings of Jesus trump the constitution - don’t they?

    I guess I would say to Jacob that you did exactly what you are arguing against - you picked out one verse of scripture and used it to make your argument. I accept that Jesus spoke those words - but he spoke a lot more words that indicate that we are to - at least in a general way - seek to avoid violence. That’s all I am saying.

  17. A Christian’s thoughts on the gun control debate:
    http://manchesterfamily.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/the-smoking-gun-debate/

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