The US, Christianity and Guns 19 August 2013
A professor at my Alma Mater, Moody Bible Institute, once posed this question to his students: “Do we love God more than our legal rights?” I have no idea how a European would answer than question, further what the idiosyncrasies of that answer would be; but for an American, this is a highly convoluted and immensely complicated question.
There is what I consider to be a disease in American Christianity: the unsettling combination of American Liberty mentality, and its adoption of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though the two schools of thought and practice are both inherently good, when combined they create a problem. To understand an American theological discussion on gun regulation, one must first understand this.
Gospel and Constitution
For many Christians, the Bible is the heart of the faith; the Bible is the literal word of God, and therefore, must not be changed or altered in anyway. Through the Bible, one can begin to see and understand the spirit, or ethos, of the Godhead whom it represents. Further, getting closer to the ethos of the Bible, and the Godhead it represents, is a very good thing. This disease I am talking about occurs when this same principle is used in connection to the Constitution of America.
For many Americans, the Constitution is the heart of the country; the Constitution is the literal hand of God working in America, and therefore, must not be changed or altered in anyway. Through the Constitution, one can begin to see and understand the spirit, or ethos, of God working in America, the country that best represents Him. Further, getting closer to the ethos of the Constitution, and the work of God it represents, is a very good thing. Yet to combine these two sacred documents to the extant one eliminates any distinction can lead down a troubling road.
The liberty mentality is entrenched in the American mentality, almost as an innate morality, and when viewed as such, can begin to look and feel much like an inner conscience, or conviction. To some American Christians, the conviction to follow the Constitution is much stronger than the conviction to follow the Gospel, if they can even decipher the difference. Understanding this problem in the American mentality, one can begin to understand the hotly contested issue of gun regulation.
Life and Death
There are two very important points that must be raised in a theological discussion of gun regulation: the idea of life and death in connection to the Bible, and more specifically Christ’s idea of the “least of these.”
The first point, the idea of life and death in the Bible. It becomes quite clear only three chapters into the first book of the Bible (Genesis), that God created life abundantly, yet, through humanity’s rejection of God, death entered Paradise. God created light to see, earth to live on, water to drink, vegetation to eat, and a companion for Adam; God provided all life-giving things to humanity.
Yet, when Adam and Eve rejected God’s gifts and rules, death entered the world. In very black and white terms, with God there is life, and without Him there is only death. This idea is carried out in the Gospel’s call to follow Christ, in that, humanity must either choose Christ and receive life, or reject Christ and receive death.
As it relates to gun regulation, there needs to be a presupposition in the mind of the Christian from the beginning. A presupposition that states that God has an inherent desire for life, and that death is in direct contradiction to who He is. That is why Christians in America, mostly from the Evangelical and Catholic camps, vehemently reject the idea of abortion.
They see it as death, and death is oppositional to God’s idea for humanity, therefore there is no room for abortion in humanity. To bring it back to gun regulation: if guns are producing death more than they are producing life, there ought to be no room for them in God’s plan for humanity.
Yet, here is where the American mentality convolutes things. It can be epitomized in a very common American saying, which states: “Guns do not kill people, people kill people,” as if to argue that guns themselves have nothing to do with gun violence or gun murder.
Rather, the problem is simply the people using the guns for violence or murder. Yet you cannot have gun violence without guns, and proponents of a rights-based approach to the right to bear arms overlook this crucial point. If God’s character directly opposes death, and the main function of a gun is to produce death, quite efficiently one might add, then surely God’s character directly opposes guns.
The second point that needs to be raised is Christ’s idea of the “least of these” in the Gospel. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 25, Christ paints a picture of the final judgment, where He will separate the sheep from the goats (the believers from the wicked).
He says to the believers, whatever good you did to those who were hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or imprisoned, whatever you did for the “least of these”, you did for me. This states that Christ has a heart for those who are in need, those who need help; additionally, He will bless people who bless those in need. So how does this relate to gun regulation in America?
Who are the “least of these” in connection with gun regulation? Who is being affected, negatively, the most in connection with gun violence? Is it the wealthy gun owner, or is it the helpless child that gets mowed down in a neighborhood plagued by gang violence? The answer ought to be apparent. People who are living in gang-controlled neighborhoods that do not participate in gang violence, children that live in these neighborhoods trying to walk to school, people sitting in a movie theater that get massacred at the hands of the mentally ill, college students sitting in a lecture hall that get murdered because the professor gave a bad grade, elementary students that get slaughtered in their classrooms at the hands of a lunatic; these are pictures of the victims of gun violence in America.
It would be one thing to present these examples if these events spanned a century, or a period of time that was particularly violent; it is a whole other issue when all of these events have happened in the last year in America.
The connection between the “least of these” and the victims of gun violence that have been portrayed above is evident. Christ speaks not of those who can protect themselves, not of those who have all they need, not of those who are practicing the full extent of their legal rights; rather, He is speaking of those who cannot protect themselves, those who do not have the things they need, those who cannot practice the full extent of their legal rights. Can a child protect itself from anyone with a gun? Absolutely not; a child is weak and susceptible to every kind of danger, especially gun violence.
The fact that death is oppositional to the character of God, and the fact that the Bible (more than once) speaks up for the helpless, stand in direct opposition to American gun laws, as they currently exist. If the main purpose of a gun is to quickly and efficiently produce death, then the main purpose of a gun stands in direct opposition to the character of God.
Yet, even if all this is true and valid, even if guns and the violence they produce stand in direct opposition to the character of God, these abstract arguments are turned practical through the laws written and enforced in America. Whatever abstract argument one can come up with, that argument still has to be interpreted in vernacular language and passed into law. This point is brought up because human law is not perfect; even when human law is trying to produce good in the world, it is still not perfect.
No amount, quantitative or qualitative, of gun regulation will stop gun violence; just as no amount of criminal regulation, no matter the subject material, will stop all criminal behavior. So this begs the question for many: why have gun regulation, if it does not eliminate gun violence? Why take away the guns of American citizens if gun violence will never be eliminated?
The argument goes as such; gun regulation will not bring about less gun violence, then what is the point of gun regulation? Furthermore, if tax dollars are being spent on government employees ceaselessly arguing what to put into law, and making the lives of current gun-owners much more stressful, what good is achieved?
Gun owners have to pay higher prices on guns and bullets, they have to get new registrations and other government forms completed on guns they already own. All of this work and money is for nothing if the new laws do not bring about less gun violence. Those who argue against gun regulation are keen to point out such fallacies.
So where does all of this leave American Christians on the issue of gun regulation? It has been established that gun violence, especially the kind being produced in America, is oppositional to God’s character as the Bible understands it. God’s character demands life, and opposes death, and if the main purpose of a gun is to produce death, then the main purpose of a gun is oppositional to God’s character.
Moreover, Christ demands that Christians protect those who cannot protect themselves, and it is quite obvious that most victims of gun violence cannot protect themselves. Christ’s call in the Gospel of St. John 15:13 states: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
To me the answer is clear. Giving up one’s guns is nowhere near the price of giving up one’s life, making it obvious where Christ would stand if gun regulation produced less gun violence. Yet, if these laws concerning gun regulation produce nothing, or even worse, more gun violence, then Christians cannot be satisfied with that either.