Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have been locked in some sort of Olympics-induced haze, then you have probably been aware of the increased debates regarding the nation’s gun control laws over the last few weeks. Sadly, the catalyst for this debate was the tragic theater shooting of about 70 people in Aurora, Colorado in the early hours of July 20th. As the country was still in shock, the question was inevitably asked: “What should be done about our country’s gun control laws?” While it may be too early to tell, the shooting deaths of seven people at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Sunday will most likely add further fuel to the debate.
As one might expect when it comes to issues of politics in the United States, the debate became almost instantly polarized between pro-gun advocates on one side, and pro-legislation advocates on the other side. While there has already been gallons of ink devoted to the political debate regarding gun control (and there will likely be gallons more to come) the broader issue for believers is how exactly Christians should talk about the issue of gun control.
The first issue that must be seriously addressed in a discussion of firearms in America is the “culture of violence” that seems to be a part of much of the American consciousness.
While the historical factors that have led to this “culture of violence” are too extensive and detailed to discuss here, in short, the combined factors of the nation’s Revolutionary War origins, an extended frontier period, where violence and vigilantism were validated, as well as several other major social and historical factors, have contributed to an American ethos which, still to this day, legitimates violence on some level as a means to achieve one’s goals.
Now, thankfully we do not see people beating each other up at the grocery store for the last package of Oreos on a regular basis (only on Black Friday sales for cheap TVs), but we can see in our movies, television shows, books, and overarching culture that violence is still seen as a somewhat legitimate—often glamorous—method for achieving one’s goals, whether it be overt or covert in nature. This ethos has managed to make its way into some of our laws as well.
It’s not that these types of laws are inherently, morally wrong. The thing that disturbs me about such laws is that they not only prop up the “culture of violence” and its legitimacy, it’s that they also promote a “culture of fear.” Subliminally, these laws tell us that we must always be on guard, always ready for that wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing waiting to pounce. Rather than teaching us to love our neighbor, as Jesus taught, these laws teach us to fear our neighbor. They teach us to exist in a state of violent readiness, a state of paranoia. This is no way to live, especially for followers of Jesus.
Now, I am not a pacifist (I am from Oklahoma after all.) I believe that an individual has the right to protect his or herself and loved ones. People do have a fundamental right to live. But that does not mean we must always be on the lookout for trouble, cautiously waiting for that one day when it all breaks loose. Jesus taught us a fundamentally different way to live, not just to exist.
Peace, hope, love, and kindness. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of the followers of Jesus. We are opposed to a culture of fear and violence, because these are not the ways of Jesus.
So what does this mean for the issue of gun control in the United States? I cannot give a definitive answer to that question. It is an important issue, one that must be addressed with level heads and civil discourse. The hyper-partisan yelling matches that have polarized the country will not work, especially not in the Church. I could tell you my opinions on what should be done about gun control, but I won’t. One voice claiming authority on the subject is no way to conduct such a discussion.
The first step is rejecting the culture of violence and fear, which so many of us have bought into, myself included. We are not naïve. We realize that there is evil in the world; that is seen plainly enough in the Scriptures we hold to and with the eyes God has given us. But we refuse to be a pessimist or a cynic. So let’s address the “culture of violence.” Let’s address the “culture of fear.” Then let’s look at the issue of gun control and earnestly address it from a posture of love, humility and hope. Hope for a future where violence and guns will no longer be necessary at all—God’s future. Now, wasn’t there a verse somewhere about swords one day being beaten into plowshares?