Few things get my hackles up like the gun debates that descend on America from time to time. They make me behave badly. They make me obsess. They cause me to cruise social media, constantly looking for reasons to be encouraged or angered. They compel me to come up with (what I think) are clever lines and crafty arguments. In the throes of a gun debate I lob memes like hand-grenades into online conversations to encourage the like minded and frustrate my ideological foes.
And it is, frequently, very sinful of me.
In the midst of a gun-debate I lose my focus. I am distracted from prayer and dissuaded from scripture. I could even make the case that if I am not very careful, this can be a kind of idolatry for me. I have been reading a book by Puritan author Thomas Watson (writing in the 17th century) titled, Heaven Taken By Storm. One of the disciplines he recommends is self-examination. ‘Reflective acts are hardest. The eye can see everything but itself. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard to find out our own.’ Indeed. And so I have been reflecting on this issue and my behavior.
In my reflection I have asked myself if engagement in this debate is harming my Christian witness. Sorry, that’s ‘Christian-es.’ What I mean is this: does my involvement in this reflect badly on my faith? More to the point, does it reflect badly on Jesus whom I allege to serve and worship?
This is not an easy question. On the surface, the answer is yes. If we are pro-life, we are pro-life. And we should do whatever we can to save and protect lives. In the easy logic of the age, a Christian should do anything and everything to prevent violence because Jesus called us to love one another. There’s one side of the inner debate. And pretty powerful stuff for those of us who worship the guy who said ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.’
I recognize in this debate that very often Christians wander down strange pathways. There’s no question that American evangelical Christianity has a kind of militant edge at times. We tend towards great patriotism and often nationalism. And it may be that we who preach the sanctity of life are too easily entertained by violence and also too comfortable with it in our world.
I’ve been reflecting on this.
But this isn’t an easy self-examination. So I’ll go further. As I’ve considered the question of bans of certain weapons, I have come to a realization. I’ve said before that I don’t own an AR-15, AK-47 or any other ‘scary gun.’ And in truth (and this is the gift of reflection), if I never do my life will not be substantially changed or diminished. There it is. I have firearms a-plenty and the absence of one of those rifles will not somehow crush my enjoyment of firearms.
On the other hand, I have realized one of the reasons I lob those ideological grenades (other than my own sinful nature), and one of the reasons I engage in this discussion. That reason is that I hate to see bad solutions to real problems; or in some instances, non-problems, (for example President Trump’s ill-conceived tariff idea).
I hate to see misrepresentation, collective punishment, and the rule of emotion over reality. These things bother me a great deal. So when commenters speak or write about guns but clearly have next to no personal experience or acquired knowledge of them, it rankles me. It is poor debate. And it marginalizes literally millions of good gun-owners with both experience and acquired knowledge who 1) do nothing wrong and 2) just want to be left alone.
I cannot concede to arguments and ideas so poorly formed and so unlikely to make the world better, just so that I can virtue signal in the arena of ideas. That is a rejection of truth. And even as I want to love and make the world better, I must do so using truth and my own experience and knowledge.
It is for a similar reason that I am not a ‘young-earth’ creationist who rejects evolution out of hand. Not only do I disagree with that way of seeing the world, it is not a hill I will die on in pursuit of my desire to reach out to those who don’t believe…but who I wish would.
Honestly, if I thought an ‘assault-style weapons’ ban would make the world genuinely safer, I’d probably support it. But I don’t. And I don’t.
Which brings me to the other reason I struggle with this question. This is where theology meets politics and history. I believe that humans are sinful and in need of redemption. As such, some humans are particularly dangerous. Dangerous people can band together and form tribes, gangs, armies, revolutions, even governments. In the process they cause great harm and enormous suffering in the world.
The 20th Century was a remarkable example of this as hundreds of millions died at the hands of their governments. And most of them were conveniently disarmed by their allegedly well-meaning leaders, in the interest of peace and safety. Men and women, girls and boys, babies, all butchered and often most cruelly.
I believe that the framers of the Constitution of the United States understood this well, and wanted citizens to be able to serve as a balance against easy tyranny. Modern Americans, safe in their homes, enjoying the Internet, eating too much and living lives that historically only kings could manage, have an inability to believe that any bad thing can happen here. Even as they wring their hands over endless reports of Nazis and white-supremacists, they in reality don’t expect anyone to ever have the ability to oppress them.
But even great, modern nations fall. It is the way of the world. The great terrors of the last hundred or so years blossomed in countries with modernity, with technology and education. Financial down-turns, extremist ideologues, effective organization of dissent, and suddenly suffering was everywhere. Even today the people of North Korea suffer horribly and the women of Iran are tortured for taking off their veils in protest.
Scary rifles exist for this purpose above all others; so that a government may pause before oppressing the people. They may still do it, but they must count the cost. And when men and women can defend themselves, they can cause remarkable pain to their oppressors. Whether those oppressors merely want to disarm them or want to take their speech, children, property or rule their ethics from on high, the threat of violence in response is not without benefit.
This may seem un-Christian. I’m reflecting on this. But I know that this nation has more religious freedom than any other, and part of what guarantees that is the fact that the first amendment rests solidly on the second.
Many people consider this a kind of right-wing madness, a pathological paranoia, an antiquated view of politics. But for one who believes in the evil of the (redeemable) human heart, and has knowledge of the humanitarian tragedies of the last couple of centuries, for us, this is the reason that we balance our Christianity with our willingness to protect freedom, to protect truth and protect the innocent.
It may be madness. It may be that on that Great Day of judgment Jesus looks down and says to me, ‘seriously? Guns?’
It may be that he will open my eyes to some other truth. Indeed he has. I recognize my penchant for idolatry and argument. And that the worry I chose to eschew for Lent must also include ridiculous worries over politics and policies when I say that I serve the God of the Universe who is in charge of time and eternity.
I digress. In the end, I may be dead wrong. For now I don’t think I am.
So I will continue to make my points, but I will try to do it in love and in respect for the views of others.
And I will continue to hope for a world where none of this matters. Where sin and death and sorrow are no more. For in the end, a beautiful truth remains. Dear brothers and sisters who are fellow Christians, and who are fellow gun-owners and advocates, we pray for the coming of a kingdom where there will be no need for violence, ever again. When we pray ‘thy kingdom come,’ this is what we’re asking for; not a place with open carry and abundant free ammunition, but a place where evil never shows its face again.
If I have offended, I am sorry. I am a work in progress in hopes of sanctification.
But like everyone, I am a mixed bag of confused motives and beliefs. I’m trying.
Just like you.