One of the most vexing aspects of America’s gun laws is the apparent belief by many Christians that guns are compatible with their religion. That’s an interesting contention because guns were originally invented for one purpose: that is killing. Yet one of the most famous of the 10 Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill.”
Jesus was keen on the idea that our thoughts and even casual intentions can lead to evil actions. In Matthew 5: 27-29 Jesus addresses these issues:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
So Christians face a real dilemma when it comes to owning or carrying a gun. Even the “self-defense” argument often made on behalf of gun ownership denies the principle of placing one’s trust in God for protection. Either you trust God to protect you, or you don’t. God only knows your true heart.
Given the difficulty of parsing out the religious conundrums wrought by owning guns, a great many Americans take refuge behind laws supporting gun ownership. The claim to be a “law-abiding gun owner” appears rock solid when defending the right to own and bear arms. Yet even laws are no guarantee of a reasonable conscience.
The example of Jesus
We should recall that when Jesus embarked on his ministry by preaching in the country on the heels of John the Baptist, a real revolutionary by nature, the goal was to bring the grace of God to all. Yet Jesus and his disciples soon made a practice of breaking the laws set out by religious authorities bent on imposing tradition on the populace. Jesus spoke out against this brand of authority and the hypocrisy it inevitably produced. He even called the lawmakers defending their tradition a “brood of vipers” for their habit of lashing out at anyone who opposed their version of authority.
Jesus challenged even the nature of the laws laid out by religious authority. When a band of accusers threatened to stone a woman to death in the streets for the crime of adultery, Jesus turned to them and said, “Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.”
Questions of judgment
That was an indictment of those issuing personal judgment of others. But it also resonated all the way up the legalistic food chain to the religious authorities who implemented those laws in the first place. Jesus was challenging a system that had been corrupted by selfish aims and misguidedly self-righteous intentions. It was the literal and legalistic interpretation of scripture that had led to traditions concerned more with obeying the laws of religion than keeping with the true heart of God. Jesus considered this an abomination, especially as it led to the commodification of the temple itself, which had become a hall of commerce, not a house of prayer.
So Jesus fought the religious authorities and turned over the tables of commerce at the temple. Yet we all know how the story turned out. Rather than consider what Jesus had to say about the corrupt nature of tradition, the religious authorities reacted with anger toward him for questioning their practices. Ultimately they conspired to have him killed and even got someone else to do the dirty work of crucifixion. Thus they protected their reputation as the “good guys” who were defending the wholesome halls and hallmarks of tradition.
This is much the same position in which legalistic Christians find themselves today. They have sided with the gun lobby and conservative politicians who calculatedly ignore the first part of the Second Amendment, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the protection of a free state…” while emphasizing the more selfish part of the law in the “right to bear arms.”
This is better known as “cherry-picking,” the practice of taking the parts of scripture or the Constitution that support your personal aims while discarding or ignoring those that do not apply or actually contradict your selfish aims. This is the grand habit of legalistic Christians who conveniently ignore anachronistic laws in the Bible even while claiming its inerrancy and infallibility. This is the principle lie of Christian apologetics in this day and age. It also happens to be the principle lie of constitutional originalists as well. Thus it is no coincidence that we often find political and religious conservatives in allegiance to their parallel beliefs even to the point of claiming these worldviews trump all other forms of truth.
The gun lobby
The gun lobby in America certainly welcomes Christian support of its commercial and political aims. So does the NRA, which frequently presents itself as the chief authority on gun laws and rights in America.
But that leaves the rest of us to wonder about people who deny the truth of both their religion and the United States Constitution that clearly states guns must be well-regulated as part of a well-regulated militia.
The purposeful denial of this patently important introduction is executed in order to make the selfish claim that gun rights are by nature sacrosanct to American tradition and protect the very freedoms upon which America depends as a republic.
Yet how do we tell that to thousands of people that are mowed down by guns every year? Many of the guns used to conduct shootings are designed not just for killing, but for mass killing, sometimes taking multiple lives within 30 seconds of opening fire. And how do we tell that to the families to whom “thoughts and prayers” are so frequently directed…yet never really console them because their loved ones are the bloodied and dead victims of an extremely selfish interpretation of the Second Amendment that allows such events to happen.
Christians of conscience who actually know and understand the history of their religion should know better. But as we learned from the religious authorities who conspired against Jesus because he broke their laws and resisted their traditions, those in charge may claim to be on the right side of the law, but they are also frequently on the wrong side of history, and of God.