It has now been several months since I last posted on this page. There are several reasons for this, but the two main reasons are:
- I’ve had the content of today’s post in mind for a long time, but I have been hesitant to write it because I know I am dealing with a topic today that many feel strongly about, and I know that many people who read this will likely not agree with my stance or rationale. But I knew that if I shelved this post and worked on others, I would just never actually write this one. I didn’t want to do that. Also, for those of you who have differing views, that’s fine. We are all free to think for ourselves and come to different conclusions. Please don’t take personal offense if I disagree with something you strongly believe. Instead, post a (civil) comment and continue the discussion.
- Every time I would think to sit down and write, another event or news story would occur that added new information and perspective to the topic. You’ll notice that I am linking to several news articles and videos today.
With these introductory comments out of the way, let’s get on with the actual content of today’s post.
I saw the image above in the ads of the Saturday edition of the New Castle News, alongside the typical grocery store sales ads and RedPlum coupons. It was an ad for Henry Repeating Arms with a mail form to receive a free sticker and catalog.
The full ad had the following text below the image, next to pictures of some of the company’s firearms:
“We at Henry Repeating Arms believe in our God given religious freedom and our right to bear arms. We are proud, not ashamed, to embrace two of our country’s greatest gifts. During this past presidential election folks like us were mocked for our beliefs, but we know better. It’s simple. We believe in God, Our Country and Our Freedoms. If you do too, we’d love to hear from you. If you don’t, that’s fine too – it’s another freedom we’re proud of, and we apologize if this ad has offended you.”
I certainly was offended…
I was offended on a few different levels. First, this statement is in response to something that Barack Obama stated during the election campaign in 2008. Ever since then, those on the conservative end of the spectrum have held these words against the president. This ad is originally from 2009, but it was likely re-used this year after Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump in which she again (kind of) quoted the original statement. The problem is that President Obama did not mean the statement to be taken the way that it was. Here is what he meant: “Obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that,” Obama said in a phone interview on Saturday with the Winston-Salem Journal. “But the underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully so.”
He continued, “People feel like Washington’s not listening to them, and as a consequence, they find that they can only rely on the traditions and the things that have been important to them for generation after generation. Faith. Family. Traditions like hunting. And they get frustrated.” -source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2008/april/obama-they-cling-to-guns-or-religion.html
Everyone seems to have taken the statement very personally and negatively when the president actually simply meant to give voice to the frustrations that people have and the traditions (whether good or bad) that they fall back on in the midst of frustrating and difficult times. It’s like people would be saying: “well, I don’t have a job and my financial situation is still terrible, but at least I have my faith, my traditions, and my freedoms.” That’s not anywhere near as bad a statement as it has been portrayed. I do not appreciate when statements made by politicians, or anyone else, are removed entirely from their context in order to make a point (look at what happens when we do this to the Bible, as well…)
Second, and more importantly, I was offended by the matter-of-fact nature of the text and image, as if this position is the only rational and faithful way of looking at the right to bear arms. That image of having a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other seems to be entirely incompatible with my understanding of the gospel.
I don’t often like to use this statement in legitimate arguments, but do you remember those WWJD bracelets from the ’90s? I think this is an appropriate time to ask “What would Jesus do?”
I don’t think Jesus would ever be seen carrying a gun on one side of his waist and a Bible on the other.
I don’t think Jesus would ever be seen carrying a gun at all.
I am fairly certain that Jesus never advocated in favor of violence. Yes, there are passages where Jesus says that violence and division and war will come as a result of his coming into the world, but he means that those who oppose his kingdom or do not recognize him for who he is will react in such a way. He does not advocate that his followers instigate or participate in violence.
The one who teaches us to “turn the other cheek” would not want us to fight gun violence with more gun violence.
For me, my understanding of the gospel leads me to the conclusion that I should not own a gun. However, if you’re a Christian who owns guns for hunting or personal protection, that is fine. It’s your right to do so as a US citizen. But please never hold your gun and your Bible at the same time. Please understand that the gospel is a message of unconditional love and that it advocates for peace no matter the cost.
When I first thought about writing this post, it was shortly after the tragic nightclub shooting in Florida where a man acted out of hate in killing 49 people who happened to identify as LGBTQ. I saw some awful things posted on social media in the aftermath. Sure, lots of people reacted sympathetically, but I saw so many hateful responses as well. People who commended the shooter for “doing God’s work” and some even saying that the real tragedy is that he didn’t kill more “sinners.” (here are a couple examples: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2016/06/13/twitter-reacts-to-orlando-shooting-with-sympathy-others-tweet-hate/)
Of course, though, there are always people posting nonsense like that online, so that should not be surprising. But what gets me every time there is another gun-related tragedy (and there have been several since I began thinking about this post) is that gun sales increase dramatically in response. I know that the sales of the weapon used in the nightclub shooting, the AR-15, went up significantly in the days following. The logic is that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” where obviously the one making that statement sees himself as the objectively “good” guy.
To me, that is terribly flawed logic. There are no “good” and “bad” people. There are just people. And those people either have weapons that are capable of killling other people or they don’t.
A while back I read stories of churches that implemented concealed carry policies for their congregation, meaning parishioners could bring their guns to worship with them (this one involves a state law allowing such practices: http://www.kiro7.com/news/mississippi-governor-signs-law-allowing-armed-church-members/218754414). I’m sure the intention was to protect the congregation from potential outside attacks, like the one that occurred last year. But not long after, I saw this story and a few others like it: http://6abc.com/news/man-killed-in-north-wales-church-shooting-idd-/1306937/
“‘There was a disturbance. It escalated into an altercation between two church members,’ said Steele.
Steele says that led one church member to shoot Braxton at least once in the chest. He wouldn’t identify the gunman, but says he is licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
‘The investigating is ongoing. We’re going to have to determine whether the shooting was justified under the law,’ said Steele.
Steele wouldn’t elaborate on how the shooting could be justified. He says he doesn’t believe Braxton was armed.”
This is definitely not what Jesus envisions for his church.
I believe that Jesus calls us to further peace in all circumstances, even if it is difficult, even if it seems like violence would be the logical response. The gospel is all about overcoming evil, violence, grief, death, and sin by remaining peaceful, loving, graceful, and kind in the face of such brokenness. That is what Jesus did. That is what he calls his church to do.
I want to share one more story with you. This one is different. This one doesn’t end in anyone getting killed.
“The winner of a controversial AR-15 rifle raffle by an Oregon softball team is a Lake Oswego church reverend, who now plans to destroy the weapon. . .
‘I hate that we live in a world where a girls’ softball team feels like they have to raffle off a rifle to get enough money to go play a game,’ he said. . .
When he made it public that he planned to destroy the weapon, he received threatening messages.
‘I always had two goals,’ Lucas said standing among the pews at Christ Church Episcopal Parish. ‘One was to help the softball team get to California to play in their tournament, and the other was to just have one less gun and that’s what my faith leads.’
Lucas said he’s working with local artists to transform the weapon into a positive message.
‘Do something creative with something that is so destructive,’ he said of his plans. ‘That might speak to people’s opportunity, to just take one small step, just do one thing to change our conversation.'” (Go here to read the full story: http://katu.com/news/local/winner-of-girls-softball-teams-raffled-rifle-is-church-reverend)
Maybe it’s a bit of proof-texting, but I feel that Isaiah 4:2 is an appropriate response: “. . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”