I’m not a pacifist. I believe in Just War. I absolutely believe in the use of deadly force to defend the innocent. And, I lean in favor of self-defense to save one’s life (not one’s property). Further, I’m not just a gun owner, but an owner of guns. Rifle, shotgun, handgun, I’ve got them all. I say all this not to assert myself as a gun enthusiast (I’m not one), but to assure those who are made immediately uncomfortable by the title of this post, that I am not anti-gun by any measure of the word.
However, I am against a certain relationship that exists within the conservative ethos that presents a zealous defense of gun rights as if such a thing walks hand in hand with a right relationship with God. As if a pro-life bumper sticker, a Team Jesus T-shirt, and a “You are now in shooting range” yard sign, just naturally fit together on the same property with no tension whatsoever.
Again, it is not so much Christian gun ownership that makes me uncomfortable (otherwise I’m quite the hypocrite), but rather it the attitude of so many conservative Christians and their willingness to aggressively assert their gun rights right alongside confessions of their faith. Let me provide an aggressive push back against an example of what I am referring to. Suppose you are a Christian gun owner who strongly believes in your right to gun ownership. Suppose the government makes a legislative move to ban assault style weapons (however you interpret that). Then suppose, a group of your friends plans a protest and begins passing out slogan laden material which states, “Come and take it,” with a picture of an assault weapon alongside the rally cry, “God, Family, and Guns.”
Without question, this slogan (which is a real one) is a threat. It says, “If you come to take my gun, I will kill you with it.” Whether or not this is just a “paper tiger” threat is beside the point, the question at hand is if a Christian should ever support such a slogan. I believe many, far too many, followers of Jesus Christ would (and do) support statements like this. For once, I feel no need for nuance in stating my opinion, Christians who support such an attitude are wrong.
Such an attitude, such a slogan, is at complete odds with the core of Christian discipleship. How? How I ask you? is threatening to kill (even if merely hyperbolic) in order to protect one’s right to an object designed to kill other human beings remotely near the Cross of Jesus Christ? The Cross was the moment when the person with all power, all rights, and the only right to claim true innocence, willingly laid down His life at the hand of murderers.
This Jesus, this Son of God, is the same one who said to not resist an evil person. This Jesus declared to turn the other cheek, not to throw another punch or pull another trigger. This Jesus who proclaimed that if a man steals one item from us, we are to give him another. This Christ, this Savior, this God, did not come bearing arms, but came to spread out his arms in sacrifice and love, even to the point of His death.
I fall so short of this ethic myself, but I simply cannot imagine such a God, such a King, such a Savior, being pleased in a Christian culture that has wedded itself and its identity to gun ownership. Not that gun ownership is bad, not that it is even something that can’t be celebrated at times, but to walk in such a way as to say to a watching world, “I am a follower of Jesus, don’t mess with my guns,” is a grave mistake. Are we not fishers of men? Is this the kind of net we really ought to be casting?
If the government comes for our guns (mine included), Christians must submit. Should the government do this? No, I do not believe that to be the best course of action. Could that be the first step in a spiral of events that leads to oppression of the innocent? Yes, it is possible, though by no means guaranteed. But if they do? Would we dare spill blood to protect our precious weapons? May it never be! How quickly the gun on the mantle may be fashioned into an idol. Even more horrifying, would we dare spill the blood of our neighbors as Christians for such a cause? God may it never be!
But oh how I worry that many in this nation would walk this path. That some even display an eagerness for such a scenario. The shape of Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, pushes against this. From the earliest chapters, shed human blood cries out from the very land that it pollutes. But even more, the story of the Gospel rails against this. As poet Edward Shillito wrote many years ago, “The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne.” May we stumble after our king in weakness not in hyper active and over spiritualized self-defense.
We follow a God whose power is perfected in weakness. We follow a King who calls us to a spirit of gentleness, self-denial, and even of a sacrifice that could lead to our deaths. He does not ban the sword, but I assure you, nor does he glory in it. Nor should we. Although a Christian may own a gun, make no mistake, at their core, the two shall never be one. And it is in this sense, that Jesus and guns don’t belong together.