The American Church’s Culpability in Gun Violence

pacifismOver the past 20 years, do you know who had the most effective reaction to gun violence in America? The Amish. When Charles Roberts, on October 2, 2006, went into a school in Pennsylvania and shot ten girls (killing five), the world waited to see how this pacifist enclave would react. And they did! They publicly forgave the shooter. They took care of his family. They paid for his children to be sent to college.

Not coincidentally, it was the last murder of any kind in their county. You can’t tell me it didn’t have an impact.

For 11 years, I was a pacifist pastor in Montana, the state known for its Wild West attitude toward gun ownership and usage. The 2nd Amendment has many champions in that part of the world. Yet they didn’t fire me, shoot at me, or publicly ridicule my personal stand and teaching on violence. Why?

Because I was not against guns per se. Instead, I followed in the great theological tradition of Anabaptists worldwide who oppose the killing of another human for any reason.

My problems were never with the gun owners in Montana. I am not just a pacifist, but also a libertarian. I believe everyone should be allowed to make their own choices in life and by not rescuing them from those choices, have to face the consequences of choices. I believe this is how God treats us also, so I have a good example in this. I also believe in mercy and grace, knowing if someone hurts me and asks me to forgive them, I need to do that also.

So if you want to own a gun, that’s fine with me. If you want to point it at me, that’s fine with me. (I have had two people point guns at me and threaten to kill me, and I talked them out of this foolishness both times). If you fire that gun, that is not fine with me, but I’ll deal with it. If you want to fire it at another human, I am against that strenuously and will never support it.

We have had more gun murders involving the deaths of more than one person in America in 2015 than there have been days this year. The gun lobby is advocating for stronger vetting of foreigners and those with mental illness. The anti-gun concerns advocate for tougher gun legislation. I think both groups are missing the point completely, but I’ll give most of them a pass on this one. Many of them don’t know God and don’t know what the Bible says about the human soul.

But I cannot give the Church that same pass. We do know God and we should know what the Bible says about the human soul. I believe that our world is becoming increasingly violent for the same reason it always has: Human Beings are selfish and the human heart is deceitfully wicked above all things.

My contention is that the Church in America–apart from the Amish and other Anabaptists– must be held accountable for failing the American people on this issue of gun violence. I have a number of reasons I feel we have failed:

  1. By and large, preachers have not taught against killing other people. My observation is that preachers are afraid their constituents will think they are unpatriotic if they teach there are no qualifications on the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill”. In today’s church, most Christian leaders will allow for a certain measure of exception to the murder rule:  Self-defense, justifiable war, capital punishment, to save the lives of others who are threatened, to protect property, to overthrow bad governments, to preemptively attack those who would attack us later, maybe. All of these rationales are given tacit approval by the church in America. What is interesting is there are few churches outside of America that agree.
  2. Evangelical Christians have adopted the 2nd Amendment as an apocryphal commandment. There is nothing biblical about the 2nd Amendment. It is fine if you want to agree with it–that is your prerogative as an American citizen–but it doesn’t make it a biblical mandate. The pulpits of America glibly support the right to bear arms and never challenge the wisdom of bearing arms. Isn’t the church supposed to stand up against those things that destroy a nation? Isn’t the reason God left Christians on earth to state the minority opinion when things get out of hand?
  3. Liberal Christians have supported measures to limit gun ownership when every rubric and study shows that this is not the problem.  I have never owned a gun, but even I can tell you that whether I had a gun in my possession or not it would not alter my decision to kill another person. A gun is a tool that a violent nature uses to express itself. Timothy McVeigh used a white van and fertilizer. My issue with liberal and progressive Christians is that they march in quick-step with slogans that do not have basis in fact. Michael Moore is not a Christian prophet.
  4. Conservative Christians are in lock-step with anyone who advocates the freedom to own however many guns and whatever types of guns you want. They advocate open carry policies. I don’t mind if a Christian believes in those policies. But as a Christian, this is never to be our primary focus in life. We are about preserving life, bringing salvation, being Salt and Light and being the Beacon of Hope in a dying world. Conservative Christians have made gun ownership way too high a priority for themselves AS A GROUP.
  5. We have not taught enough on non-violent alternatives. I listen to sermons all the time, and what I hear from the most popular preachers on the subject of non-violence is … very little. One very popular preacher advocated the castration of all effeminate Christians because they were polluting the manliness of “Real Christian Men.” He was applauded by so many. What bothers me is the amount of people in other religions who advocate for non-violence and put their lives on the line for it, while American Christians do the opposite.
  6. Christians in America keep buying more guns. Most of my Christian friends own non-hunting guns. When I have personally asked my friends why they are purchasing guns, the answers, when boiled down, all revolve around Fear. The Bible tells us that “perfect love casts out fear.” But I will also say that intense fear blocks love. Love and fear cannot co-exist. You will choose one or the other.

 

I hope I am getting an emotional reaction from you with this article. It is only when you are emotionally engaged that you will continue to think about something. I am fine if you disagree with me. But there need to be voices that cry out when everyone is falling into two camps. There is a third way. This way will not prevent gun violence. It would not have stopped the violence in Southern California this week. But when violence does happen, if all American Christians had abhorred violence, people would run to churches when this world falls apart. Now, the non-believing world is right to ridicule and despise us and see us as part of the problem.

I am sad for the wasted time and money we have spent on such foolish arguing over hardware that could have been spent educating.

If you want to boil down all I am saying to one statement it is this: Guns are never the problem. Believing in violent solutions to human problems and not embracing non-violent solutions is the problem. From Cain and Abel to today, this has always been the case.