Thursday, February 12, 2009

“Would Jesus Carry a Gun to Church?”

The Arkansas Legislature is considering a bill that would lift a ban on guns being carried into houses of worship. At the time I am writing these words, the Associated Press reports that the Arkansas House has passed the bill and that the measure would be heading to the Senate for a vote.

Growing up in rural Arkansas, I have come to accept the plethora of guns there are in the state. My dad and my brother are hunters and I have many friends who are hunters. I don’t own a gun myself, but I do respect the right others have to own guns; although I do think we ought to have strict gun laws. But despite how one feels about individuals owning guns, the bill that is now moving through the lawmaking body of Arkansas raises significant theological problems.

Several years ago, there was a trend among young Christians to ask this question, “What would Jesus do?” This question, shortened to WWJD, became a slogan that represented a way of asking about how we should behave in response to Jesus’ behavior. This is good theology, for the question centers on Jesus as the example we are to follow. So, here is another question related to what the lawmakers in Arkansas are considering, “Would Jesus carry a gun to church?”

I think most of us would certainly answer no to this question. But the issue over guns in church raises a larger question about our infatuation with violence that is directly contrary to Jesus’ message and life of non-violence.

There are two significant stories from the life of Jesus that I believe speak to this issue. Both stories derive from the arrest and trial of Jesus, a point at which, if he were to take up the weapon of violence, he certainly would have done so.

In Mark’s telling of the arrest of Jesus, those who come to seize him carry clubs and swords. Jesus’ question about their armaments is very telling and theologically rich for those of us who desire to utilize weapons for our own security and protection. He asks, “Have you come out with swords and clubs?” (Mark 14:48).

The implication of Jesus’ question to them is that he needs not the weapons of violence, for his protection and security is found with God. In other words, though he could have gathered a small army of rebels to fight, and indeed even a legion of angels, he rejected not only the use violence, but also the system that promotes violence.

This idea is made even clearer when Jesus is brought before Pilate, particularly in how the Gospel of John tells the story. In response to Pilate’s questioning about his being a king, Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36). While we take this to mean that Jesus was informing Pilate that his kingdom is from heaven, which is true, it more likely means that his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world; kingdoms like Rome that hold imperial power through violence. Indeed, Jesus goes on to imply that if his kingdom was like Rome, then his followers would be fighting for him.

Both of these stories reflect Jesus’ radical ideas about the virtue of non-violence that epitomized his central message. At his arrest and his trial, events that would have triggered a violent reaction from most of us, Jesus rejected the use of weapons and he rejected the system of violence that characterized the society in which he lived. Instead, he placed his full trust in God’s loving care, despite the fact that he would be crucified in an act of state sponsored violence.

And this should cause us to rethink how we live in a world where violence is accepted as necessary. If we claim to be Christian, then this means we should at least seek to follow Christ. And, in following Jesus, we should at least pay close attention to what was central to his life and teachings: Non-violence. As followers of Christ, we must reject our attraction to violence, even when we think it will provide us security.

It seems likely that the bill being considered will pass. More than just bad policy, this decision is a hasty and tragic response to our need to feel safe everywhere we go. If the bill passes, however, I would hope that faithful Christians and faithful churches would reject the need to arm themselves, reject the attempt to create false security, and most importantly, reject violence and the system that promotes it as necessary.

10 comments:

Michael Ruffin said...

Drew,

Good post; I think you've hit it on the head.

In case you're interested, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece on the same subject when GA was considering a similar bill.

It's at http://onthejerichoroad.blogspot.com/2008/08/preacher-get-your-gun.html.

Blessings,

Mike

Anonymous said...

Please consider this: if it is wrong to carry a gun into a church building, should that be a decision made by the church or by the State? The real issue regarding this bill is not whether it is right- but whose right is it to say whether it is right.

The Gyrovague said...

Drew,

I appreciate the non violence stance and I personally truly believe it. I do not think the church should willingly engage in it. But I have a little bit different perspective on this. Myself and my family worship(ed) at New Life Church. We were on campus the day of the shooting. We easily, and almost were, in the area of the shooting. Had it not been for a private carrying person, who was there with the churches knowledge, who stopped him, how many would have died. 10, 50 100?

I know not every church is the size of New Life, not many churches insight so much controversy, but the principle is the same.

I think that allowing a gun on church property is not a bad thing. Providing for the protection of your staff and your church going citizens is of the utmost concern.

Where I attend now is a smaller church, but it is in the news and has had some "interesting" people enter the doors. I personally am more comfortable knowing there are a few trained people watching over us.

JR Ewing said...

How about asking the eight parishioners in that church in Wisconsin who were murdered by an idiot who decided to pick out a church to kill people. If the poor folks in the pews had been allowed to carry guns, there would have been much less carnage.
And why don't you ask the criminals who carry guns in church anyhow, regardless of what the law says. I would feel a lot safer with people in church who were licensed to carry, have gone through firearms training, and know how to handle a firearm, rather some idiot who could care less about the law.
Would Jesus carry a gun? Probably not. But I doubt whether he would have a problem with someone else carrying a gun who carried for the express purpose of protecting themselves and his family.
If some nut walks in with a gun, I'm going to be there to protect my family with a firearm. But I'm sure the anti-gun folks just want me to be nice and let them shoot up my family.

Paul Jefferies said...

Drew, how naive are you? I agree with JR. Are we just supposed to sit there and let then do target practice on us? Come on. You've been drinking too much liberal kool-aid.
I hope it passes. I am a Christian, and I carry a firearm.

pastorpam said...

Last spring my congregation finally won its last round of litigation concerning Minnesota's liberalized gun law (yes, liberalized, as in, we're going to tell sherrifs to give permits instead of letting them have discretion, and the state will decide which institutions must allow guns. At the time, most other states had an automatic exemption for religious institutions, which seems to me to be a fair way to separate church and state on an issue that can be a matter of religious conviction (Mennonites, Quakers and others come to mind).

As the previous commenter said, from a public perspective it's a question of who gets to decide -- a congregation for itself, or the state for everyone?

It's a long story. . .more at my blog: http://pastorpam.typepad.com/living_word_by_word/2009/02/on-it-goes.html

Adamgv said...

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Introducing the new Christian National Anthem: Guns & Jesus.

Tell All!!!

http://ccrg.info/cas.htm

Grant said...

Most people seem to be missing the point, especially those that want guns prohibited by law anywhere, including in church.

In Ohio we changed our law fairly recently to allow concealed carry. Part of the law allows businesses, churches, and other public institutions to "opt out" of the concealed carry law by posting signs indicating that they don't allow concealed weapons on the premises. Probably over 80% of business owners, and quite a few churches, now post these signs.

To me, this seems utterly ridiculous. Unless they are going to make every customer (or churchgoer) pass through a metal detector, this just means that only the people that DON'T follow the rules will have guns. Is someone that is willing to take a human life going to be stopped by a simple sign that says, "no guns allowed?" Of course not.

They might, however, be deterred by the knowledge that some of the people that they intend to harm might be armed and that if they start shooting they might not make it out alive. Even if nobody inside is actually armed, knowing that they MIGHT be armed might make them think twice.

This seems particularly important for churches for another reason. As we move toward a "cashless" society, with most purchases being made by credit or debit cards, churches become one of the few places with substantial amounts of cash in one place. This, combined with the almost complete absence of any type of security measures, makes churches prime targets for theft. Think about your own church. What if the ushers carried the collection plates out of the sanctuary and were met by an armed robber? Since we want to create a welcoming environment, certainly nobody would have questioned them as they entered the building (walking right past the "no guns allowed" sign).

Would I shoot someone just because they wanted our weekly collection? Of course not. Unless, of course, they were pointing a gun at me or a member of my church family. I know that a human life is worth more than the weekly offering, but I can't be sure that a criminal would think the same way.

There is an old saying that is still valid: "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." Prohibiting guns anywhere just makes it a safe haven for criminals.

anon said...

Over the last few years I have become increasingly worried about the direction American branded Christianity is going.

Even to have a debate over guns in church show just how far from biblical teaching and living some people have drifted. That there is even a need to show biblical proof from how Jesus lived to argue the point shows how little some people know.

I put it down to the republican/right wing capture of Christianity, where the beliefs of one political party come to be incorporated into the faith - Syncretism.

A similar example is the cursing of Obama in the recent "Pray for Obama" stickers furore.

Antecedents to this debate also include the incredible issue of "Should the people take care of the poor". As if its even a point suitable for debate, and the view that "you take my money out of my cold dead hands" greed exists.

At this stage I have come to believe that many Christians in America have no understanding of what Jesus taught, and no desire to follow what they do know, and use the bible as a tool to advance their own personal and political beliefs.

Yet another sign of the decline of a great society.

Nicholas Stehle said...

Oh, my. I am late to the game. What else is there to say?

It is indeed a watering down of Christian theology to suggest that Christians cannot defend themselves. Indeed, Jesus instructed his disciples during dangerous times to carry swords:


** Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Nothing," they answered. He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: `And he was numbered with the transgressors' ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment." The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That is enough," he replied. (Luke 22:35-38) **


It's worth noting, of course, that they were in the presence of Jesus himself yet carried (we know this because he later rebuked them for attempting to unsheathe the sword and use it inappropriately). Clearly, Jesus had reason for them to carry the swords but did not want them used if they need not be.

Turning the other cheek doesn't mean getting your face shot off. Indeed, a man who doesn't take care of his own wife and children are worse than the infidel (KJV). Here is the ESV:

** I Timothy 5:8: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. **

Now in context we understand that this is probably concerning financial matters; however, it's a pretty basic understanding that we are to care for, and protect, our children. This starts with the Creation story and continues to this day. If you don't carry a gun because of your politics and your child is shot by a crazy Islamic fundamentalist radical you have failed your family immensely. And you know, the Little Rock terrorist who killed the soldier a year or so ago was planning to target a Baptist Church. There are literally dozens of examples of violence in churches every single year, most of it because the people inside are unsuspecting and forcibly disarmed by their government.

In my opinion, it is convenient Bible-denying theology to suggest that Jesus expressly forbids the carrying of a weapon (though NONE of this has to do with Church, though one would assume that since his disciples carried in his physical presence that having a gun in the church is no real particular issue).

And, as someone else previously mentioned, it's just flat out wrong for our government to single out churches; should they pick on blacks next? Oh, wait, they already do that. --> http://exm.nr/bfOMUm

This is nothing more than a minority of code-pink types thrusting their flawed theology on every church in Arkansas. It's unconstitutional because it violates both the 2nd and 1st Amendments.