Why This Christian Will Never Own a Gun

Sign the petition: Christians Standing Together Against Gun Violence.

Photo by twak on flickr

As a Christian and a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I often struggle with Scripture and how God intends for me to live in the world. Jesus and our faith demands of us to make difficult decisions in life that often stand firmly against our own upbringing, our own wants and, at times, our friends and family.

I believe that, today, the question of gun ownership and fighting gun violence is one of those times.

Trust me, I do not wade into the topic of guns lightly. After posting on this topic here and here, I am fully aware of the passion with which people approach this issue and the subsequent conversations about it. While some would say it would be wiser and even safer to avoid such engagement, I disagree. For if I, as a Christian, cannot find a way to engage in healthy and helpful conversations with those  who disagree with me, Christian or not, then, I am abdicating my responsibility to live the kind of life that I believe God hopes for me to live in the world.

Still, I know that there will be some immediate reactions by many who might react to any opinion that seems anti-gun, so let me try to pre-empt some of the obvious pushback that is likely to be directed my way.  I have no delusions that commentors will, in fact, read this blog before commenting, but for those of you who do and are interested in fruitful conversation, know this . . .

  • When I say that I will never own a gun because of my Christian faith, that does not mean that I am saying that you are not a Christian if you do.
  • I do understand that there is a difference between owning a rifle for hunting and owning a handgun for self-defense. And while I would never own either, my Christian sensibilities are not as challenged by those who have grown up in a culture of hunting as by those who advocate widespread handgun availability.
  • This is not about the 2nd Amendment or gun control, but rather a public expression of how my faith informs the way I chose to live in the world.  There is a time and place for conversations about civil engagement and faith, but in this post, my primary authority is not the US Constitution, but my faith in Jesus Christ and God’s unfolding reality as told through the Bible.

Gun ownership, gun violence and gun control are obviously not new debates in our nation. At the same time, I do think that the ideological, philosophical and theological foundations that give structure to the arguments about guns in our culture are beginning to manifest themselves in ways that are tearing apart the social and cultural understandings that have brought this country together for a very long time. In the name of free speech, we are experiencing a rise of violent political rhetoric; in the defense of freedom, personal interactions are increasingly tinged with violent posturing; and  recent shootings – mass or otherwise – are creating a fatigue that further normalizes gun violence in our culture.

As a Christian, a pastor, a father, a citizen of the United States and member of the larger global community, this is not an acceptable reality, nor does this align with the many ways in which I believe Christ calls us to live. There is much in the teachings of Christ that offer me pause, but in the case of guns, any way I look at the questions of owning a gun and the risks involved to the larger community, it is abundantly clear to me why I will never own a gun.

I first begin with my place in the greater community. I choose not to own a gun and provide an opportunity for the violence that so often accompanies guns because this is how I would hope others would be in the world. Yes, many will label me a fool and accuse me of creating an atmosphere of inviting gun violence into my life, but when it comes to faith, my actions, while defying logic to many in the world, is an expression of my deep commitment to God.

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:36-40

Secondly, nowhere in Scripture does Jesus give us permission to solve our problems, respond to aggression or even defend ourselves with violence. In word and in deed, we are often called to fight injustice and violence with words and actions that are distinctly NOT violent, even in self-defense. Turning the other cheek, defending with a swordstoning of the prostitute, etc, Jesus reminds us of other powerful ways to respond to those who would chose to goad us into violent conflict. Yes, we do those things out of self-survival and self-defense, and justified by society or not, viewed through a lens of the Christian faith violence of any kind cannot be justified.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Romans 12:17-21

People may call this approach to faith and life absurd, weak or out of touch, but this is where my Christian faith leads me to stand and I consider this posture of non-violence in word and deed, to be one of power, transformation and graciousness. Again, because this is where my faith leads me, does not mean that I think any less of those who decide that gun ownership aligns with their faith, only that I have chosen differently.

I believe is that at some point, people of faith must stand side-by-side speaking together to let the world and one another know that there is a different way to live and respond to that which may threaten us . . . and it is one that does not involve guns, so if you would like to add your name to a “petition” is support of church leaders everywhere who are engaged in importnat work against gun violence, please sign sign and share This Petition:  Christians Standing Together Against Gun Violence.

The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence: A Reflection, a Challenge and a Movement

The Virginia Tech Memorial from the Documentary, “Trigger”

This week, I asked my sister-in-law if she would be willing to share a short reflection on gun violence. As you many of you know, nearly four years ago, my own family was impacted by gun violence when my wife’s brother was shot and killed. I was not sure if Carol would be ready to write about this – I believe this is her first public reflection – but after showing her a clip of a new documentary on gun violence that I am helping to support and seeing some of the interactions she was having in the aftermath of the Aurora, CO shootings, I went ahead and asked. We all know that any topic pertaining to gun violence is a complex political and social one, but I am grateful that Carol was willing to wade into the conversations with such a thoughtful reflection and challenge.  Thank you Carol.

Gun violence is not something that I had really thought about before November 2008. I do not fall into any category that is likely to be affected – I have no gang association, I am well educated, live in what’s considered by many to be a swanky suburb, come from a solid family, have never taken an illegal drugs, etc. etc. etc. Yet on a Friday after I held my 3 year old in my arms and kissed my husband goodbye in the driveway as he left to take our kindergartner to school and then head to work, my life was shattered by gun violence. On that day my husband and 2 of his coworkers were murdered by a disgruntled employee in a workplace shooting. The shooter used a weapon that he had legally obtained shortly before he committed this terrible crime. Four families, including 5 young children, were irrevocably changed on that afternoon.

I recently heard some statistics that I think are pretty shocking (Source: Nightline ABC):

  • A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined.
  • Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.
  • According to the Children’s Defense Fund, in the 44 years since Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot to death, bullets have ended the lives of more than one million people.

Let me repeat that last one…. More than 1,000,000 people have died from gunshots in the last 44 years in the US. That’s 1,000,000 families who have been directly affected! And if every victim knows 10 people, make that 10,000,000 families affected. There are diseases in the US that we consider to be epidemic which have lower death rates than this.

We are a wealthy, privileged nation on many levels. Yet our gun murder rate is 20 times higher than the next 22 countries combined?? 87 percent of all children killed with a gun in the world’s 23 wealthiest countries are American children?? That is a crazy out of balance situation. We are killing our own neighbors, coworkers, and our children.

I don’t pretend to have any of the answers about how to solve this problem. I believe that it will involve changes on many levels including mental health services and screening, tighter and more consistent regulations for gun licensing, and much tighter controls on ammunition sales. (The shooter in Aurora, CO had 6000 rounds of ammunition – who needs that many to do anything except to commit mass carnage???)

More importantly I believe that we need to teach our children that using a gun is not the way to solve any problem. Never, ever, in a million years would I have bet that I would be living this life. Yet here I am. A statistic because of one person’s choice to use a gun to solve a problem. That needs to be not acceptable on any level.

Instead we need to teach our children healthy problem solving skills and conflict resolution. My children have had the privilege of participating in such a program through their school and I’m regularly amazed at the kinds of solutions they can creatively come up with to solve big and small issues. It’s possible to change a generation – let’s do it!

Gun violence is not an easy problem to solve but there are many valid areas where I believe changes can be made to improve the current statistics. Count me in for the challenge of finding ways to move forward in love with the goal of preventing gun violence. Together I believe we can make a difference.

The ripples from each person impacted can together create a tsunami of love.

How big can you make your ripple?

Again, I want to thank Carol for her words and challenge. Knowing that taking on any aspect of guns and gun usage can be daunting, it is one that many of us feel is worth the  flack that will come. I will share more info later, but below is the official trailer from the aforementioned “Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence.” Trigger will be coming to NBC and other screenings this Fall, but you can also stay updated by following Trigger on Twitter, liking the Trigger Facebook Page or subscribing to the Trigger Blog.