In the United States, evangelicals are among the biggest supporters of gun rights. They are the major religious group least likely to support stricter laws. Evangelical Larry Pratt, who directs Gun Owners of America, even argues thatall Christians should be armed.
For most of my adult life, I agreed. I believed that we had a God-given right to defend ourselves. I also believed that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, and that anyone should be able to obtain a gun.
Then, I saw the after-effects of gun violence firsthand. In Pennsylvania, I visited the families of five murdered Amish schoolgirls, as well as the family of the shooter. And I watched as a mass shooting unfolded at the Washington Navy Yard, across from where I lived at the time. These experiences, followed by careful theological and moral reflection, left me convinced that my family of faith is wrong on guns.
This isn’t easy for me to say. Forty-one years ago, I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior under the preaching of an evangelical pastor. I attended an evangelical college and seminary, was ordained an evangelical minister, and now chair the Evangelical Church Alliance, one of America’s oldest associations of evangelical clergy. My Christian identity is solidly evangelical.
But I disagree with my community’s wholesale embrace of the idea that anyone should be able to buy a gun. For one thing, our commitment to the sanctity of human life demands that we err on the side of reducing threats to human life. And our belief in the basic sinfulness of humankind should make us skeptical of the NRA’s slogan, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” The Bible indicates that we are all bad guys sometimes.
Additionally, anyone using a gun for defense must be ready to kill. Such a posture is antithetical to the term “evangelical,” which refers to the “evangel,” or gospel. The gospel begins with God’s love for every human, and calls on Christians to be more Christ-like. At no time did Jesus use deadly force. Although he once allowed his disciples to defend themselves with “a sword,” that permission came with a limitation on the number of weapons they could possess. Numerous Bible passages, such as Exodus 22:2-3, strictly limit the use of deadly force.