The Waiting is Over

The Waiting is Over August 6, 2012

James Atwood admits he has been waiting for 36 years, but that wait (for all of us who have been waiting) is now over: Atwood himself wrote the book. What’s he been waiting for? After he buried one Herb Hunter who was killed by a reckless use of an easily-purchased handgun, he’s been waiting for someone to write a book that theologically reflects on guns in America.

30,000 gun deaths per year in the USA. 30,000. More than the population of the village in which we live. Wiped off the map every year. 30,000.

Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Guns are designed to kill.

In 2008, 17 in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9484 were killed by guns in the USA.

Atwood, who owns a gun and is a deer hunter,  was asked about five years ago to speak to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Forum about guns and gospel values and idolatry, and that book is called America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé. Atwood is more than a concerned pastor; Atwood has been involved with The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence for 36 years. He’s read all the materials; knows the evidence; has been active in the discussion and social struggle; and he has given us a gift.

What we need is a balance between the right to bear arms and the right to live in safety.

For change to occur, Atwood observes, requires “the leadership of an educated, spiritually aware, and committed community” (xvi). The Gun Empire, he claims, has a stranglehold on America. He sees gun violence as the elephant in the room no one wants to look at or talk about. He thinks the stranglehold is about the “principalities and powers” and are nourished by death.

It is not God’s will that 82 to 84 people die every day as a result of gun violence.

The nonsense of the Gun Empire is that guns don’t kill people and that the answer to gun violence is more guns.

Atwood thinks his previous strategies — through the federal government and legal process to create better laws —  didn’t work because he was too naive about the NRA’s use of funds to guide legislators. He thinks now that the way forward in gun violence and the way forward against the Gun Empire is to motivate and mobilize the church, the community of faith, to act on its faith.

Here is how he says it:

On the moral high ground, with confidence in the rightness of our cause, with indisputable facts at our disposal, and with strong biblical and spiritual resources, people of faith will be able to convince those in Congress and in statehouses to vote for fair and balanced laws that they know in their hearts is the right thing to do.

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  • Dere

    Thank you Scot for the heads up on this book. I bought a copy. The contents look challenging and thoughtful. Are you going to do review series? Important topic for discussion and diologue. Another mass shooting today. ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do’ is a statement I often hear. Though true guns certainly make killing faster and more efficient.

  • Thanks for this, Scot. We at Elmbrook Church are reeling from the tragic shooting that took place yesterday morning in the Sikh temple just a few miles from where we are. In fact, at the very time the gunman entered the temple I was preaching at Elmbrook on Psalm 46, verse 9: “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” Imagine if today the suicide bomber’s detonation device shorted out, all tanks and artillery stopped working, all AK-47’s in the world (75 million of them!) were suddenly jammed. All M-16’s and M-4’s turned to dust. In the light of future judgment when God brings all violence to an end, how can we not commit ourselves to being peacemakers in whatever ways we can?

  • scotmcknight

    Dere, yes, I will do a few more posts.

    Mel, you and Elmbrook were in our prayers yesterday. Thanks for that good word.

  • I’d appreciate hearing any thoughts from folks about how churches in the greater Milwaukee area can appropriately respond to the tragedy at the Sikh temple.
    Mel Lawrenz, Minister at Large, Elmbrook Church

  • Fish

    People with guns designed for nothing but killing people are killing lots of people. I am ashamed that I was ever an NRA member.

  • jesse

    30, 000 gun deaths per year but less than 10,000 in 2008? That doesn’t make any sense.

  • scotmcknight

    Jesse, I don’t know what to make of the difference between his 30,000 and the almost 10,000 in the 2008 Brady report.

  • scotmcknight

    Jesse, Brady’s report might not include suicides, which count for more than 50% of gun deaths each year.

  • Daniel

    “He thinks now that the way forward in gun violence and the way forward against the Gun Empire is to motivate and mobilize the church, the community of faith, to act on its faith.”

    He may be more naive than before, but here’s to hoping…

  • MatthewS

    Mel, I was wondering to myself what a church in your shoes might do.

    Just for the sake of brainstorming – It seems like any level of empathizing with their loss and condemning the violence would be good but I’ve no idea how a church does that. I wonder if they have a contact at the temple that a pastor or other church staff member could call and simply ask, we are from a Christian church in town and we feel horrible for your pain and wonder if there is anything we can do to help?

  • Wyatt



    Walk or drive over to that Sikh temple (when the LEOs are done and the dust settles) and demonstrate the love of Christ. Don’t talk about it. Do it.

    Second, the naive belief that gun control will put an immediate end to all gun violence is simply that; naive and pollyannish.

    Third, use of language like “Gun Empire” is outright knuckleheaded. It’s a dodge of the real issue. People are the real issue not guns, not knives, not chainsaws (as in the Phillipines recently), not machetes, etc. you pick your weapon. Quit hiding behind politics and name calling and start addressing the people issue and the attitude of heart.

  • scotmcknight


    You’re a bit harsh for someone we don’t know well.

    Insulting people with pejorative terms isn’t going to help: You now have called Atwood, someone who has been at this debate for 30+ years and a seasoned pastor “naive” and “pollyannish.” Then we resort to “outright knuckleheaded” and a “dodge of the real issue” and then “hiding behind politics” and “name calling” (the irony).

    First, let’s ask what Jesus meant when he said “turn the other cheek”?
    Second, let’s ask how one can own a gun designed to do nothing but kill and follow the one who not only taught “turn the other cheek” (to the one who was using oppressive violence) but went to the cross to shape an entirely new cruciform ethic?

    But please cease with insults and discuss the issues and theology.

  • BradK

    Scot, is there any Christian work that takes the opposing view to the anti-gun opinions that you seem to be espousing of late? If so, have you read any of that work? Would you consider posting something about it?

  • Jamieson

    Wyatt (11)

    It wouldn’t be the JC without blaming the “right” in one way or another. That’s just the way we do things around here.

    Snarky? Perhaps, but it’s as plain as the nose on our (collective) faces.

    Does anyone know what type of weapon was used in this case?

  • E.G.

    Wyatt: “…start addressing the people issue and the attitude of heart.”

    Yes,it’s a heart issue. But I don’t imagine that the average heart is in any better or worse shape in Canada or Germany (having lived in both those as well as th USA).

    So, at some point we need to consider the technological and policy issues that enable the heart of darkness to fully emerge.

    I say this as a hunter. I’m not diametrically opposed to guns. They are useful tools. I’m opposed to lack of proper policies and allowance for certain weapons.

  • Jamieson


    What does “turn the other cheek” cover? If someone is attacking me, I would have no problem doing that. But I would be hard pressed to do it when someone attacks my wife or child and I had the means to stop them. Is that an error in my thinking?

  • scotmcknight

    Jamieson, I’m not sure that’s the right question: the question is how do we respond to violence? Jesus teaches in that turn the other cheek that the way to respond is by grace and acts of love toward that person.

  • scotmcknight

    Jamieson, and yes a bit snarky but I don’t think my modus operandi has changed in that regard in the life of this blog.

  • Brantley Gasaway

    Brad K (13),
    Over at another evangelical Patheos Blog, I asked David French to explain how he justified as a Christian his provocative libertarian claim “Don’t Tell Me How to Defend my Family” (see: )

    While I disagree with his response, I appreciated that he took the time to offer this defense that reflects a conservative attempting to be biblically faithful:

    Scot, I would enjoy your thoughts on David’s post, as I think you would agree with me that he too quickly rushed past the statements of Jesus. The disagreement on this issue between evangelicals, who all ostensibly appeal to biblical authority, reminds me of the conundrum of biblicism described by Chris Smith.

  • scotmcknight

    Brantley, I looked through French’s piece quickly. His Bible is a flat book — Moses is no less authoritative than Jesus, which is the hermeneutical point for all those who believe (at a minimum) in gun law restrictions and esp for pacifists. He also too easily and swiftly shifted from what the Bible says, ignoring Jesus’ radical comments, to natural law and folks like Locke. I don’t do ethics that way. He found evidence for what he believed and thought that made it biblical. We’ve got a major set of evidence in Jesus and changes in the early church that have to be dealt with carefully.

    I recommend reading John Howard Yoder and Trocme and Sider.

  • Larry Barber

    I would like to propose that the problem isn’t really the availability of guns, all the countries mentioned in the original post also have far less social inequality than exists in the US. I think the real problem is poverty and despair, not guns. If the problem was really guns then many small towns, particularly in the west, would be war zones, but they’re not. Like many other social ills, education, drug abuse, and infant mortality come to mind as being products of poverty, politicians like to duck the real issue because it’s hard and would require effort (and taxes!). Having said all that, I don’t think increased gun control would help with the situations recently in Aurora and Milwaukee, consider that Anders Breivik was able to kill 77 people in Norway, which has very strict laws. If someone doesn’t particularly care if they live or die, not necessarily being suicidal mind you, it’s very difficult to stop them from killing a lot of people.

  • Brantley Gasaway

    As an Anabaptist, I whole-heartedly agree. But I think French’s piece is important, for it illustrates (the best of) how conservative evangelicals think about the issue–and it shows how difficult it will be for Atwood’s proposal of mobilizing the church to be fulfilled.

  • scotmcknight

    Brantley, I’m not so sure I’d say French’s piece the best of conservative evangelical thinking on this for I’m not sure evangelicals have a good bibliography on this topic. I’m not a historian of law, but it appears to me that a fruitful way of approaching this issue, a Second Amendment issue, is through the category of just war theory. The right to bear arms is about war (not originally about the right to have any old kind of gun we want, an exaggeration by a bit). Evangelical defense of guns, in other words, is a species of just war thinking, a kind of Christian realism “in between the ages.” In other words, it comes down to eschatology in many ways, and my eschatology is shaped for how Christians think and not how American should legislate. The Second Amendment is constitutional, and Heller clearly expanded the “right,” but that does not mean the Christian’s view is the America’s constitutional view. Right there is where everything divides for me brother.

  • Wyatt


    First I am not sure I strayed. What I think happened here is I hit a hot button. But to set the record straight and if you read more carefully, you will see I called the belief naive. I did not call Mr Atwood naive. While I am sure he is not naive and probably smarter than me, that doesn’t mean he always has good ideas. You may share his ideas and you are entitled to that just as much as I am entitled not to share them.

    Second, I called the language knuckleheaded, not Mr. Atwood.

    If, in my opinion, I cannot call an idea, naive or pollyannish, where are we? I attack what I think is a bad idea. I see nothing wrong with that. I never made Mr Atwood the issue. Also if I think language is being used to cover a bad idea or dodge an issue I am going to say so. I might be wrong in my opinion but that is the risk we all take in any dialog about ideas.

    Please, don’t take me to task for sharing opinions with which you may not agree and for attacking what I think are bad ideas (theological, political, etc. ). And please don’t take me task for attacking a person when I never did. I never called him any names. I called his ideas and his language names. I am harsh on bad ideas, not people.

  • Brantley Gasaway

    Good points, Scot, especially regarding “rights.” I actually framed my original question to French in terms of “individual rights” vs. “common good,” and how as Christians we should balance the two. Living in the middle of central PA and its gun culture, that is the angle I take when discussing issues of gun control with my more conservative Christian neighbors. For those who do not share the same eschatology and Anabaptist interpretive lens, it’s a start.

  • scotmcknight

    Wyatt, fair enough except I’m not so sure we can separate a person’s firmly held beliefs and ideas from the person holding them. Perhaps we could say just as it is a person and gun that is the issue in gun laws (yes, people kill people; no, guns don’t kill people; but the issue people with guns vs. people without guns), so a person and his/her ideas are close to one another.

    Anyway, I would say this: when you insult ideas you are indirectly insulting the person who holds those ideas. Quibble if you want over that, but I want to say I thought your comments were too harsh and could be said in more redemptive, civil ways.

  • Luke Allison

    Wyatt and Jamieson,

    Um….did you look at the numbers posted? 9,000 + gun deaths as opposed to 35 in Australia?

    A gun is a tool and non-sentient, yes….but it’s also a catalyst to violence. Firearms account for 50 percent of suicides in the United States, accounting for almost 17,000 deaths in the US each year. There is an impulsivity related to suicides, and a self-limiting aspect as well, both of which are either exacerbated by firearm presence or eliminated by firearm presence. Simply put: a gun is quick and easy and effective, but once you’ve pulled the trigger, you can’t rethink your action.

    The relevant data is here and many other places:

    Assume the same for many homicides (crimes of passion especially) involving firearms. Also assume that someone like James Holmes would never have been able to do the damage he did without firearms. I was in the Army for 5 years (ironically same MOS and same base as the white-supremacist suspect in this Sikh temple shooting), and learned to fire an M-16 with some proficiency (36 out of 40 consistently which qualifies as “sharpshooter”). It’s the easiest weapon in the world to shoot, and it’s made to be deadly. Frankly, most anyone can learn to fire a gun with a fair amount of accuracy in a short period of time.

    The point is, firearms make killing en masse ridiculously easy.

    But I’ll bite on both of your ideas:
    Let’s just say that “people are the problem”. What do you propose as the solution?

  • Wyatt


    Point taken. But you might want to have the same exchange with Daniel up there on #9 who did call somebody naive. He crossed a line I didn’t cross. All I did was push a button.

    But I do admit my tone is at times a bit harsh and I’ll be more attentive to that. Setting aside the gun issue for a moment, I think what torques me sometimes is when I perceive we defend bad ideas for people who write books and make speeches. Then we confer upon them some sort of authority especially if we like their ideas and that in turn, somehow makes their ideas and opinions sacrosanct. An appeal to authority doesn’t sit well with me and besides it can be a logical problem.

    I agree with you that people and their ideas are closely connected but they are not same. Some of my own ideas stink and I need to be ready to be told so. It doesn’t follow that we cannot take issue with those ideas especially if they come from those we deem authorities. Those authorities and their ideas should always be questioned and challenged. It also doesn’t follow that I am attacking the person even if my criticism has an edge.

    I accept your reproof. Peace.

  • Enjoyed the post and thinking Atwood getting to the right point – its a church/fellowship/community thing. There are times when I’m not all that glad to bear the label Christian when I hear arguments about Constitutional guarantees or right to defend home and loved ones as slam down on the conversation but at the same time and in the same way, not all that persuasive are the claims that we need to (or can we?) remove guns from people.. Not that we stand still and get run over, but when has there been a conversation about how these things square up with living out our faith, as opposed to exercising our secular rights, in this crazy place?

  • MatthewS

    As one who sits outside the Anabaptist tradition, perhaps I’m more sensitive to statements like “the nonsense of the gun empire” that seem to characterize those who lean right on the issue as espousing nonsense and being subjects of the evil empire. But anyway…

    It’s an eye-popping and heart-wrenching number, that 9,484 figure. It’s a compelling line, “It is not God’s will that 82 to 84 people die every day as a result of gun violence.”

    The BBC show “Traffik” put forth a strong argument that only attacking the supply of drugs in the war on drugs is destined to be a losing strategy; the demand must be addressed.

    Are there any lessons from the war on drugs for addressing gun violence? (honest question)

    Chicago is a place besieged by gun violence. Many of those guns are purchased outside Chicago and transported and re-sold at a profit, a black market with criminal intentions all along. What is the way to remove those guns from Chicago without the unintended consequences of creating an even worse black market and at the same time taking guns away from people who shoot and hunt ethically?

  • Wyatt


    The question is good. But I am not sure taking guns away from everybody solves the problem of heart. The guy who killed those people in the Sikh temple, had his mind set to kill and yes, the gun made it easier. But the question I have to ask, would it have been an easier pill to swallow or somehow more acceptable if he, let’s say, stabbed 7 people to death? Would we ban knives?

    12,000 people on average are killed in DUI crashes annually. Have we banned cars? Have we banned alcohol? Taking guns away from people (especially law abiders) will leave criminals with guns. The law abider will not try to acquire firearms illegally if they are banned. The criminal will.

    We currently have serious enforcement problems when it comes to firearms sales. If we cannot and will not enforce the laws we have, what makes you think it will get better if we simply ban guns outright? Gun violence does not stop with a ban. This is a bad idea and the statistics prove it. Is it somehow more acceptable that 35 people a year die as a result of gun violence in Australia than 9000+ in the US? I say the deaths aren’t acceptable is any number. You don’t say that.

    I think you can tell from my response the answer isn’t clear cut. But the idea that gun violence deaths will simply disappear with a ban on firearms is not realistic. And the implication that somehow 35 deaths a year compared to 9,000+ is somehow more acceptable, is just plain callous.

  • BradK

    Scot wrote:

    “First, let’s ask what Jesus meant when he said “turn the other cheek”?”

    Scot also wrote:

    “[T]he question is how do we respond to violence? Jesus teaches in that turn the other cheek that the way to respond is by grace and acts of love toward that person.”

    Is it possible that by “turn the other cheek” Jesus meant “don’t fight the Romans”? Is it possible that responding in grace and love could take another form other than just lying down for all forms of evil? Take the story of the Good Samaritan for example. If the Samaritan had come upon the folks robbing the victim, would the appropriate approach have been to do nothing while the guy was beaten and robbed? This is the kind of discussion that it may be important to have on this issue. Your comments make it seem like this issue is cut and dried and that those who might not adhere to your apparent view of radical pacifism are simply misunderstanding the biblical text. This seems rather dismissive at best. Everyone here is aware that you have read and been influenced by Yoder, Trocme, Sider, etc. All are aware of your Anabaptist background. But have you read those who might disagree with those folks and/or with the Anabaptist view? Everything you have posted on the blog of late regarding this discussion has been very, very one-sided.

    Also, at the risk of sounding “harsh” myself, may I point out that you have let other posters comment on other topics on this blog in the past in ways which came across more insulting and pejorative than Wyatt’s comments above without issuing a rejoinder to “please cease with insults and discuss the issues and theology.” This is obviously your blog and you can do as you wish, but is that really the way you want to run things? Is it possible that you are emotionally attached on this issue and perhaps not as interested in an even-handed discussion of the issues and theology as you might otherwise be?

  • BradK

    Wyatt, you are asking relevant questions. The question about knives is not academic as this recent news story shows…

    The questions about alcohol and cars are valid as well. The law of unintended consequences comes into play when we start considering real world results of our decisions.

    Also, those comparisons between 35 deaths and 9000+ are not as cut and dried as they might appear either. On a per capita basis, the numbers are MUCH closer than the raw data would make it seem. The U.S. still has a much higher death rate from guns than many other places, but not to the degree that those numbers represent. Throwing those out there in that fashion causes one to wonder about motive beyond merely reasoned debate.

  • Luke Allison

    Wyatt # 31

    “Taking guns away from people (especially law abiders) will leave criminals with guns. The law abider will not try to acquire firearms illegally if they are banned. The criminal will.”

    I think we can effectively end any talk of “taking guns away from people.” That’s an impossible task that would most likely result in some kind of civil war. There are far too many guns out there to do anything about now.

    But…remember, none of the mass shooters are criminals. James Holmes would not have a clue how to purchase a firearm illegally. He’s a coward. Criminals are frequently cowardly, but willing to enter into a tough and violent world to get what they need. Suburban white kids with a personality disorder get guns legally. So do white supremacists apparently. So do paranoid-schizophrenic radicals.

    Lumping random suburban mass killers with “criminals” is a big mistake in terms of profiling. The reason why nobody is able to predict these types of things is because the people perpetrating them are not obvious. But they have freakin’ assault rifles and handguns, bought legally at your local Gander Mountain or online.

    “But the question I have to ask, would it have been an easier pill to swallow or somehow more acceptable if he, let’s say, stabbed 7 people to death? Would we ban knives?”

    If he had a knife, he would have gotten dropped by the responding officers instead of shooting one of them 8 times. He may have even gotten overpowered by some of the victims, since it seems they were more than willing to fight back. But a gun gives an incredibly powerful advantage. Again, we’re talking about catalysts to anger and violence, not violence itself. All violence is brutal and ugly, but no all violence is created equal.

    “Is it somehow more acceptable that 35 people a year die as a result of gun violence in Australia than 9000+ in the US? I say the deaths aren’t acceptable is any number.”

    I didn’t. But statistics are cold and unfeeling anyway. 35 looks better than freakin’ 9, 000. I tend to think Christians should avoid statistical analysis in favor of personal relationships. I don’t buy the “drunk driving” argument, though. A car is designed to travel from one place to the next. A gun is a weapon designed to kill. Different purpose.

    So what is the solution here?
    An easy first step is limiting or completely ending the availability of assault weapons (semi-auto high-capacity high velocity weapons of any sort). We don’t need them in the civilian population. They suck as home defense weapons. Their primary purpose is efficient killing in a tactical situation. Unnecessary.

    There are tons of things that need to be addressed, including:
    1. Mental illness and society’s recognition/proactive response to it
    2. Violence as entertainment and its potential effect on the mentally unsound (and maybe on all of us!)
    3. Education on firearms so that they don’t remain a mysterious and dangerous taboo…lots of people die in gun accidents because of foolishness
    4. The need for more and more empathy in our society…..
    5. A focus on the restoration of victims rather than the punishment of the guilty
    And the list obviously goes on….

    I just want to talk about solutions rather than going back and forth on the classic arguments.

  • Luke Allison

    Oh, and for the record, I think we should ban cars, yes. : )

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Brad. If I deem it harsh then I say so, but I don’t read every comment so sometimes I miss comments. Wyatt’s comment jumped up at me because of the accumulation of strong words, which he has himself admitted. If you read the blog carefully you will see that folks like Daniel Mann and Robin Rhea routinely take counter positions.

    My blog will lean in my direction; that’s how blogs work. I do work hard at trying to keep it civil, but there are times when I miss comments and they get through, but if I see them, think them harsh, I edit them or remove them.

    I have an angle on this issue; I’ve written on it before and will continue to press the issue. I think Christians have failed miserably in lining up with the US Const as Christian. And, yes, I have read counter arguments. (They tend to be like French’s post at Patheos and they defend violence by a sense of rights or natural law or OT narratives, and I will pushback on that every time.) I don’t think a minority view, like the one I have, can ever be dismissive. The just war theory driven theory at work in the Second Amendment is the majority view and we pacifists deal with it every day. You may well miss its ubiquity, but if you see it as you see my view, you might notice how it feels to pacifists like me.

    On the parable of the Good Samaritan … this one gets us no where because it is 100% speculation and fiction; there are other places to go, like Jesus’ statement about a sword. Or the OT and war.

  • CGC

    Hi Brad,
    You raise several issues but let me point out two: (1) If you understood “turning the other cheek” from let’s say a Walter Wink perspective (one I suspect that Scot knows and has little difficulty with?) then Christian pacificim should not be equated with “do-nothingism” or passivity. Just the opposite, by turning the other cheek, is actively resisting the world’s domination system of violence. Jesus dying on the cross was not some passive giving into evil either. Jesus was actually destroying the works of the evil one in his self-surrender and self-denial in his following the way of the cross; and (2) There is no way for one person to adjudicate between all the things that happen on the Jesus Creed. I for one don’t like it either how some of the conversations come off but I think Scot interjects when he can and especially when someone is more new to the conversation.

    In the end, I think Scot does alright even though there are things that go on that I don’t much care for either in some of the responses. I also realize what offends or how much we tolerate is different from person to person. Scot tolerates more that I would but so what? It’s his list and he does what he thinks best. And I don’t know if Scot’s personal email is available but I also think these kind of questions or concerns would be better off list. So if you have further concerns Brad to Scot, I hope you take it off list. The problem with these kind of threads is it ends up making Scot the issue rather than the purpose of this list in discussing and attacking issues, not people.

  • Adam O

    Wyatt, I’m not sure I follow your reasoning of how people are being callous by saying that 35 deaths is better than 9000. I don’t think anyone is saying that those 35 are not deeply painful and tragic, but surely you see that the comparison is reasonable for discussion. There have been excellent points made about whether gun laws are the primary cause of this difference, but because the gun laws in some of these other nations offer a significant difference it is worth considering if there is a possibility that the changes would decrease the number of deaths. It feels much more callous to me to say, “we can’t get the number of deaths down to 0, so let’s just keep everything the same at 9000.” I know that is not your heart, obviously. Is there an example of a society that is more gun saturated that has less violence (I am truly ignorant on this…)? If not, perhaps we should consider in our policy debate that there are countries with less gun saturation that have fewer gun deaths.
    But this is mainly the pragmatic debate, what is needed is theological discussion which I feel is much more difficult to engage in for the pro-gun folks, but maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough for it.

  • scotmcknight

    I just read this post again and I’m a bit surprised by something I sense is being missed: Atwood’s posture here is not as radical as mine would be. He’s arguing for a balance between the right to bear arms (which he affirms in more than a military sense, and I don’t though it is now law) and public safety. I would support a greater balance, but he’s still more open on the right to bear arms. (I sold my gun, now wishing I had destroyed the thing.)

    Furthermore, I agree with Atwood that the church ought to be a leading voice on this issue, which it is not.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot and all,
    I was thinking of Atwood suggesting the church should be the leading voice? The church has become so divided with multiple voices and so complicit with the culture that it has lost both a unified witness and a unified public voice. That being the case, I do understand why Christians now turn to politics which I think is a big mistake but most people know intuitively that the church is NOT going to do anything about most issues like this in some kind of major way.

  • Luke Allison

    I’ve noticed a trend in having these conversations recently:

    1. People equate all other weapons with guns
    2. People assume you want to completely “ban” guns
    3. People immediately jump to either the “what about Hitler” question or the “what if someone is going to kill your family” question.
    4. People compare guns with cars

    This has happened to me seriously ten different times.
    In the meantime, we decry the “unimaginable” horror of mass shootings (I’m coming to imagine it pretty well, as are the people who it happened to), set up memorials with crosses and teddy bears and votive candles and such, and “pray”. That’s about it.
    Are we really helpless to change anything? Is the Spirit of God for mass shootings or against them?

    I would be willing to bet that many peoples’ opinion of what the Spirit of God is for or against would change if a gun ended the life of their child or family member.

  • BradK

    “On the parable of the Good Samaritan … this one gets us no where because it is 100% speculation and fiction; there are other places to go, like Jesus’ statement about a sword. Or the OT and war.”

    The problem with this is that almost all of what we are discussing is speculation and fiction since so many of the circumstances are not specifically covered by commands or teaching from Jesus. Also, some of the commands or teachings of Jesus on this matter may not be as clear to some as to others. I mentioned the possibility that Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek” could have meant “don’t fight the Romans.” Considering the context there in the sermon on the mount, it is possible that Jesus did not mean that in all situations and circumstances every Christian should always avoid violence no matter what, right? Is it really right for a Christian to sit idly by and allow an evil person to rape and kill his daughter? If Jesus clearly teaches absolute pacifism then one must admit that this is what we should do and prepare ourselves to do so if ever faced with that circumstance or any other similarly horrible circumstance. Also, if we feel that Christ commands absolute pacifism, then are we are sinning when we call on the police? Are we not indirectly participating in violence when we do that? Yes, government “does not bear the sword for nothing” but we do not have to participate, right? We could instead simply allow ourselves to be wronged, couldn’t we? If Jesus clearly commands absolute pacifism, then shouldn’t we? It’s pretty obvious where that would lead, right?

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Luke. We are in agreement on how these conversations take off, and rarely deal with the problem, if some think there is a problem…

  • CGC

    Hi Brad,
    I really wonder how many Christian pacifists on the Jesus creed believe in absolute pacifism? Isn’t this a straw man? Absolutes often turn into idols unless the absolute is God! And just because Christians say we should not use deadly force does not mean people can not use force at all (most kinds are non-lethal are they not?).

    Maybe the conversation needs to be more nuanced from pacifism to a non-violent ethic or the difference between Christian policemen who may choose not to use deadly force and still inforce the law (like many Roman soldiers functioned more as policemen than warriors) than those who are specifically called to kill in war for the nation-state.

  • scotmcknight

    BradK, I do think the anti-Roman option is viable, but notice the language Jesus uses to justify — you have heard the lex talionis (that’s a wide-ranging law) but I say … and here there is something often missed, which will be in my commentary: the OT law has “show no mercy” (at all; always exact justice), and Jesus says Not with us.

    On the use of violence, you have created a variety of scenarios, each of which takes a different issue at hand, but the use of force to stop as along as it doesn’t kill is a genuine option… gotta run… sorry.

  • Luke Allison


    Have you ever studied serious pacifist thought? Or non-violence? I think you’ll discover that they deal with these issues fairly comprehensively.
    Read Wink, Yoder, Hauerwas for starters. I’m sure plenty of people on this board can point you towards the more influential writers.

    Keep in mind Martin Luther King Jr, here. A prominent member of the Black Panthers criticized his nonviolence savagely. Do any of us celebrate George Jackson Day?

    My only misgiving about nonviolence used to be similar to Orwell’s, that it stunk of white-upper-middle-class elitism being imposed on oppressed minorities. But some of the greatest proponents of non-violence have been minorities.

    I think you need to make a distinction between pacifism and nonviolence, first, and then work from that distinction.

  • Wyatt

    Luke #34,

    Bingo! you got to where I wanted to go. You said, “Mental illness and society’s recognition/proactive response to it.” Amen! This is the dodge I was thinking about earlier. Using language like I think Atwood and others may be doing causes us to feel better about the gun control issue but nothing to adress the woeful and willful negligence of the church and society to mental illness. Teddy bears, sound bites about gun violence, footage of people hugging and crying and votive candles do absolutely nothing to solve the heart problem or the mental health issue you so rightly indicate.

    But I don’t equate cars with guns. I am reacting to all the angst about gun violence only when we have lunatics go out and kill people. We don’t get angst much about 12,000 people dying as a result of DUIs. We ignore that until there is some horrific crash that kills a half dozen people. And guess what, the church will continue to wring its hands about gun violence because it makes us feel like we are doing something when in reality we don’t know what to do.

  • Luke Allison


    I agree with you quite a bit. For the record, I wasn’t lumping you in with those who equate guns with cars (that’s from a different series of conversations), but could you see where I might think that about you?

    I think driving is the most terrifying thing we do, totally against God’s good intention for the world, and the senselessness of accidental death brought on by the freedom to drive is mind-boggling to me. Makes me never want to get behind the wheel again, quite honestly.

    To be honest, I am a person who thinks about danger quite a bit. I have a home defense plan. I sit near exits. I park far away. I try to avoid big crowds (working at a church makes that hard), and I try not to drive during the most dangerous times (although any time is dangerous).

    I’m somewhat shocked when we as a culture who spend millions of dollars watching people be killed and maimed and tortured on a huge screen are horrified to see the real thing (on which those movies are based!) playing out before our eyes. And I love violence in movies. I don’t know why. Loving it less all the time.

  • BradK

    CGC, no straw man. If Jesus taught absolute pacifism, then all Christians should be absolute pacifists, no? If Jesus taught absolute pacifism, then there is no idolatry involved. Fwiw, I haven’t seen any JC pacifists posting exceptions to “turn the other cheek” here in this discussion. If there are widely believed to be some, then they would be pertinent to the conversation, no?

    Luke, no offense, but it’s not very productive to basically say “go read Wink, Yoder, and Hauerwas and get back to us.” Care to nutshell or provide a specific cite to one of their books to a particular pertinent argument? Btw, the comment that driving is “totally against God’s good intention for the world” is simply mind-boggling.

  • Luke Allison


    “Care to nutshell or provide a specific cite to one of their books to a particular pertinent argument?”

    Wink’s primary argument would be that Jesus didn’t promote pacifism or violence, but advocated a third-way of active nonviolence. You can see this reflected in MLK’s methods, but there are plenty of other examples in history. Look more recently to the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia and Women in Liberia Mass Action for Peace, profiled in the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

    Malcolm X and the Black Panthers opposed MLK’s nonviolence for the same reasons you seem to: it was naive and assumed that the oppressors had a shred of decency in them.

    Greg Boyd has an interesting and short response from a more pacifist perspective here:

    For the record, I’m not a convinced pacifist and I’m about 70/30 in favor of a nonviolent perspective. I’m too confused by the way Jesus dealt with Roman soldiers to take nonviolence as a primary principle of being a follower of his just yet.

    PS. The comment about driving may have been somewhat purposely hyperbolic. But do you really think man’s original intent as an organic, soft-fleshed and breakably-boned creature was to go 80 miles an hour inside of a steel trap? Is driving absolutely necessary? Evidently you think so.

  • DRT


    My inner monkey gets out of control now and then and I get a response deleted by our host 🙂

    But I take that as feedback to improve on my civil discussion in Scot’s house. And this is his house. Scot let’s pretty much all opinions be expressed, but demands respect in the process. I think that is good.

  • DRT

    Re: the driving distraction. I guess I am not alone that I look at our roads and think that people going in opposite directions to each other and passing just a few feet apart seperated only by a line on the road (and not even that at times) is insane if we did not do it every day.

  • CGC

    Hi DRT,
    You get the the dreaded delete buttom from time to time? 🙂 Hey, speaking of your inner monkey, I am reading a book with the title, I kid you not, by Carl Trueman “Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread.”

  • DRT

    CGC, Can you believe it! and there were no punctuation marks involved (%$@*&_)

  • DRT

    I can’t resist telling this story (down monkey!),

    When my oldest son was in 6th grade he had a gaming blog on the internet. And one of the rules he had was that if someone uses bad grammar too much then he would ban them. I have no idea whose kid he is….

  • DRT

    Oh, and I guess I have to come really clean on this. His site was called

    So I just took it over….

  • DRT

    ….and he made me pay him for the name….

    Sorry for the spam.

  • scotmcknight

    I’m not so sure there is that much difference between active non-violence and pacifism, but that would depend, I suppose, on the if someone construed pacifism as absolutely no resistance to anything ever. My reading in the pacifist tradition makes me think most pacifists have been anti-war of all sorts and more sectarian/separatist in politics so that active non-violence is a more activist and more recent construal of the pacifist tradition.

    Luke do you think there is that much difference between them, do you see pacifism as absolute pacifism and non-violent activism a lesser form?

  • Luke Allison


    “Luke do you think there is that much difference between them, do you see pacifism as absolute pacifism and non-violent activism a lesser form?”

    I’m a relative newcomer to this whole conversation, but that’s the vibe I get from some of the younger proponents of “non-violence” (, etc.). My work colleague interned at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, and he said that Rob frequently made a distinction between pure pacifism and non-violence, which sounds very Winkian in its essence. I’m assuming that’s who Rob was reading at the time.

    I think pacifism is frequently construed as “passivity”, so maybe the word has been repurposed and repackaged into “non-violence.” The “non-violence” that is gaining some ground amongst younger evangelicals is wrapped up in a greater narrative, I think, the same narrative that rejects the violence of many common atonement theories and the traditional view of hell. It’s all tied together, and it makes me excited and hopeful, I have to say.

    I think passivity is the key here: the negative stereotype of pacifism is of someone who stands still while others fight. I think non-violence seems to be more of a driving and guiding principle rather than a concrete stance.

    Any recommendations so I can get more educated on this topic?

  • Derek

    Luke, one resource that that engages with many of the topics discussed above is Glen Stassen and David Gushee “Kingdom Ethics”. The discussion of the Sermon on the mount as ‘transforming initiatives’ Is convincing to me.

  • EricMichaelSay

    For my part, as someone who has only begun to study pacifism and adopt its ethics in the past 3 years, all proponents of non-violence are pacifist, but not vice versa.

    Non-violence seems to be a euphemism that helps clarify my position to the uninformed.

    Someone recently asked me what I would do if someone was raping a loved one (always a favorite) and I think they were surprised when I said that if they didn’t stop because of my presence, I would kick them in the teeth. This is not at odds with a non-violent ethic. It’s not just protecting the innocent, it’s creating an obstacle between the sinner and sin. (kind of like gun-control)

  • Marshall

    Over at the other thread, the few people who showed up find it generally normalish that President Obama can “want somebody dead” as if he were Tony Soprano. There’s way too many guns, but don’t forget that the most and the biggest of them belong to the government, and it’s curious to me that people don’t make the connection.

  • Wyatt


    Thanks for the guidance. I will take it to heart. Sometimes I push buttons but that is going to happen in the exchange of ideas. Ideas and people are somewhat connected. But if you don’t want to risk getting shot at, don’t stick your head out there. Scot can do what he wants with his blog. He was gracious with his reproof to me but Atwood doesn’t need a defense attorney and I still think Atwood’s ideas can be criticized and quite directly. My choice of words was a bit harsh but if I can’t call an idea bad when I think it’s a bad idea, there is no discourse.

    Scot should know I am a button pusher and I often don’t accept my own comments. But in this case I do and in this case I think I hit a soft spot. Okay. This can happen when people feel strongly about an issue. I like that. Scot made it about the person, I did not. I don’t attack people. I take issue with what I think are bad ideas. I think Atwood is thoughtful but I still think his ideas are off.

  • Wyatt

    #38 Adam O,

    “Wyatt, I’m not sure I follow your reasoning of how people are being callous by saying that 35 deaths is better than 9000. I don’t think anyone is saying that those 35 are not deeply painful and tragic, but surely you see that the comparison is reasonable for discussion.”

    What I was trying to say the impression I get when people talk about the statistics and the way it is presented makes it appear more acceptable that 35 die as opposed to 9000 as if to say, “we can live with that.” That’s callous.

    Also, we seem to get our undies in a bunch about 9000+ dying as a result of gun violence (not well elucidated in this string of comments, by the way) when some lunatic decides to unleash his/her rage with a gun or guns but we don’t seem to have the same reaction when, as I have said 12,000 people on average die annually as a result of DUI. The DUI deaths can arguably be considered homicide or suicide because the drunk driver, while perhaps not crazy, has the same disregard for life as the lunatic gun-toter.

    The idea that guns are the problem is a dodge. And the honest truth is we don’t know what to do about the illegal use of guns. We are baflled but it’s our own fault. We want people to behave more peacefully and be more “Christian” so we don’t have to talk about Jesus and the kingdom. We want the issue to be guns so we don’t have to face up to the possibility the church does not deal well with issues of the heart and mind. In the Sikh temple shooting, the Aurora theater shooting, the one in Arizona, Virginia tech all done by crazies with guns, we the church rally to “evil” guns and think it’s compassionate but we make very little noise about the broken people who did the shootings and the church collectively runs from them. Guess who else is ignored in all this talk about evil guns, the victims of the shootings.

    The church should not make guns the issue. What it should do and seems quite incapable is help address the people involved, the potential perps, the actual perps and the victims.

  • EricMichaelSay

    I agree with your primary position Wyatt, but I do wonder if the church’s primary position as antigun control in America isn’t a symptom of the posture you’ve described as well.

  • Wyatt

    #65 Eric,

    I think the church’s position on gun control is all over the board as you can tell from this thread. I don’t think the church should take a position on gun control. It distracts from the real issue. That’s why I think many of the ideas expressed about gun control are lousy ideas. We should not align with any of the politically motivated arguments espoused by either side.

    It makes us feel better about the issue especially if we talk about taking guns away from people as if that is going to settle the problem. It’s not and it won’t. And seemingly talking about the numbers of dead people as if 35 is easier to live with than 9000+ is senseless and again makes us feel better as long as less people die. Very few people on this thread have even reached far enough to talk about what I think the real issue is. We want to talk all around it and this includes Atwood. We hide behind the politics and posture ourselves and beat our chests but that does nothing.

    Yes, our willingness to talk up the politics is doing nothing more than teddy bears and votive candles. I am willing to say even facing criticism, it is a symptom of a church that can’t admit it doesn’t know what to do or is unwilling to do it. Christians are supposed to be the hands, eyes, ears, legs, oh, wait a minute, the Body of Christ in this world. Where are we?

  • vichoff

    So I’m not sure about these numbers…I find that often statistic are used to slant. For instance “gun deaths”…does this include gang member shootings of each other? The other countries mentioned have less issues with gangs and often less inclusive societies have less issues with violence in general (not sure I’m willing to make our society less inclusive in order to accomplish this goal.) Also, it ignores that fact that for instance an easier and likely more effective way to accomplish mass killings is via pipe bombs, IEDs, poisoning etc. Now you can debate which of those is a better way to go. The key thing missing here is that an armed citizenry in a free society is a big deterrent to tyranny.

  • Andy

    “On the moral high ground, with confidence in the rightness of our cause, with indisputable facts at our disposal, and with strong biblical and spiritual resources, people of faith will be able to convince those in Congress and in statehouses to vote for fair and balanced laws that they know in their hearts is the right thing to do.”

    Seemingly one of the main objectives flowing from the book is to reduce the numbers of deaths due to bad policy settings. The ~50M abortions since roe v wade despite ongoing campaigning to protect unborn people, and the difficulty in getting through that particular culture of death should signal how hard it will be to change the hearts of people who hold the levers of power.

    Personally, i think people should be able to use reasonable force to defend themselves, but am a looong way away from believing that our society would be safer if everyone was carrying lethal firearms at all times.