Contrary to progressive opinion, guns are not America’s problem

Contrary to progressive opinion, guns are not America’s problem August 8, 2019
Guns and Bible
Photo Credit: tommy.councillor Flickr via Compfight cc


Guns are at the forefront of America’s attention once again due to a recent surge of mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH.

Mass shootings are indeed a problem in America. We have them more frequently than any country in the world. And while people will offer different theories as to why this is, one very clear correlation stands out, and that is the sheer volume of easily accessible firearms within the United States.

The right to bear arms is sacrosanct to many Americans. To them, the Second Amendment guarantees the safety of their family from intruders and the safety of society itself from tyrannical government.

We Americans trust in God. We also trust in our guns. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell which we trust in more. Except it isn’t.

Even still, I don’t believe guns are the main issue when it comes to the phenomenon of mass shootings in America. I’m conservative enough to believe in the right to bear arms, and I’m progressive enough to believe in the need for common-sense gun control measures that go well beyond what passes for the norm in most states today.

So, I think addressing this crisis at the policy level is important. Yes. It needs to be done, like, yesterday.

But like most of the problems facing society, the root of the issue lies beneath the surface and often goes overlooked. In the case of mass shootings, that root is the prevailing myth of redemptive violence.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The myth of redemptive violence is an idea as old as civilization itself. Every nation-state is founded upon it. Popular conceptions of justice are informed by it. Even our theology has been tainted by it.

The myth of redemptive violence is the idea that we can make the world right by killing the bad guys.

I know it’s hard to understand. It’s hard to see a different way. But the principle of power-over is the lifeblood of the world system. It is what we all come out of the womb grasping for — control over our fellow human beings. If we don’t learn to deny this impulse – if we are not born again to a new and living way – then it ultimately comes to define almost everything we do.

This myth pervades everything from religion to politics, and it is baked into the American psyche in surprising ways, not least of which is the way we trust in our guns. The way we believe with all of our hearts that the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

But guns aren’t the problem. Power is the problem. The underlying myth is the problem. And in this particular instance, at least, it’s killing us in a way that shocks us.

The Upside-Down Rule of God

Jesus proposed a way of life that ran counter to the myth of redemptive violence.

It wasn’t about guns or swords, it was about what those weapons symbolized and signified. It was about where your trust lies and how you relate to other people.

“You see how the rulers of the world exercise authority over you,” Jesus said (Matthew 20:25). In other words, you know how it’s done.

The world system is a hierarchy. It’s about one having power over another, who has power over another, who has power over another. Most people wouldn’t know how to exist without this pecking order.

What’s more, Jesus said, is the way some rulers even do it as “benefactors.” They claim to rule for the good of the people.

But the Gospel calls bullshit on all such pretension. As George MacDonald said, “It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellow men.” I dare you to apply that rule to your favorite politician in the next election cycle and do your best to wrestle with the cognitive dissonance.

You call it anarchism; I call it Christianity. The world calls it foolishness because there is no place for such wild considerations in its belief system. Wherever the myth of redemptive violence prevails, the rule of God is unfathomable. And rightly so, because the Kingdom of Heaven does not mesh with the wisdom of this age.

It’s upside-down.

Not Revolution, but a New Creation

Don’t call it a revolution, though. That word has been spoiled by too many people grasping for power over their fellow human beings.

Christ neither proposed nor embodied a way of life that involved taking power from one group to give to another, to “balance the scales” of justice. If power-over was his goal, he could have taken it from the hand of the devil in the desert.

No, it’s not a revolution of the existing social order that we’re after. That’s not the goal of the Gospel. Rather, it’s a new creation altogether. A new kind of building with a new cornerstone whose foundation isn’t laid in blood.

That is what Christ-crucified represents, at least by my lights.

If I could add anything to the national conversation about guns and mass shootings, then, it would be this basic recognition of the ingrained principle on which our society is founded.

It’s not just the bad guys, it’s the good guys too

The shooter in El Paso allegedly believed a certain story about immigrants. He saw them as his enemy and the enemy of his people. And what does the myth of redemptive violence say to do with your enemies?

Kill them. If you can get rid of them, your problem will be solved and the world will be a better place. That’s the story he was telling himself, and it was a lie.

Let me be clear: We must condemn white supremacy, racism, and hatred without hesitation. And we must call to account our rulers who inflame such destructive attitudes with their reckless speech.

But we’ve also got to risk the dissonance that comes from acknowledging that it’s not just the bad guys who live by this myth, it’s the good guys, too. And it’s the myth itself — this grasping for power on which our society is built — that is the problem.

So yeah, we desperately need to enact policy reforms that keep guns out of the hands of hateful people. But we need more than that. We need to see deeper into this phenomenon. We need to confront the myth of redemptive violence itself.

Of course, it can be discouraging to admit that both Democrats and Republicans believe in and practice the myth of redemptive violence. Nonetheless, it’s true. The system in which they seek to rule over (I mean, serve) you and me is built upon it. They can’t deny it and keep their jobs at the same time.

The answer’s gotta come from somewhere else. It’s gotta come from a people who see into the meaning of Jesus’ vision of the rule of God.

It’s gotta come from a people who have re-entered the womb and been born again to the second naivete.

It’s gotta come from a people who’ve given up their desire for power over their fellow humans and are no longer seeking to change the world by ruling it.

I’d like to say it’s gotta come from the Church, but I’m afraid that word has been spoiled too.

What can I say, then? God help us.



About Josh Lawson
Josh Lawson is a pastor, writer, and small business owner. He lives in southern Ohio with his wife and kids and their cat Gryffin, which is short for Gryffindor. He loves strong coffee and good books. If you'd like, you can support his work at You can read more about the author here.

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  • lowtechcyclist

    1) Maybe the true problem is the myth of redemptive violence. Maybe it’s not. I’ll confess a lack of interest in that debate.

    Because, whatever the root problem is, could we do something about all the awesomely deadly firepower in the hands of any citizen that wants it? If I decide the problem is that certain people need killing, but I lack weapons of mass slaughter, then I will accomplish less killing. GOOD.

    Once we’ve dealt with the horrible symptoms, we can get back to debating the root problem.


    Of course, it can be discouraging to admit that both Democrats and Republicans believe in and practice the myth of redemptive violence.

    Well sure, it can be discouraging to ‘admit’ a lie.

    We all have our bad days, but by and large, Democrats just aren’t interested in killing people. We’re largely against wars, against the death penalty, etc., etc. We don’t want to kill off the white supremacists, we just want an America where they’re politically defanged, so that we can deal with other problems, like climate change, health care, workers being paid a reasonable wage, and stuff like that – problems that are quite solvable if everybody is on the same page about their being real problems, and their being important enough that we need to deal with them.

  • soter phile

    It’s not over-realized eschatology to look at the end of Revelation and notice…
    God believes in (what you label) “the myth of redemptive violence.”

    Miraslov Volf has written well on this in Exclusion & Embrace: (paraphrased)
    A God who does not put a final end to injustice is not worthy of our worship.

    Or to be more blunt: I thank God for the police officers who shot the guy in Ohio before he got into that bar.
    And if anyone you loved had been there that night… so would you.

  • I’m glad the shooter was stopped, as well. Perhaps you have read a kind of naive pacifism into my post?

  • I’m with you there, and I hope you didn’t take my comment about Democrats personally. But for all the good he represented in contrast to our current Commander-in-Chief, President Obama still killed a lot of people — not all of them guilty — with his drone program. And anybody who steps into that office, be they Republican or Democrat, will necessarily end up with a lot of blood on their hands, too. That was my point.

  • soter phile

    Naive vs. lack of nuance – that’s your call. Not here to throw pejoratives.

    Jesus is on the cross by choice – to make enemies into family. But…

    a) ironically (for your article’s logic), the cross is “redemptive violence.”
    b) Jesus is not ultimately a pacifist. It’s how he wields power that makes all the difference.

  • It’s hard to include a lot of nuance in a 1,000-word article, but I accept your criticism. To your other points…

    1) The cross may indeed be an act of redemptive violence, but the question is, whose violence?
    2) I don’t think Jesus was a pacifist either. I doubt he held any conception of our modern categories of pacifism and non-pacifism. And sure, his power was of a different sort than I’ve highlighted in this article. Call it power-under instead of power-over. 😉

  • Iain Lovejoy

    Revelation is clear that death, suffering and sorrow are also put an end to. Violence perpetuates death, suffering and sorrow while doing nothing to put an end to injustice. We are not God, and sometimes as sinners in a fallen world we can find no better way to protect innocents in danger than the use of force, but that doesn’t make violence “redemptive”. Better if the guy in Ohio were stopped without killing him, but, yes, I agree better than him not being stopped at all.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    “The myth of redemptive violence is the idea that we can make the world right by killing the bad guys.”

    This is what your god does repeatedly in the bible, Joshua. This god repeatedly either kills the “bad guys” itself or has its followers do that. You seem to be using special pleading to excuse your god’s actions.

  • Phil Swank

    fancy-speak designed to take our eye off the ball. Simply, I remain certain that the divine has no regard for human manufacturing and use of guns.

  • Gary Stilwell

    You are right in that guns are not the whole problem. The problem lies much deeper – we are a sick society. The rest of the world also believes in redemptive violence but does not have our sickness. The rest of the free world has our power problem but not our sickness. They have guns but not our sickness. Our sickness started when we killed native inhabitants to steal their land. It started when we enslaved people to steal their labor. And, when we created huge wealth disparities between the super-rich and the poor to steal their dreams. It has been exaserbated by our current leader who preys on our sickness for self-aggrandizement. There is a lot to fix in order to drive out the sickness. Start with what we can still fix.

  • RossM

    Jesus changed that understanding of God. Psalm 137 states: blessed are those who kill the babies of our enemies. Jesus said: blessed are the peacemakers.

  • Eman Kcin

    Well answered!

  • RichardGC

    Guns are not America’s problem. But the easy availability of certain kinds of guns allow America’s problems to turn into mass shootings. And that is another one of America’s problems.

  • Joris Heise

    Like a tree or my body, the gun/violence endemic to our society (with its roots, as you point out) in history which believes in using violence to counter violence–is a complex issue, with no–pardon the humor–“smoking gun” solution. I agree strongly the Gospel is the answer–in the same of a core around which a significant reduction in mass shootings can happen. But if they killed Jesus–his Jewish opponents, his jealousy hypocritical religious leaders, the defensive Roman empire, etc.–if they killed Jesus, almost no matter what pious OR secular people do, some mass murderer will do his (or her) thing. I can repent, leave my door unlocked, speak peace not division, remind people of conscience and integrity in general, vote for “good” people and keep on repenting.

  • Joris Heise

    I avoid arguing the Gospel with people who think of the bible fundamentally as a nasty-god-thing.

  • Joris Heise

    “Pacifism” is an -ism, and I bridle at any “-ism” attached to Jesus. In any case, it is a modern label and would not fit Jesus. He certainly avoided being the kind of Messiah many of His time considered necessary–to throw off Rome by violence. He did not advocate that. IMHO, such labels are harmful altogether, and Mark’s Gospel and the obtuseness of disciples there reminds us that the mystery of the Kingdom eludes labeling and human categories. I would hope that this article stirs debate towards the intrusion of non-religious Gospel values into the gun debate, but not by labeling Jesus this or that. Like the God of the Burning Bush, Jesus is who He is, and even the current popularity of the YHWH “name” is abhorrent to me. Let us also–again, in my view–avoid saying whether it was good or bad to kill the Dayton shooter (I am from Dayton–with a house in Bellbrook, by the way), because it is past. If the shooter had a gun, so did the police, and both used violence. (which is the debate the article wants to start.). just sharing my view, and no longer wanting to convince or argue. I just want to avoid labeling Jesus with modern labels and would hope others might do the same.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    Your supposed savior said that all of his father’s laws are to be followed, that the flood was real and leads the murder all non-Christians in Revelation. So which part of the bible is not telling the truth?

  • Jane Ravenswood

    The bible is a compilation of books from various very human authors, most if not all anonymous, that make claims about reality that have no evidence to support them. It also contains contradictions of its claims. There is nothing to indicate it has a divine origin. That Christians contradict each other on how they interpret the bible (often claiming a “holy spirit” has guided them) indicates that there is no reason to believe anyone’s interpretation, it being a symptom of how Christians create their god and their religion in their own image.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    in that your god has supposedly killed people to stop them, why doesn’t it still do so?

  • Jane Ravenswood

    1. the violence that this god repeatedly uses. In this case, this god needed a blood sacrifice to stop itself from harming humans, an action that it decreed it had to do.

    2. This seems classical pacifism: “opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes specifically : refusal to bear arms on moral or religious grounds; an attitude or policy of nonresistance” :

    “38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[o] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Many Christians find these words supposedly from their savior to be inconvenient.

  • robertrobinson
  • Good point, Gary. America is unique in many ways in that regard.

  • True. It’s way too easy for the wrong people to get their hands on weapons here.

  • Our eye has been off the ball for a long time.

  • So which is it, Jane? Did God say those things or did various human authors say them? I think it makes a difference in one’s viewpoint. You seem to have suggested both to make your argument.

  • They are very inconvenient. They suggest a new way of human relations that would essentially amount to “turning the world upside down.”

  • Jane Ravenswood

    Unfortunately, a lot of Christians try what you seem to be trying, Joshua. You want to try to claim that somehow I believe in your god when I refer to what it does in the bible. I don’t believe in your god and speak about what the bible says as the authors make their claims. The bible is all by humans. I have not suggested both.

    Your god and your savior are presented as demanding redemptive violence by the authors of the bible. Your supposed savior is presented by the authors of the bible as stating that all of the laws that the supposed god has given are to be followed until the heands and the earth end. Those things are still around.

    We have Christians who vastly differ in what they want to claim their god wants, and that depends on what parts they want to accept as literal, as metaphor and to ignore altogether. They almost always claim that their supposed god or supposed “holy spirit” has told them and only them the “right” way to believe.

    The difference in viewpoint is one of making a presupposition that your version of your god exists. Can you show that it exists?

  • Jane Ravenswood

    indeed. So why do you deny the authors of the bible wrote JC to be a pacificist in very classical terms?

  • Nope. And I’m not concerned with trying to, or with convincing you that you believe in anything other than what you believe in.

  • Classical pacifism, as I understand it, allows for no use of force (aka “violence”) in any situation whatsoever. I don’t read that position into Jesus’ statements or actions. Did he teach non-violence, and more specifically non-retaliation, in general? Yes. But his vision was more positive (“do this”) than negative (“don’t do this”). And sometimes he seemed to be alright with using force (e.g. the clearing of the Temple).

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Why does’nt God just save the people rather than commit violence? A God who does not get creative with its reality warper abilities is no God at all.

  • soter phile

    My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

    – Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace (p.303-304)

  • “Pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.” I like that.

  • Jake Carson

    You suddenly switched from local gun deaths to Presidential foreign policy. Stay on track.

  • Jake Carson

    He(your god) is all powerful, why would he need violence? He could just use mind control like he did to Pharaoh in the Exodus.

  • Joris Heise

    “My” God is not all- powerful. That is a theological construct irrelevant to my faith.

  • It’s on track with the point I was making, which is that both political parties advance policies that generally include killing a bunch of people.

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Weird how all of that horror was possible with a God.

  • Questioning54

    So God had a personality makeover Another one coming end times

  • Questioning54

    It is a nasty God thing. Genocide, death and destruction, vengeance (I know you think Jesus changed all that but what about Annanias and Sapphira?) God had to have someone pay (a baby (David’s) an animal, all the Egyptians for their king’s stubbornness (which God hardened him to), the Israelites (because David ordered a census) and his own son. And more to come in “end times”.

  • Gary Stilwell

    Have you noticed that God’s character improved a lot by the time of Jesus? Some Christians (Gnostics) tried to get rid of that old nasty God, but other Christians (proto-orthodox) prevailed and now we’re stuck with Him.

  • Questioning54

    And why not stop the guy who tortured and killed toddler. The child took a week to die in agony without medical attention (longer than Jesus’ suffering). He could kill a man instantly for touching the precious ark of the covenent to steady it so it would not end up in the dirt.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    it got better then it ended up in the blood fest called Revelation with this god working with its supposed archenemy (Revelation 17 and Revelation 19=21) But Christians want to ignore those parts.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    indeed. Iain and other Christians are desperate to ignore the failures of their impotent, and evidently imaginary god.