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Jesus Hates Guns

Christianity is even more interested in how we restrain our selfish impulses and take on responsibility for our neighbors, all of them, wherever they may be. So after sifting the scriptures and the Christian tradition, I cannot conclude other than this: Jesus hates guns.

Here is the theological reasoning about guns and violence from Faithful Citizenship that underlies my conclusion:

Jesus called us to rise above our worst impulses, above our fear and anger, as he did.

Jesus reframed the traditional teachings of Hebrew justice, an eye for an eye. He argued against the natural human response to hate those who were outside the tribe. In his teachings, he preached love, mercy, and compassion, and he reached out to include those who were reviled and hated by other Jews—Roman collaborators like tax collectors, prostitutes, and notorious offenders against the Jewish piety codes—"sinners" of all sorts.

More importantly, Jesus lived a life of peace, even when faced with the ultimate challenge—acting in self-defense to save his own life. Although the Just War theory developed hundreds of years later would have authorized force to protect innocents, Jesus instructed his disciple to put away his sword when the authorities came to arrest him, saying that violence was not the answer. In the account of his arrest in Matthew 26, Jesus even spoke of the legions of angels he could call from Heaven if he chose—a number so substantial that it would have overwhelmed the legions of Rome, and not only saved Jesus, but rescued the Jewish people from outside domination, which many of his followers prayed their Messiah would do.

I don't know that I read this passage about armed angels as literally true, but it is most certainly a spiritual truth: Jesus was saying that he did not have to subject himself to indignity, violence, and death.

And yet he was choosing to reject violence and coercion for the better—and harder—way of love.

The example of Jesus' life is that we should trust God and not fear violence, as counter-cultural as that example remains, as counter-intuitive as it may be. I do believe that, as Dr. King said, violence is a dead end, and that it should not be celebrated, even when it makes me less afraid, even if some part of me believes it is deserved.

The Christian tradition presents three possibilities, at least one of which suggests a legitimacy to resist violence with violence in some cases. One question remains: Does the tradition suggest that guns be widely available in America, as those arguing an absolute right to bear arms suggest?

I don't think so. Using the "I am third" rubric that models Augustine's Two-Fold Commandment for us, there seems to be no warrant for so many guns to be available to so many. Bob Herbert, who says we live in an "insanely violent society," cites the disturbing statistic that in the years since 9/11, 150,000 people have been killed by gun violence in America—the equivalent in murders of a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl or the atomic destruction of a small city. We've suffered more than a million American murders since 1968, that horrible year when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were just the most high-profile victims.

Love for our neighbors suggests that we may—and should—accept restrictions on some absolute right to bear arms in order to protect our neighbors. The NRA and its allies are fond of the slippery slope fallacy—the argument that banning, say, assault rifles, or enormous ammo clips such as Jared Loughner is accused of having employed in the Tucson shootings, will lead to Americans losing their hunting rifles or target pistols. It's called a fallacy for a reason: controlling armaments that have, as the New York Times put it, "no legitimate purpose outside of military or law enforcement use" does nothing to prevent Texans or Tennesseans from hunting deer.

I come from a ranching family in Oklahoma. I have shot targets—and animals. I know card-carrying members of the NRA, and love some of them. And I believe they are simply wrong about this slippery slope, which is a freedoms argument, not a faith argument, in any case.

That's what I concluded in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, and nothing since has changed my mind. If anything, I believe it even more strongly.

Maybe we could not have stopped James Holmes from killing people. Maybe. But I defy anyone to find a passage from the Gospels that suggests to anyone that Jesus would advocate the availability of weapons whose only purpose is to kill other people.

The Prince of Peace, the innocent victim of violence and torture, is not down with 100-bullet ammo drums, AR-15 assault rifles, or any of the other legal paraphernalia of mass shootings that are selling out in the wake of the Aurora massacre.

Jesus hates guns.

And our politicians ought to do something to impose even a little more justice in this sinful world.

8/5/2012 4:00:00 AM
Greg Garrett
About Greg Garrett
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.