“And they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning knives.” –Isaiah 2:4 (NASB)
I realize that after my three previous blog posts, all dealing with abortion and the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v Wade, some people might say “You support saving babies in the womb but what about kids in school?”
It’s a common comparison and one that cannot be ignored. With the recent murder of 19 school children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, once again everyone’s attention is turned to gun control and what could have been done to prevent this tragedy.
There is also a refrain from Leftist politics that suggests Republicans and Christians (the two are almost always lumped together) are complicit in such deaths as long as they/we (I’m a believer but not a Republican) uphold the second amendment or, to quote former President Barack Obama, “…cling to guns or religion…”
Is it true that all American Christians “cling” to our pro-life values only up until a child is born and then “cling” to our love of firearms thereafter, leaving school children and other innocents at risk?
First of all, Christianity in the U.S. isn’t a single, monolithic belief. There are many different Christian denominations and churches, and not all of them see eye to eye.
But let’s first consider Christians outside the U.S. relative to the issue of firearms.
At the U.K. website (which explains the British spelling in the quotes below) Think Theology, Christian and British thought go hand in hand.
You all know the statistics, I’m sure. America is a striking outlier amongst rich countries when it comes to gun deaths, and indeed homicide rates in general. Over 100 people are shot and killed every day in this country. 25 times as many people are murdered with firearms than in other rich countries, and 28 times as many women. Guns appear to substantially increase the total number of homicides: last year, there were as many murders in Philadelphia as in England, despite the population of England being thirty times the size. These deaths are disproportionately clustered amongst poor communities and African Americans, with black Americans ten times more likely to be shot dead than white Americans. One million American women have been shot at by a domestic partner. Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children. And so on.
According to the article, the U.S. and Australia share a number of cultural traits, which makes this next quote more interesting.
Australia faced that question in 1996. After thirty-five people were killed in a mass shooting in Tasmania, the government took robust action, banning all semi-automatic and automatic weapons, imposing longer and stricter waiting periods and more rigorous licensing and storage restrictions, and requiring a “genuine reason” to own a gun (which included hunting and target shooting, but did not include self-defence). Since then the government has bought back one million semi-automatic weapons, halving the total number of gun-owning households in the country. The number of gun homicides has dramatically reduced in that time, and the overall homicide rate has halved.
So far, none of that is a particularly Christian point of view. However…
Christians should oppose the use of deadly weapons on principle, because we are committed to the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, the practice of nonviolence. Followers of Jesus should oppose the use of AR-15s or machine guns in self-defence for the same reason that we should oppose land mines, drone strikes, capital punishment and abortion: Christians should never kill people.
As an aside, notice that he also said “and abortion,” but I won’t belabor the point.
But depending on who you ask, Christians aren’t necessarily called upon to be total pacifists. According to the Desiring God website:
The main part of the answer, however, lies in remembering that Jesus is speaking primarily to individuals. He is not mainly addressing governments here, but is primarily speaking at the personal level. This text, then, shows that an individual’s primary response to evil should be to “turn the other cheek,” while the other texts we have seen (e.g., Romans 13:3-4) show that government’s God-given responsibility is to punish those who commit civil crimes (murder, terrorism, acts of war, etc.). While it is sometimes appropriate even for individuals to use self-defense, it is never appropriate for individuals to seek to punish others. But it is right, however, for governments both to take measures of self-defense and to execute retribution.
The U.K. site disagrees saying:
He teaches his followers to live the same way, not resisting evil, and turning the other cheek (Matt 5; Luke 6). Every time a disciple tries or threatens to use violence in the gospel, even in defence of the innocent, Christ rebukes them (Luke 9, 22; John 19). The apostles regularly present Jesus’s suffering as an example for believers to follow (Rom 12; Phil 2; 1 Pet 2). Disciples are commended for joyfully accepting the plunder of their property (Heb 10). Our struggle is not with worldly enemies or worldly weapons (Eph 6). Christians conquer not by killing but by dying: by the blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimony, and not loving our lives even to death (Rev 12). And every church father before Constantine who addressed the subject—Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Athenagoras—agreed that killing image-bearers of God is always wrong.
But while American Evangelicals support carrying firearms in church for protection, a Jewish point of view is more engaged in keeping schools safe as a matter of internal security. Of course Jews also have viewpoints on gun violence. Both are matters of concern in Judaism because historically, Jews have always been the target for societal and cultural violence and hate.
Christian schools aren’t unmindful of gun violence and also have safety plans for their institutions.
So far that’s not much help.
As the New Yorker article God, Guns, and Country: The Evangelical Fight Over Firearms illustrates, the issue of Christianity and gun control is not that clear cut. It’s a long article and I can’t quote enough of it here to make a complete thought, but here are a few excerpts:
Soon after the vigil at the shop, (Shane) Claiborne (a thirty-five-year-old evangelical activist) had decided to take on the issue of guns full-time. In March, with his friend Michael Martin, a bearded Mennonite and amateur blacksmith, Claiborne published a book called “Beating Guns,” which discusses the role that white evangelicals play in promoting gun culture. “Forty-one per cent of white evangelicals have guns,” he told me. “The same people who worship the Prince of Peace are packing heat.” Claiborne was planning to drive across the country, along with his wife, Katie Jo, and Martin, in a decommissioned school bus that Katie Jo has refitted into a tiny home with saffron curtains, a composting toilet, and solar panels. They would hold vigils in places riven by mass shootings or drug-related violence, during which they would collect guns and melt them down in a mobile forge. They would invite survivors to help beat the molten metal into hoes and spades—an enactment of a passage from the Book of Isaiah, which advises believers to “beat their swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.”
Claiborne believes that race plays a larger role than religion in influencing white evangelicals’ fondness for guns. According to a Pew study, fifty-seven per cent of white evangelical gun owners cite “protection” as the main reason that they carry firearms; they envision themselves defending their families against criminals, who are often rendered as black or brown inner-city men. According to Claiborne, many evangelicals imagine Jesus in their own image, “as a white, middle-class Republican” who shares their interests and fears. They have bumper stickers that read, “Jesus would still be alive if he’d had an AR-15.” In fact, gun violence disproportionately affects people of color, and white Americans are largely insulated from its day-to-day toll, though this may be changing as school shootings affect suburban communities.
I looked it up and there really is a Beating Guns program as a Christian vision of ending gun violence.
I wish I had a better conclusion for you, but depending on what church you go to and how you interpret the teachings of Jesus, you may or may not advocate for firearm ownership under many, few, or no restrictions in the U.S. It’s complicated.
In fact a Washington Post opinion piece reveals the unique nature of firearms ownership laws and history in the U.S. that makes “common sense gun control laws” anything but easy.
The debate will have to continue because there is no one Christian viewpoint on gun control and school safety.
Before leaving, I just want to touch on the issue of how Christians don’t care about children once they’re born. This is a total fallacy and one born out of stereotypes and bigotry against people of faith.
I often quote my blog post Choose Life which I wrote over a year ago. I’ve also seen a meme posted mainly by Catholics in response to such accusations.
Those who tend toward being anti-Christian (and possibly anti-Jewish) based on their beliefs that Christians hate woman enough to control their wombs and love AR-15s more than the lives of school children aren’t going to understand let alone agree with anything I’ve said. Yet, I feel it necessary to open the conversation up to a wider perspective. At least once this is read, no one can say they were never told that Christians aren’t just two-dimensional cardboard cutouts “clinging” to semi-automatic weapons and their faith.