Thursday, January 10, 2013

let's talk about guns

I don’t have a clue how the gun debate will shake out. All one has to do is read the comments after any news post about the latest shooting to learn there are intensely polarized and volatile opinions…and rudeness. And then you have the myriad of “lies, damned lies and statistics”, as Twain put it, as both sides parade their best numbers and argue on their behalf.

All tangled up in this is a founding constitution that protects gun rights, an über-violent entertainment-obsessed culture, a broken-down mental healthcare system, and, let’s be honest, a firearms industry flourishing in our free-market society. Wal-Mart is the largest munitions seller in the country—I’m pretty sure it’s not philosophical for them.

But I don’t want to get into the political arguments here. Frankly, I’m not smart enough. And I have no idea what defines a semi-automatic assault weapon.

I just want to talk to my fellow Jesus-followers. The rest of you can stop reading.

I know Americans have rights. I get that. But I want to have a conversation with people who are Kingdom-people before they are Americans. Because in the end, I’m fairly confident when the sheep and goats are separated, my passport won’t mean a lot. Apparently, what matters in that particular instance is answering a few questions: Did you feed Me? Did you clothe Me? Did you visit Me? I’m going to struggle enough with those. And in that particular passage, those are asked before theological correctness.

But there’s more to it at a deeper level. It’s what I would call a “Philippians 2-incarnational Christianity”-issue. It’s when Paul describes Jesus with a cosmic scope and writes:

He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever… 
Philippians 2:6-9 (The Message)

He had all the power, all the privilege, and yet didn’t claim his rights or cling to his advantages. He was God…and let go of it all. That tells me more about Christianity than just about anything. And Paul writes that we are to have that same attitude. Selfless. It’s not about my rights.

That’s difficult for me to hear…and not just about this particular issue. And this isn’t even specifically about pacifism.

I want to go beyond that. When we are ambassadors of another Kingdom, we have to think hard about how we present ourselves and our Kingdom message to a very confused, violent and lost world, a planet under the sway of a malevolent power the Bible personifies as Satan. So my questions are as follows:

Why does it often seem that American evangelical Christians are the first to lobby for no-holds-barred gun rights, and oftentimes the first to vote for war, and yet say we are representatives of the Prince of Peace, the One who said plainly to not return evil for evil and to put away the sword, who never retaliated against violent men, and whose first followers laid down their lives rather that mount a bloody last stand à la Masada? Do we really think Jesus would fight for His right to pack heat? Shouldn’t we at least be the last ones—instead of the first—to jump on the violence-for-violence bandwagon…or at least be just a little more circumspect? Is this really the best Kingdom representation we have to offer? Even if we believe it’s our right as Americans to own whatever firepower we want, is that really a hill Biblical Christians want to die on and be known for?

I understand the nationalistic argument and I get the ramifications. And I could probably have a dog in that fight…if I didn’t have to first think hard about the optics: how do people outside the camp view my Kingdom citizenship? And shouldn’t I think twice about my Kingdom responsibilities before I respond about my American rights? Am I more interested in getting my way, making my point, winning my argument before I truly take the time to be just a little more reflective about how I express the “Jesus in me”?

I’m the only letter they’ll read. So what’s my loudest message?

Please hear me: this isn’t about “taking anyone’s rights away”. This is about being prudent enough to consider what others hear most stridently from us…and our responsibility as Kingdom-citizens before our rights as Americans.

Perhaps those outside of the faith can argue the other points. And believe me: they will.

“The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants. Then all these other things you need will be given to you.”  Matthew 6:33 (New Century Version)


  1. I am with you Dave. And I think you know my heart for reaching the un-Jesus-ed. I am also strongly Second Amendment, for protecting the innocent from the harmful, and a citizenry from foreign invasion, and,if necessary, its own government, which were the primary intents of the Second Amendment. Beyond that, let me suggest a bit of further perspective. Only a couple of weeks ago, I heard Ravi Zacharias retell the story of a post-USSR military higher-up who was asked what brought down the Soviet Union. His answer, "Star War", the Strategic Defense Initiative promoted my Ronald Reagan. That and other military build up, that never had to be used, caused the Soviet Union to try to "keep up", which they could not afford to do, and it caused their government to go broke and collapse. I have also heard that Pope John Paul's press from human rights and economic equality, beginning in Poland, had an even greater impact. My point being: 99.999% of ardent Second Amendment/gun owner have no intention of ever using their firearms for violence, but they know that possessing them protects themselves and their fellow citizenry from ill will, by way of stalemate. Which I consider quite Christ-like. I believe this is more or less the thinking of many mainstream Second Amendment/gun owners. Rich Reis

  2. It seems to me, especially after reading all of the opinions out there, that where I come down on this debate is a lot less important that how I choose to debate it. I remember being a teenager and getting into trouble for something I had done wrong very publicly. One of the things my father reminded me of was that I carried my family name. Because of that, I had the power to enhance or destroy all of the family's reputation because we are all associated with each other. He also told me that bad reputations were much easier to build than good ones.

    Much of what is happening out there right now is destroying God's family reputation. We are a people known for intolerance, judgement, and vitriol instead of grace, peace, and love. Its an easy line to cross. I find myself tempted yo do so often, and occasionally, I fail to overcome the temptation.

    I think these are discussions we need to have. I think the times are such that we need to think long and hard about what we will do next. The most important consideration though is one far to many of us fail to consider at all. Will my family name be enhanced or harmed by what I am about to do or say? And if I truly and publicly claim to be a son or daughter of God, will he be proud of me when I'm done?

  3. Excellent work again. Excellent work.

  4. The questions boil down to this: Does God charge Christians to take care of the weak? The answer is a clear yes.

    Where it is less clear is whether that care involves any sort of show of force on behalf of the weak, and how much force should be shown.

    That's the divide among Christians. The Prince of Peace is the same as the One Who Will Slay His Enemies with the Sword from His Mouth. The Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah are One.

    Where do I stand on this as a Christian of 35+ years? Well, what day of the week is it?

  5. I tend to agree with you Dave. As with all issues facing us as Christians, it is not our stance but how we react to those who believe differently and how our reaction effects our ability to show them Jesus. I am for gun rights,I only shoot for recreation. (sporting clays). I still have to respect those who want to lawfully own other firearms as well as those who don't. I am anti abortion, it rubbed me the wrong way yesterday when I heard that our president is changing who will pray at the inauguration because of his belief on abortion. Likewise the issue with Rick Warren at the last inauguration. I drink wine and beer, I grew up in a house where just touching it to your lips would send you to hell. Alcohol kills, I still have to respect both sides. Listen and discussing lovingly. The list could go on forever. By the way Dave, your teaching for the last ten or so years has brought this redneck to a place of tolerance. Got a long way to go so I am still listening.

  6. I think the most telling phrase in your piece is "if I didn’t have to first think hard about the optics: how do people outside the camp view my Kingdom citizenship?" If you're truly the committed Jesus-follower you claim to be, you'd keep your own counsel -- or His -- and not concern yourself about what others think. If you can state that at some point your passport won't mean much, it's ironic that the court of public opinion means so much to you now.

  7. I agree with you Dave. I am completely Second Amendment. The only issues I have had recently is how much trust and faith people are putting into our government and not into Jesus. Sometimes I feel like people want to "take up their guns to protect their country and rights," only to hold onto an institution that will eventually fail. We have seen this all throughout the Bible, and God tells us to trust in Him only-all of the time. Sometimes I think that the way Americans lobby for their right to carry and defend is like Peter cutting off the ear of the priest's servant in the garden, only to be rebuked by Jesus. I also think about all of the martyrs that should have "fought for their life and right" when presented with death instead of accepting their fate. I know these are dramatic examples, but it helps me to remember that as Christians we are called to a different standard. So I may or may not agree with the government taking away my rights, but I will be careful about how my witness to other people will be presented when discussing this subject. Also, I am a police officer, and I have unfortunately had to make that decision to end someone's life on my job. So, I understand both sides completely.

  8. Blessed are the Peacemakers! I prefer the 1911 style Colt to the 1873 model because that's what I was issued when I worked for U.S. Navy Chaplains where my liberal pacifist delusions crashed into the realization that there really are truly evil people in the world with whom one cannot reason and whose behavior cannot be tolerated. Because they prey on the helpless, shouldn't we add "did you protect me" to did you feed Me? did you clothe Me? did you visit Me? since the latter are irrelevant without the former? I had zero exposure to or interest in firearms until I was required to acquire and demonstrate proficiency with them for the purpose of protecting others. Is is not the duty of a parent to protect their children and a citzen to protect their community from those acting under the influence of evil? Armed professionals are not able nor required to provide bodyguard service for everyone and few can afford their own security force to delegate away the need to deal with such distasteful matters personally. Is my life more valuable than that of a criminal? Absolutely not. Am I willing to be negligently complicit in the rape or murder of someone else's wife or daughter because I failed to stop a violent criminal attacking me? Absolutely not! Does anyone have the obligation to take personal responsibility for their own safety? Absolutely not. Does anyone have the right to demand that no one take personal responsibility for their own safety and that of others? Absolutely not! If I were able to cast out the demons influencing homicidal maniacs to stop them, I would. Lacking that gift, I should have the necessary tools to do whatever is required to prevent the triumph of evil which occurs when "good men" do nothing. The sheep are not made safe from the wolves by breaking the fangs of the sheepdog.

  9. I am in agreement with Rich Reis. The vast majority of people---Christian or otherwise---are not advocating going out and shooting someone. The point is that when one "right" is taken away it becomes that much easier to take away another---and another---and another. Failure on the part of the people to protect our Constitutional Right to bear arms as well as all our other rights will result in a government that will continue to take over the people they are elected to SERVE. One might want to consider the Hebrew nation in Egypt. They didn't come under bondage to the Egyptians overnight---but they DID come under bondage because they allowed it to happen. When our Constitution is challenged and when our rights are chipped away---you can depend upon the rights of Christians to even claim to be Christians will go right down the tubes with the rest. There will be no "church" and those that think they are being persecuted haven't seen anything yet. Lord help us---and come, Lord Jesus!

  10. I would like to take it a step further. When the conversation becomes about rights, then we are looking to 'man' to make rules and enforce them. We have this notion that somehow 'man' is the solution to evil. Scripture teaches that evil will be with us until the end of time. Shouldn't we be exercising our faith in God's presence rather than relying on politicians to somehow make everything right? I fear my reliance on man much more than I fear the presence of evil in my world. I'm not recommending complacency, I'm just not convinced that 'man' has suddenly ,after thousands of years, developed the ability to over-ride scripture. Your post has caused me to think out loud.

  11. We are so on the same page! I have been saying this for some time. The difference is, you have a big audience. Thank you for putting this out there and making folks think about what we as Christians ought to consider.

  12. A Rich Reis follow up: (not for the faint of heart) I have always found it interesting that though Jesus told Peter to put away his sword in the garden, he had earlier told his disciples to sell their robe in order to possess a sword. So who could blame Peter, bold Peter, for striking out at what seemed just the right moment? We can only speculate, and so I speculate. Jesus knew, that on this particular morning, He was to become the ultimate sword, salvation, to defeat the ultimate enemy, death. That was then. Yet, when Jesus returns, He will use the sword that is in His own mouth to kill His enemies, Revelation 19. That is to come. He is God, I am man. I am called to love my enemies, and like Him, lay down my life. So what then about swords, and guns? And why sell a robe to possess one? Not to protect myself, ultimately, but others. I have an acquaintance, a recently retired Navy Seal support member, who served three tours in Iraq. Pardon the analogy (it is his), but he says, like your first kiss, you never forget your first kill. And thereafter, he, and many like him, have been required to kill so many, at close quarters, that they became known as "paychecks". I do not scorn him for such thinking, I cannot imagine what he and his fellows have had to endure in such a duty. I shook his hand and thanked him for serving. (bear with me, disagree in the end if you will) He asked me where I would aim if I were confronted with an assailant. I said, not the chest, assuming he would be protected, I would go for the head. He said, "Right about the chest, but the head is too small a target, and I have had combatants continue running forward after rounds to the abdomen. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone. You shoot for the hip, causing disability, the assailant collapses to the ground." Whereas others have taught me to make sure your eliminate any witness (kill your assailant), I prefer this method of a recovering assailant. My point of this graphic testimony? Second Amendment/gun rights advocates are not all about self protection and preservation, but others protection and preservation. In my case, I have no fear of death, save the apprehension of what specifically He may have to say when I stand before Him. Jesus said, it would be that one be cast into the sea with a millstone around his neck than cause a child to stumble. In a worse case scenario, I would that I were able to both protect the children, and protect an intent assailant of certain guilt and an opportunity to meet Jesus on salvation terms.

  13. First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
    Quote from Martin Niemöller speaking about the Holocaust and Hitler who by the way also started with gun control and gun bans for the good of the people. How much different would things have been if Christians had stood up for everyone's freedom?

  14. I work with inner-city kids, MANY of whom have lost relatives (a few fathers, even), neighbors, and friends to gun violence. It always scares me when I hear people talking about Jesus and guns together...what will my kids internalize? They are small kids, and they don't see the world the way adults do. Will they believe that God likes guns and wants people to shoot others?

    A child's mind does not make the same conclusions that an adult's does. When I was a middle-schooler bullied by the "Christian group," I fully believed that God was a big cosmic bully, because those were the people he chose to represent him... this is what I worry about when I hear Christians crying out for guns.

  15. Eric - check your history. Hitler actually add MORE guns back (all except for the Jews). Hitler actually had a MORE liberal gun policy than his previous regime.

    The whole Hitler story is just a simplification used to shut down debate. "Oh Hitler did it? Must be bad."

    Here is just one article. There are many more:

    Here is my favorite quote from the article:

    "Does the fact that Nazis forced Jews into horrendous ghettos indict urban planning? Should we eliminate all police officers because the Nazis used police officers to oppress and kill the Jews? What about public works — Hitler loved public works projects? Of course not. These are merely implements that can be used for good or ill, much as gun advocates like to argue about guns themselves. If guns don’t kill people, then neither does gun control cause genocide (genocidal regimes cause genocide)."

  16. Interesting perspective given that the Vineyard hires armed off-duty police officers to secure the offerings on the weekends and patrol the facilities. I believe preparation and trusting the Lord go hand in hand. I prepare for life-threatening danger by being armed and trusting that the Lord will not put me in places where I would need to use that preparation.

    1. Excellent observation. I have never noticed anyone getting upset over the nice .45 cal pistols on the guards in the Vineyard while protecting the offering plates.