12.23.2015

Lost in the Swirl of the Gun Control Debate (as a Christian)

To read a thoughtful response to this article by Scott Fritzsche, please go
here: http://unsettledchristianity.com/lost-in-guns-and-i-dont-know-much/
Lately I have engaged in a few debates about gun control on Facebook.

It is the end of 2015 and in America many events have occurred that either make people want to enact much stricter gun control laws (or do away with the 2nd Amendment entirely) or make people be firmer advocates for gun rights among the general populace as a means of protecting our communities whenever a mass shooter situation arises. Speeches have been made and articles written by such prominent Christian leaders as Jerry Falwell Jr., John Piper, and a slew of others. (I recommend you read those articles/speeches in order to understand the context of what I am about to say).


I have many friends arguing on both sides of this issue. Many of these people are Christians, that is, they proclaim Jesus as Lord, as crucified, resurrected, and coming again, and we all draw from the Bible as the bedrock of our faith. As far as I know everyone I have been debating/conversing/arguing/postulating with (this includes the non-Christians too) want our society to be safe and free from violence. They all want peace—or at least eventual peace—and hope to never actually have to use their guns.

Now, I really hate making people mad. I am a "feeler" type, which means that every time I disagree with someone I am afraid I will make them feel bad or make them mad at me. And so, as I have gotten lost in the swirl of this very real and very pressing debate a big concern of mine has been "Ah! I'm making all my friends mad!"

I have decided to step back a bit a try to assess what is going on between the two groups. The groups themselves vary individually on the place they would find themselves on the spectrum between full gun control and full gun freedom. There is hardly a cut and dried person amongst my friends. My own stance is rather complex and it is difficult to explain and still developing. That makes it difficult for people to understand my arguments when they themselves have beliefs that are 1.) complex, 2.) difficult to explain, and 3.) still developing.

I wanted to write down some of what I am noticing as these arguments develop amongst this diverse group of people, primarily for myself so I can make sense of what is happening and where I stand as a believer in Christ as Lord, as the risen an coming King. If my friends—no matter where they fall on gun control—can make sense of my observations and benefit from it, then that is an extra blessing.

Disclaimer #1: Let me first say that while I am a pastor pursuing ordination and have a seminary degree there are many others who are far better and more well-read exegetes on all Scripture passages dealing with self-defense, vengeance, peace making, protecting the innocent, and owning weapons. If I were to go through all the Scriptures that others have already gone through and try to unpack them and give my own understanding of them, this article would be far longer and take an incredible amount of time to write.

Disclaimer #2: I should inform you, at least somewhat, where I stand on guns and gun control. From the start I should say I am way more concerned with what Christians are called to as those who are new creations in Christ and are proclaiming his Kingdom than I am what the United States Constitution says. That is to say, no matter what the law of the land says of whatever country I find myself living in, God's word should always take precedence in my life. With that said, it is my conviction that if faced with a violent attack I should do as much as possible to subdue the person(s) in a non-lethal way. I do not believe in doing nothing, but I also do not believe shooting another person with a gun—in almost every situation imaginable—is what I am called to as a believer in Christ. I have a personal conviction to not own a gun. I do not believe it proclaims Christ's kingdom to be walking around with a gun on my body at all times. I am not all that much of a believer in the "good guy with a gun" perspective either, as knowing how to properly operate a firearm in an intense situation is something that takes a lifetime to achieve and should be reserved primarily for law enforcement and the military (even if they nearly always show up late in a crisis situation). In nearly every aspect of my personal life I am a pacifist. When it comes to matters of state I am what would be a "just war theory" advocate, but no war in and of itself can ever be considered a "good" and it is often difficult to find a fully "justified" war. I can see the weakness of a pacifist position, as it often relies on the deaths of others to keep their non-violent stance. Nonetheless, I believe in seeking peace and disarmament wherever possible.

Some of you may have already stopped reading by now, but please, I encourage you to keep reading.

Here is what I am seeing getting lost in the swirl of the gun control debate:
1. People continually talk past each other and do not actually engage the points of the opposite side's arguments.
This point is basically a cliche, but it is true nonetheless. Anti-gun people argue from a very principle-based foundation. I do this myself. I keep trying to challenge people with the words and actions of Christ and the Apostles. "What would they have us do?" I keep asking, trying to point to the many Scriptures John Piper laid out in his article. We anti-gun people are often all about the principles, ideals, and heart of the matter. Pro-gun people argue from a very pragmatic foundation. Over and over again my pro-gun friends keep saying, "Yeah, but what are you going to do when something happens to you and your family? WHAT. ARE. YOU. GOING. TO. DO!?!?!?!" The implication being that since you are non-violent or a "pacifist" you will sit by and do nothing and watch your family/school/workplace/community be murdered, raped, or blown up.

And over and over again I have seen both sides completely ignore the challenges from their ideological opposites. I am actually more than a bit frustrated with Christians' lack of response toward the times when I try to point to the determinedly peacemaking Scriptures. On my Facebook wall I posted a link to the John Piper article which lists numerous Scriptures. To me, the call toward non-violence and intentional peacemaking is so strong that it should convict any follower of Christ who advocates strongly for gun ownership.

And yet, every time one of my pro-gun friends asks me the "But what will you do if ____________ happens?" I don't have an answer for them. I dodge the question. My tendency is to re-challenge them once again based on my principles. They've not answered me and I've not answered them. Around and around we go.

Neither side is actually engaging the other—at least not very much.

So here is what I commit to: I will seek ways to non-lethally protect my family. Others on the purely pacifistic side might disagree with me, but I believe some force will be necessary in disarming an attacker if that ever occurs in my own life. Perhaps this means having cans of mace or pepper spray in my home/car/workplace/church. Perhaps this means intentionally knowing where I've placed potential non-lethal weapons in my home, such as brooms, gardening equipment, fireplace equipment. Perhaps it means I should get a taser of some kind. Perhaps it means me working through an emergency plan, for locking down my house and knowing how to plan an offensive attack behind a table or whatever object is available. Perhaps it means me getting and learning how to use  like Morgan, my favorite character from The Walking Dead uses (no seriously).

Nonetheless, no weapon is perfect (especially if you don't know how to use it), no plan fail safe (if you don't know how to implement it), and our lives could all be over in an instant anyway no matter how many weapons are on my body or within my proximity. But still, practical considerations are important and I commit to seeking out ways to protect my family without firearms.

In all here is what I would like to see in this argument, especially from Christians: I would like to see the anti-gun side become more proactive in figuring out practical ways to non-lethally stop an attack. Then, I would like to see the pro-gun side become more rooted in what I believe are the Biblically rooted Christian principles of non-violence.

2. Both sides create caricatures of each other.
The anti-gun side likes to paint the pro-gun side as trigger happy, weapons obsessed, blood-thirsty vigilantes just looking for the opportunity to take down anyone they perceive as "a bad guy with a gun." The pro-gun side likes to paint the anti-gun as (at best) naively impractical but more normally as namby-pamby liberal hippies who think the world is one big warm-fuzzy. Actually, this article, a response to John Piper's article, by Joel McDurmon, continually calls John Piper a "pietist" in a pejorative way, and also twists PIper's words into saying that he would contemplatively sit by and watch someone rape his family while he asks himself "How can I show Christ's love in this situation?" Even if you read Piper's direct quote in McDurmon's article you can see how McDurmon turned Piper (and thus any stance towards Christian non-violence) into a nebbish bufoon because he did "nothing" in the situation, even while Piper allowed room for "ambiguities" and nuance as to what should be done.

Again, this goes back to my first point, which is that pro-gun people make fun of (and thus discredit) anti-gun people for being too idealistic and "in the clouds" in dealing with a violent attack. Anti-gun people, on the other hand are, quite frankly, flabbergasted at continually hearing pro-gun Christians say "NO. There is only one variable in this situation. The angle at which you shoot the rapist in the head," which are McDurmon's exact words from his article. I've read the statement several times now and it is still shocking. I can't believe it is something a Christian would say. (more on this later)

Suffice to say, and again this is a cliche, but opposite sides in any important article love to use ad hominem attacks, red herrings, straw man arguments, whole to part or part to whole arguments, or any logical fallacy that will suit our side in the given moment.

In putting Piper's and McDurmon's articles in conversation with each other here is what I see: I see McDurmon nearly ignoring entirely and disparaging Piper's main points about how we proclaim Christ through non-violence. On the other side I see Piper glossing over entirely any practical suggestions on how Christians should act during a violent attack other than mentioning ambiguities and options and seeming to say we should do nothing. Perhaps Piper should write a followup article with his list of suggestions, though as a theologian and Biblical scholar practicalities may not be his strong suit.

3. Using only the parts of Scripture that bolster our side: In other words, it's all about hermeneutics.
I had a long discussion with a pastor friend of mine last week, Dan Leman, who leads and serves Faith Evangelical Free Church in Metamora/Germantown Hills, Illinois. We were discussing Biblical interpretation, especially in how we read a book like Revelation. It is so tough to know what Revelation is actually saying because there are some many different ways to read it.

And so it goes with how I see the Scriptures are being interpreted/debated regarding the gun debate. I have no exact answers. I am just trying to be a faithful reader/interpreter/teacher of Scripture, as I assume we all are. Books upon books have been written about hermeneutical approaches (i.e., interpretation) to Scripture.

Let's take one example, from Luke 22 where Jesus instructs his disciples to get swords the day before he was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish authorities. One view of this verse makes it seem like Jesus is encouraging his disciples to arm themselves. Another view, propagated by a friend of mine in this article (but also many other Biblical scholars as found here) is that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah 53 to be "counted among the lawless," a social status that lead to his dying on the cross for our salvation.

To me it's lazy and self-seeking to use Luke 22 as an example for arming ourselves for actual defense, when Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane a day later. But the point I want to make is that both sides of this or any Biblical argument tend to put on blinders and only use the verses (or their particular interpretation of those verses) that help their cause.

This is what McDurmon was arguing in his article regarding how Piper really only used New Testament principles to for a basis for non-vengeance. McDurmon, and this is where I believe his article is strongest, rightfully calls Piper out for intentionally neglecting the Old Testament, claiming that not being vengeful was fully established by God in Israel. Instead of being vengeful, McDurmon claims we are given freedom for self-defense and that the way we love our neighbor is to protect them from the intruder.

Being faithful to Scripture is tough stuff and it is truly only worked out in the local church. Scholars and larger denominations can form their stances on issues, but unless we're living it out together it all becomes abstracted from reality.

Next section: some thoughts/questions for pro-gun Christians.
This is where I show my cards a bit more. So far I have been trying to be an ambassador between both sides (while probably not doing a very good job). But now I have some serious questions for Christians in the pro-gun camp. Again, I'm sure the pro-gun people have all stopped reading by now, but please continue.

1. Why are you always so quick to shoot somebody in the head?
As I've discussed the gun issue with my Christian friends I never seem to make any headway with them about killing the hypothetical attacker who has invaded our home/school/church/workplace. This is not the case for every single Christian I talk to, but a majority of them I would say advocate for annihilating the attacker as quickly as possible. Destroying their map, as David Foster Wallace would put it.

I just don't get it. It does not in any way seem Christ like.

So here are my questions: why not aim somewhere else with your gun? Shoulders, legs, the stomach. Heck, even take their hand off. Why do you feel justified in ending their life?

A friend of mine gave me a scenario that what if my wife wasn't a Christian and if she died she went to Hell. If the attacker dies then he/she goes to hell. His assumption is that I would want to save my wife and give her a chance to find salvation in Jesus. But I just don't get his scenario. Wouldn't I want to give both of them a chance for redemption?

To me, the desire to swiftly take the life of the attacker gets far too close to being vengeful. In other words, I have seen far too many Christians express delight or something close to delight in killing the scumbag S.O.B. who's trying to kill/rape us. Uh no. This is not Christ and it's getting tiring debating the Scriptures on this. All are created in the image of God and worthy of redemption, even if they never accept it.

So again here are some questions: Why is it that I never see pro-gun Christians making any attempt toward non-lethal defenses? Why is it always the swift bullet to the head? Why can't you make a list of alternatives and reserve your gun to the absolute last resort? Why do I see no compromise on this?

2. Who is your enemy?
I see pro-gun Christians making legitimate Biblical arguments regarding self-defense.

The assumption here is that someone has intruded our peaceful lives, bringing violence and threat of death. The claim is that we find a way to take out this person and in so doing we fulfill the God-given duty of protecting the ones we love and also love our neighbors.

Fine. I can get where you're coming from with that, even if we will continue to debate how we take these people out and the necessities for guns in those situations.

However, allow me to make three points:
a. We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) Who exactly are our enemies? I would encourage you to make a list. I will too.  
Here are some potentials:
--The government
--non-Christians
--Christians
--domestic terrorists
--Islamic terrorists
--(to some) all Muslims
--atheists
--anybody in our personal lives that opposes us and are a threat to use

I would like to make a strong Biblical claim that we are not allowed to kill any of those people on that above list (or whoever is on your list), but to instead love and pray for them. If we are in the military and find ourselves in a place where we have to kill for our country, then that is another matter for another debate.

b. Therefore, the attacker in our shooter situation is very often not "your enemy," at least in the Biblical sense. They are merely a crazed attacker. Our enemies are those who wish to persecute us or destroy us for who we are or what we believe. Islamic terrorists would fall into this category and so would our own government at times. But what about the kid who came into a Morton, Illinois library brandishing a knife and threatening to kill who was stopped in a non-lethal way? Was he anyone's enemy or was he a seriously deranged person in need of lots of help?

In other words, I can understand your propensity to kill the hypothetical attacker when it has become absolutely necessary, but aren't we called as much as possible as followers of Christ to make that not happen?

c. A big part of the arguments pro-gun Christians make is we need to have guns to defend ourselves against a corrupt government, a national principle found in the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution. I would love to hear arguments to the contrary, but I do not see any Scripturally valid arguments for Christian people violently rising up against a corrupt government, even in an organized militia. Again, please go and read all the Scriptures John Piper quotes in his article regarding the Christian's stance toward his or her government. Armed rebellion is not an option no matter how much they persecute us.

My point is, self-defense for protection on a personal level may be one thing, but actually rising up against the enemies who persecute us and seek our destruction? Getting as many guns as possible to form a local militia is not something Jesus or Paul says we can do, no matter what our nation's Constitution says. I am very interested in a response to this.

Serious question: Oftentimes Christians praise Martin Luther King's non-violent protests during the 1960's. As someone advocating for the use of firearms to rise up against corrupt government do you think King and others in the civil rights movement should have abandoned any non-violent protests and instead organized and come at their state government with guns? Or do you think there was something different about their cause that made it so non-violence was the only answer to the problem? Would you advocate for others to take non-violent means of protest, but when it comes to your own plights against the government you think armed militias are necessary?

3. Do you think guns are "good"?
Often, when there are threats that the government might enact stricter gun laws I will see people (many of them Christians) post on social media something to the effect of "I hear some gun laws are coming. I guess I should go ahead and buy that _______ before it's too late."

I am not a gun owner and thus I speak out of ignorance, but I get the impression that many gun owners relish their firearms and take great pride in having many guns, big guns, guns that could do lots of damage (if necessary). As a Christian I have trouble understanding this.

Serious question: As a Christian how many guns is enough? As a Christian what kinds of guns is it appropriate for you to have? Are there those that are currently legal that would go beyond what a follower of Christ should own? As a Christian is it good for you to take pleasure in your guns?

Here's where I am coming from: as a Christian I have trouble seeing guns as a "good", or should I say, as a Good, with a capital G. They are a necessity for killing food, self-defense, and national militaries, but they are not a good in and of themselves. In this way guns are not something we take delight in but instead are something that is there to aid us when we need it.

Let's think of a parallel example: divorce in marriage is never a good thing, at least not in and of itself. Divorce is always a tragedy. It misses the mark of God's intentions for our lives. It is always painful. Nonetheless, divorce can be lower-case good when it protects one of the spouses or the children from an abuser. Divorce, while not good in and of itself, potentially effects good in the lives of the people involved in it.

In the same way guns are not good, but often necessary.

Serious question: Why do I see so many Christian people taking delight in being able to hypothetically take the life of the "bad guy with a gun"? Isn't the very prospect of having to use your gun on another human a tragedy in and of itself, even if it is a necessary tragedy?

4. Concluding questions: Why no budge?
I'll wrap up this long article with a question I've already asked in another form.

Serious question: From where I stand it seems like pro-gun Christians are not budging on this issue at all, whether personally or civically. Why is that? How is it even logical to think that all the varying gun laws between our states (that aren't working!) should not be made more consistent so it is more difficult for criminals to ship guns across state lines. That is, can't we do better as a nation? Personally, why do I continually see not even a smidge of movement toward a simple statement like "Yeah, I should do as much as possible to preserve life and seek the most non-violent means possible?" Why not seek alternate forms of force? Why are pro-gun Christians so hard-nosed on this issue?
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To read a thoughtful response to this article by Scott Fritzsche, please go 
here: http://unsettledchristianity.com/lost-in-guns-and-i-dont-know-much/
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1 comment:

Teresa Heath said...

This is an excellent article! Thank you for posting it.