At the gym this morning I looked up at the tv screen to see news out of DC that there was another shooting. The sad part is that I had to really scour CNN's website to find that link. It wasn't front page news, in fact it wasn't even easy to find on the US main news page. Have acts of gun violence become so commonplace that they're not really news worthy?
My immediate reaction to seeing this was outrage and I remarked to someone next me "I'm really getting tired of these shootings." Violence happens; I get that, but what is really getting me angry is the Christian response. And as I preached last Sunday, this is a sort of holy anger that alerts me to the fact that things are not right. The way to address this is to imitate Jesus.
In the past few weeks we've seen shootings in Aurora, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, DC, and Iraq. Enough is enough! Yesterday I was reading Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail (full text) and was struck by his complaints against the Church-
"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection...I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church...In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church... there was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society...things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo."
We are guilty as charged. Enough is enough! As Christians, we are called to work for the Kingdom of God and all that stands against it. This would include gun violence, and therefore against guns. Now I understand the arguments of those in favor of gun rights, but I'm also familiar with the Gospel of Jesus, who proclaimed living in such a way that the Kingdom of God might come on earth as it is in heaven. And I am convinced that gun ownership is not a hallmark of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus was clear when he said "put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Of course, you can also find violent images in the Bible as well. But it seems clear to me that the most effective way to exegete the Bible is to use canonical criticism, looking at the whole of Scripture instead of just picking verses to make a point (eisegesis). And overall, we see the arc of the Bible as bending towards peace, love, harmony, justice, redemption, and Resurrection- not violence.
I'm not advocating taking away anyone's Second Amendment rights, but I'm saying that Christians might consider surrendering that right. It is time that we put down our guns and teach our children and our world that we will not die by the sword. It is time that our actions proclaim what our faith does- that death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. We do not need guns to protect our property (didn't Jesus say something like "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal"?). Plus, if we were truly concerned about protecting our family's safety, we'd be more concerned about texting drivers, drunk drivers, and red-light running drivers. It is time to trust Jesus more and the false sense of security that alarms, guns, and armies give less.
I'm not going to get into statistics here because that's not what this is about. I can cite sources that say that most gun injuries are confined to the homes that have guns, I can point out that if everyone in that Aurora theater had a gun that many more people would have died, I can suggest that other nations with stricter gun-control laws see less violence. But if you disagree with me, you'll have your own statistics. I'm not trying to win an argument in this blog post, I'm trying to proclaim the prophetic call to turn back to God.
You might also say that people kill people, and if it wasn't guns, it would be something else. Recently my brother posted a photo of an assault rifle on Facebook and said something like "can't wait to play with my new toy." I challenged him on calling it a "toy." His rebuttal was that the golf clubs that I use to play golf could be used to kill someone, just like his gun. But the point that we are missing is that guns are killing machines. That is why they exist. And our lax attitudes towards them in video games, movies, and shooting ranges has poisoned what should be our disgust and terror of such killing machines. One thing that really affected me when I was in Israel earlier this year was seeing so many guns. When we see a gun, our stomachs should churn and the hairs of our neck should stand. Guns should not be normal as they have become in our culture; as they would not be normative if God's peace broke out all over the earth.
Hunters might protest and say that those guns are different, and I'll cede that point. But even so, we don't need to hunt with sniper rifles or automatic weapons. And there is a message sent to those in a household where guns are present. The message may be subtle and unstated, but it is there. It says "guns are normal." Hunting can be done humanely (though it isn't always) and it is a fact of life that we see throughout the animal kingdom. But killing, even for food, should never be a sport or done for fun. It is a dangerous message and a slippery slope.
It is time for Christians to, as King encourages, actually do something about this problem in our nation. It is time to realize that those who are disciples of Jesus (and by that I don't mean those that show up on Sundays and say they love Jesus but don't want to sacrifice anything to make the Kingdom come, but I mean people who get what it means to follow the crucified and resurrected One) to put down the guns and work for peace. We might encourage others to do so, and stand up for laws that encourage better restrictions on gun (and all kinds of) violence. It is time for us to realize that the Way of Jesus is not easily reconcilable with groups such as the National Rifle Association. It is time for Christians to take seriously the prayer that we use most often and live it out- "thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." Because enough is enough!