Growing up up, I lived in a small-ish city and had relatives in smaller towns (some really small) in central and west Texas. There were more guns than people in some of these places. Opening day of hunting season was a local holiday- no school or work. When I went away to a small school in central Arkansas to start my undergrad, a lot of guys (and some gals) had guns in their vehicles or dorm rooms in season.
I took the requisite NRA gun safety courses as a kid, and I certainly enjoyed the spoils of many dove, turkey, goose and quail hunts. At various times, I even managed to scare a few critters and kill a few tin cans and coke bottles. All that to say that I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of people owning hunting guns and using them safely and appropriately.
I am not, however, a fan of handguns in the hands of anyone, whether they are among the good guys or the bad. You see, one weekend I drove the 10 hours home from college to surprise my parents. I was fumbling with the key to the front door at 1am when I heard someone coming to the door. I stopped, the door opened, and I was greeted by my father who was ready to shoot the intruder at the door. I’m not sure which of us were more angry or scared… or more thankful that he hadn’t shot first and asked questions later.
I don’t remember hearing a lot about people getting shot growing up- aside from the occasional Darwin Award sort of accident. That sort of thing happened in the city, where people had road rage and handguns. I don’t know if it’s because we live in a larger city now, or if things have changed dramatically, but it seems that you can’t turn on the news without multiple reports of gunfire, hostages, drive-bys and other gun violence.
People are calling for greater freedom to carry concealed weapons – in classrooms, at theme parks, in office buildings. In theory, this would allow people to “fight back” and “take down” the aggressors that burst into a room full of innocent people. Like the Virginia Tech or any number of the sad souls who have committed multiple murders on campus. Or in subways, or other public places.
So, what is the role of the church in light of these realities?
Churches are no less likely than any other public gathering place to become the scene of a shooting. Witness the killing of Dr. Tiller who performed abortions and was gunned down in the back of his church in Kansas. And churches are full of people- members and visitors – who are equally likely to find themselves at the wrong end of a gun in a robbery. Or defending themselves from a perceived threat (like my dad!).
Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers. As far as it is within our control, we are to make peace, reconcile and love those with whom we live, work and play. We are to model that peace in our speech and in our actions. When Christ-followers place their trust in a gun that is nicknamed the “peacemaker” the image of Christ is obscured.
Why not work with the governing institutions (city, county, state) to determine and deal with the root of the problems that result in gun violence? In New York City, several churches have been engaged in gun collections to help get weapons off the street. Hopefully, they are also actively engaged in offering literacy, anti-addiction, counseling and job-readiness programs in the surrounding neighborhoods.
I’m just not sure how a church hosting an event that encourages members to identify themselves as “responsible gun owners” to support Second Amendment rights points people to God. The “Open Carry Church Service,” on June 27 at New Bethel Church, in Louisville Kentucky, was attended by over 100 people. Attendees had the chance to enter a raffle to win a free handgun, listen to patriotic music and listen to talks from owners of gun stores and firing ranges.
I know, it wasn’t meant to be a worship service, but seriously, what would Jesus want his people to do? Of all the visions I have of him…
Bearing the burdens of the world? Yes.
Checking out someone’s firearm then handing them a bumper sticker to slap on the back of a car? Not so much.
Imagine the difference the people of God could make if we were to gather our resources together and go on the offensive in changing our cities, towns and neighborhoods, simply by meeting the needs of those most at risk of perpetrating or becoming victims of gun violence.