On Guns, Defense, and Faith

I can already hear some of you (assuming you even wanted to click on this article and read it).

“Here we go. Just stick to the matters of church and God and let everyone do what they want with this sort of stuff.” Nope. Not this time. I have already talked about the issues with discussing guns (or anything else for that matter) in a previous post, essentially exhorting everyone (especially those of faith) to keep a cool, compassionate mind. This is hard, but it is exactly what is needed in such a knee-jerk, reactionary time as ours. However, what I am discussing today is more specific, yet still applicable to many overlapping issues regarding violence and the Christian person.

First off, I don’t blame guns. I lament their existence, but in the end, we cannot blame a tool for what it is used for. Do I believe everyone should have access to whatever weapon they want with little to no restriction? Absolutely not. However, if you were hoping for a discussion of the evils of weaponry, you will be slightly (but not entirely) disappointed.

So what exactly am I going to be putting under the microscope here? That would be us, the worshipers of violence.

Think this is harsh? Sorry, but let’s just be honest. We devalue life. Specifically, we devalue life that does not conform to our sense of what is right, and we call this “justice.” Where I am from, for example, lives are most valuable when they are free of certain mistakes. If you break into someone’s house, you should be shot with no remorse. If you talk about shooting someone with no remorse, you are somehow a more moral being. If you murder someone, you should be murdered back. If you talk about murdering those you deem deserving of it, you are simply being just (even though it is likely the same logic was applied by the murderer). Do you see the odd cycle?

The issues around gun control are the most frustrating of these cycles. For example, when enough white kids are killed in school, we want to take action. When young people of color are killing each other daily in our forsaken “bad parts of town,” that’s just a sad but acceptable part of life, it would seem.

Too often, what we mean by wanting justice is really the desire to have our biases validated in a court of law, whilst we dare to hope for forgiveness for our transgressions. Oddly enough, I think Jesus actually talked about this somewhere in Matthew…

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

In chapter 6, verses 14 and 15, Jesus lays down a truth that we love to use for small infractions and the hope of our wrongs being overlooked. When bigger transgressions are committed, however, we tell Jesus to shut up and let us handle this situation as we see fit.

Sounds crazy when you put it like that, yes? That is what we do. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Forgive unless they murder someone or break in or are trapped in the cycle of gang life and violence.” I checked. Everywhere. However, this is how our collective mind seems to interpret the words of Matthew’s Gospel.

My point is that while the tools of violence are not dangerous in and of themselves, the attitudes and biases we all carry (combined with the haphazardly regulated availability of efficient weapons) are exceedingly dangerous, especially for those of us who hold these positions while displaying crosses all over our house. Luckily, though, those crosses hold the key to doing something different.

What I am about to say may seem impractical and scary, but it is honestly, as I see it, the only Biblical way to approach the issues of self-defense, weapons, and violence as people of faith (and, I submit, as people in general).

We own three pistols. Part of this is due to inheritance, part of it for the cathartic hobby of shooting targets. A fun fact, though, is that we keep none of them in our night stands, but in our safe. Why? Nothing that we own is worth the life of someone else. Also, if someone were to break in during the day (which is when that usually happens), I do not want my very efficient pistol out there doing damage to others. This is why we keep our weapons properly stored and why I personally choose not to carry weapons with me.

As the 49th Psalm admonishes, “Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.” The first step to preserving life is realizing there is nothing worth more than life. This isn’t because criminals are utilizing life well, but because God gave that life, and only God can rightfully take it back. If we ignore this truth and decide that there is no shame in killing those we feel deserve it, we share the same mental space as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hitler, Charles Manson, and the like.  The fact is that if we continue down the path of selective devaluing, we are no better than those we condemn. We must learn to think, speak, and act in ways that show an inherent, immovable valuing of life.

We cannot underestimate the impact of our collective attitudes regarding the value of all life. As long as we walk about devaluing that which God has given (whether we feel justified or not), nothing will change. As long as we (by word, thought, and deed) dismiss the cross of Christ, where God declared sinners to be worth dying for, we cannot expect a brighter future. 

Now, if you know me, you know I practice martial arts, specifically Goju-Ryu Karate Do. To many this seems like a preparation to do violence, and it was when the style originally developed. Things change, however, and what I have found is that practicing martial arts has helped me learn to keep a level head and an open heart. Does this mean I will allow someone to strike me if I can prevent it? No. Does this mean I am going to puff out my chest, pick fights, inflict as much damage as possible, and think in terms of violence in my daily life? Also no. Martial arts is a tool that should be used responsibly and actually promote communal well-being.

On a similar note, I have no problem with gun ownership… as long as we are held accountable. Do we all have safes and keep them locked up at appropriate times? Do we have a record of assault/domestic abuse? Do we ensure that we are properly trained in marksmanship, safety, and maintenance of firearms? Too often, these are issues that are overlooked for the sake of convenience and pleasing lobbyists.

On the broader scale, are we holding ourselves accountable for our words and attitudes? Did I just talk about killing someone if they ever try to rob me or break in? Did I just rejoice that a death row inmate met his end? Do I really feel no remorse about someone dying? Is my convenience really the most important thing in this conversation? Remember, Proverbs 24:17-18 teaches us, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.”

My final point is geared toward the criticism this post may very well receive (which I welcome). I will undoubtedly provoke the question, “So I should just let myself be a victim then? Do nothing? Is that the Christian way?” My answer is, “Well…”

It is here that I appeal to Scripture. In Matthew 26:47-56, Jesus is being arrested and a disciple tries to defend him by drawing his sword and cutting off a slave’s ear. Jesus’ response?

“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

It would appear Jesus could have resisted, utilizing heavenly violence to prevent his own innocent suffering. However, thankfully, that is not the example Jesus sets for us, yet we pretend that it is. Either that, or Jesus doesn’t affect our conscience regarding justice and violence at all. I am not sure which is worse.

I understand our natural impulse to seek peace by eliminating all threats, but I have to say that it is impossible that all threats disappear. Eventually, we have to live life, and we have to choose whether we will live in acceptance of fear and violence or strive for something else. The only way to achieve peace is through this “something else.” Jesus encourages us time and time again to live as if the Kingdom of God is at hand, even if the world around us doesn’t reflect that. The implication, for me, is that the world will begin to look this way if we actually treat God’s world as if it were a reality now and not just a post-death escape.

If we want peace, we must think, speak, and behave peacefully. If we want forgiveness, we must think, speak, and behave with grace. If we want to be loved, we must think, speak, and behave lovingly. What’s more, if we want to be followers of Christ, we must actually follow Him into those places of discomfort and danger, walking as He walked.

On the surface, I seem to have taken a middle-of-the-road approach. In truth, I just took an exit and headed a different direction. Banning guns will not cleanse us of the plague of violence that is so commonplace in our country. Nor, however, will the refusal to do anything. Most pressing to me is the issue of our attitudes regarding death, defense, and the use of force as a means of justice. If we devalue the lives of anyone, we fail at our task as disciples. When our attitudes change, our practices will. Perhaps open carry will cease to be a source of pride and bluster. Perhaps carrying at all will be reduced. Perhaps a nation can come together and find useful and effective ways to curb and reduce tragedy, not just in the schools and communities that we care about, but the places we try to forget exist. Perhaps we stop neglecting communities at all and start behaving as if we are, in fact, our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers. Perhaps the future could be filled with faithful people who decided to choose the cross.

Once can only hope.

Peace be with you!

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