God & Guns

I feel something awkward needs said. Awkward, because I’d expect more Christians to understand it without having to be told. But then again, Paul in Colossians 3:9 had to come right out and say, “Do not lie to each other” – I would have thought that went without saying, too.

Which is why it probably just needs to be said:

The Bible doesn’t give gun rights. The U.S. Constitution does.

Constitution

I know, I know. It’s easy to confuse the two. I mean… they were both written. In ink. On a surface. By men. They just have so much in common.

All joking aside, this general inability of American conservative Christians to discern between American values and God’s values is the root of our disastrous failure to reign in gun crime and mass shootings.

Confused Values: Freedom

Case in point: God doesn’t value your freedom. At all.

I know. That rubs you wrong.

Sucks to be you. It would have been nice if God had asked your opinion before writing Scripture. But he didn’t and you’ve got to live with what he actually wrote. And he didn’t put freedom on his list of values.

Freedom USA
Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace… just about everything but “freedom”

From Old Testament to New, Scripture is okay on slavery. The Old Testament was so okay with it that God even created a provision on how slaves, if they loved being a slave a lot, could remain in slavery when their master tries to free them.

I’m serious. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Deuteronomy 15:12-17 says that if a slave “says to you, ‘I do not want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and nail it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your slave for life.”

Slavery
Joseph being sold into slavery

The New Testament is just as okay on slavery, of course. Paul didn’t lead a revolution to free the slaves, nor did Peter. No Christian leader anywhere in Scripture condemned slavery – even Jesus dropped the ball on that one. It was Spartacus leading slave revolts, not Believers. Our physical freedom is not one of God’s values. The book of Philemon, in fact, exists for the sole purpose of telling a slave master that his runaway slave is returning to him – because THAT was the godly thing to do – and he should be received with grace (not freedom).

The pursuit of abolishing slavery in the world is a great one – it’s a beautiful endeavor, a humanitarian virtue, a modern ideal. But it’s not a biblical one. It’s not even a logical extension of godly values, really. God doesn’t value our physical freedom – only our spiritual freedom. He expects us to be faithful in service and loyalty to him, regardless of “slave or free.” And he expects Christian slave masters to be fair, kind, treating slaves as equals in Christ – but never tells them to be liberators.

Freedom is an American virtue, not a godly one.

And why would it be? God adamantly drills into our heads that this Earth is not our home, our citizenship is elsewhere, our rights and inheritance are spiritual and heavenly not physical and earthly. While here, we are to live as servants, putting ourselves last, not demanding our own perceived rights. But our American ideas of rights and freedoms – however wonderful – have promoted the idea that we should demand what we want and get angry when anyone infringes on our life, liberty, pursuit of happiness or right to bear arms.

We’re eager to fight with anyone who would take away our self-proclaimed “God given, unalienable” rights. But God never calls us to. In fact, he regularly and consistently tells us to give up our rights in order to be his subjects, advance his Kingdom, and live peaceable with outsiders while striving to win them to the Gospel.

Gun-toting Americans

Most-American-Things-EMGN4
Not a picture of me.

Disclaimer: I own a gun.

I have a lifetime carry permit.

I use this gun for recreation and would be willing to use it to protect a life.

And I like having the right to own, carry and use my Springfield Armory XD Mod 2.

But I recognize this “right” (I see it more as a privilege that can be taken away if I’m irresponsible!) isn’t from God, and I shouldn’t defend it as if it is. I should also be on board with any demands the government makes to ensure gun ownership and use are safe for others. Loving neighbors, loving enemies, and submitting to authorities are all values of God – owning a gun is not.

Scripture obviously doesn’t speak of guns. It does speak of swords, though. The government is allowed weaponry in order to protect its people (Romans 13:4). The first seven verses of Romans 13 get pretty chatty about obeying that government, submitting to authority, and trusting that those in power are appointed by God – he gave them the sword and their power both.

sword

That speaks to one common defense of the 2nd Amendment – keeping guns so you can overthrow a government you don’t agree with. Paul told Christians in Rome, the capital of the Empire, that rebelling against government is out. Paul regularly advocated for Christians to obey the oppressive Roman leadership.

Paul followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Jesus obeyed the governing authorities (to his death) – and regularly advocated obeying government regardless of how corrupt. Turn the other cheek ring a bell?

Buy a sword?

Let me address one passage often misunderstood. In Luke 22:36, on the night he was betrayed Jesus tells his disciples, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

If you stop reading there, you miss the entire context.

First, Jesus immediately clarifies his purpose. He points out a prophecy that said he needed to be numbered with transgressors to be the Messiah and he says this prophecy is nearing fulfillment (v37). At Gethsemane, he’ll be accused of leading a riot – Jesus knows being found with swords will seal his fate. This is something he not only desires, but in fact insists on.

Second, the disciples say they have two swords and Jesus says “That’s enough” (v38). I don’t know the last sword fight you’ve been in, but two swords for eleven men against a deputy of soldiers sent to arrest an insurrection leader isn’t “enough.” The purpose of having swords was clearly not self-defense. It was fulfillment of prophecy and sealing Jesus’ fate.

1q-agony-in-the-garden
Arrest in Gethsemane

Third, verses 49-51 show the disciples use a sword to attack and cut a man’s ear off and Jesus immediately reprimands them and heals the ear. In verse 52 he explicitly denies leading an armed rebellion or that clubs and swords would be needed for him to obey authorities and come under arrest willingly.

Even on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus wasn’t keen on his followers using swords to defend him or themselves or to fight corruption. A fight for freedom was the last thing he desired, and building a physical kingdom on force was the furthest thing from his mind. He constantly rebuked his disciples for thinking he was there to lead an armed physical revolt against Rome, rather than a disarmed spiritual revolt against sin.

I’m not making an argument for pacifism, per se. An argument can be made, for sure. The earliest Christians were all pacifists. It got complicated when the movement became so big that actual countries made Christianity a state religion – starting with Constantine and the Roman Empire.

Constantine

But before any discussion about gun control can make progress, conservative Christians (of whom I am one) must recognize they are fighting for an American value and not a godly one. In our rabid fury to defend the right to bear arms we often forget this right isn’t given by God. It’s given by America. God isn’t worried about our physical freedom – just our spiritual freedom. In that battle (not against flesh and blood), guns have no place.

Thoughtfully considering a variety of gun control measures is wholly consistent with Christian love for others and our communities. What, regrettably, more often occurs is we violently oppose logical measures because we think any gun control legislation is an affront to God himself.

Perhaps we just blindly accept party lines on issues like gun control. Perhaps we need to look closer at what Scripture actually tells us God values, to make sure we’re properly sorting out what God says to value and what America’s founders told us to value.

We might find that both values can coexist – the things God values and the things Americans value need not always conflict.

God and Guns
Typical confusion?

But we must learn to stop confusing the two. God doesn’t value gun rights. But making sure innocents aren’t gunned down, that guns aren’t accessible to kids who then have accidents, and that “bad guys” can’t easily access ridiculous quantities of armaments – these are all things Christians can agree with and advocate for, regardless of political party affiliation.

When an American claiming to follow Christ says guns are essential (they are not), guns are a God-given right (they are not), freedom is a value of God (it is not), and that logical measures such as background checks for gun purchases seem like government overreach – you can be sure they’ve confused their political beliefs for religious ones.

17 thoughts on “God & Guns

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    1. Yes, thank you! Something to put on the table for discussion, a reminder to keep in the back of our mind. It might temper discussions and make us more willing to meet in the middle.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well thought out argument about gun ownership, which I agree with. I have read a few times that it was Christianity that got rid of slavery at first. And Paul said if a person has a chance to be freed from slavery, it would be good to take it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. The slavery issue is always a complex one. For example, the American Civil War was fought over states’ rights (to decide whether to allow slavery, among other things) – and all northern preachers used Bible passages to condemn slavery while all southern preachers used Bible passages to support slavery! But Christians have often been leading the fight to combat slavery around the world, even today among the sex slave trades.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In these times, there is no excuse for supporting slavery. I think God just did the best he could do over a situation that was world-wide. Also, if someone back then was starving and destitute, they could at least sell themselves to stay alive. Everything is different now. If there is an American who thinks slavery should come back, they have fallen into the pit of sin.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I do wonder if destitute poor people who sleep on the streets and live a life of constant hunger would agree. If the church and Christians and government are not taking care of the homeless, the poor, the hungry – would people selling themselves to masters to trade manual labor for being taken care of still be good? A solid reminder that churches and us Christians need to step up our game in taking care of the problems in society.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. No, I don’t think selling ourselves would be good, because most men are evil and will harm the people they “own.” I don’t see how the churches could afford to pay for food stamps and shelter for all the poor in the country. Pretty impossible. My sister was homeless for some years in Washington State. She moved with her old van from campground to campground. None of the people she met were alcoholics or druggies. They had all gotten sick, lost their jobs and all they owned, just like her. She is a veteran of the Gulf War and used to work at NASA as a security guard. She got an auto-immune disease and arthritis. She worked as long as she could. She saw and met a lot of people living in their cars. One guy had a jail record and couldn’t get a job, but most were ordinary people, even elderly, but got an illness.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I think that’s an important realization. That most “owners” often don’t treat people with respect. I wish we got to see the end of Philemon – how did the slave owner welcome back Onesimus? Did he follow Paul’s advice of treating him like an equal brother in Christ? But the “Christian slave master” probably wouldn’t look much different from a nonbelieving slave master, regrettably.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Alright. Here’s my challenge because I was brought up short by the first section and didn’t really read much else: do you think an African-American or a victim of human trafficking would feel safe, included, heard, and respected by your defense of slavery?

    I won’t even say you’re wrong. I see where you’re coming from and your respect for Scripture.

    But I don’t think this concept of slavery will increase the diversity of your fellowship with those *who are viscerally familiar with slavery*. If one of your foundational principles is indeed diversity that ushers in people on the margins, I challenge you to ask three such people–those acutely familiar with the experience of slavery, either in their own life or in the lives of their older relatives–how they honestly react to the first part of this blog post. Would it build a bridge or a wall?

    Peace be with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely good thoughts! That’s why you read the whole article, though! “The pursuit of abolishing slavery in the world is a great one – it’s a beautiful endeavor, a humanitarian virtue, a modern ideal.” Everyone, Christian or otherwise, should celebrate the removal of slavery of all kinds, spiritual and physical. There are good things in the world that the Bible didn’t champion – I’d say this is one of them! As Christians, we must recognize the good in the world, even if it isn’t directly resultant from Scripture. People freed slaves before the Bible came along, the Bible didn’t instruct us to free slaves, and it in fact has often been used to defend slavery. We should be hesitant to claim “Yeah, freeing slaves comes from the Bible” when it doesn’t. That’s the comparison to gun control. The 2nd amendment says we have a right to guns and then Christians say, “Yeah, having a right to guns comes from the Bible” when in it doesn’t. The head of the NRA is on record saying our right to bear arms is directly from God – yikes! It’s easy to confuse Americanism for Christianity.
      So if you’ll permit a minor clarification – no where in our article do we “defend slavery.” We can’t! We just honestly regard it as an incredible humanitarian virtue that we should all support, instead of pretending it’s something Christians have believed all along. Christianity has a bad habit of finding good things and then pretending they were on board all along. A little intellectual honesty about our roots is important!

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  3. Final thought: “No Christian leader anywhere in Scripture condemned slavery – even Jesus dropped the ball on that one.” Good grief, Jesus didn’t specifically condemn sexual abuse or rape, either! I know you’re being clever to try and illustrate a point–but that’s a pretty leaky argument, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your thinking! With regard to sexual abuse and rape, it’s very clear Jesus condemned these by condemning everything from lust to prostitution (go, therefore and sin no more!). You are correct, Jesus could not in minute detail list every single thing that is sin. He had to speak in categories. We find plenty of input from Jesus on how the category of sexual sin is terrible. We don’t find the same for slavery or weaponry rights. Rather, we find our status as slave or free does not affect our salvation or our interaction with fellow Believers – and we find our presumed right to self-defense being given up for a higher cause, willingly suffering harm and persecution and dying for the faith when necessary.
      Hopefully that helps plug a leak. We agree with taking reasonable extensions from Scripture regarding issues Scripture didn’t directly address – we just don’t believe there’s grounds to do so with unlimited gun rights.

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  4. I would argue that Jesus was starting a revolution that would change the world from the inside out. If enough people in that world began following his ideals, slavery would become obsolete. Do unto others as you would have them do to you, would lead to individual rights and one of those rights is freedom from tyranny. America government was formed on ideals from scripture. It’s pretty hard to pursue life, liberty and happiness, if you’re not allowed to defend yourself. And in my mind ,at least, there’s a huge difference between submitting to persecution and submitting to rape or murder at the hands of an evil person. Basic human rights are supported by scripture. And Jesus seems to assume that you can’t just break into the strong man’s house and take his stuff, but that he has the right to defend it. I see the buy sword scripture quite differently of course. Two swords would probably have been enough to defend 11 men against thieves. If it’s anything like guns all you have to do for most people is let them know your armed, and they look for easier prey.
    But the real issue for me isnt self-defense so much as defense of children and other defenseless people. If I need an AR to defend my family, as a law abiding citizen, I should have that opportunity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think your last part is so important for people to understand and get perspective. When a Christian can articulate that they would willingly die – but they retain lethal means as a way of protecting those less fortunate – that returns us to the heart of God. Defense of children, elderly, widows, orphans, foreigners traveling in your land, the ill, the handicapped (the other-gifted, as my friend says!) – these are concepts that can bring people around to admitting we need some balance in the discussion. Both sides may have some biblical support and so compromise seems logical.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m impressed with your ability to separate being a conservative American and being Christian. This entire article impressed me and although I could comment on very slight disagreements, the details of those disagreements do not change your point in any way. I’m glad you commented on one of my comments of a different post with this topic. I’m glad to have read this.

    I have in my life leaned more liberal in politics. I still will likely vote that way, but I no longer view myself as a democratic voter as I did in my 20s.

    You are someone that I wish followed my blog, because I could see some very healthy disagreements and conversation arising from that. I look forward to seeing more from you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Following now! I love being challenged as well as challenging others, especially in thinking about topics from the view that’s least natural to oneself.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry I missed this. You have expressed something few are brave enough to address objectively. People mad as hornets on both sides and Christians have been sucked in to the vortex of hate and divisiveness. Let me add an angle that pastors need to think about: tomorrow I am attending a training seminar about guns and church. Believe it or not it has come to this: Christians are packing in church– in case of an armed attack, who shoots first? What are the legalities we must be aware of? The pastor presenting this discovered he has around 30 people who conceal carry in his church! If a shooter would ever come to church it could mean a gun battle. Even so Lord Jesus come!

    Liked by 1 person

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