The Gospel of Smith and Wesson

December 5, 2015 at 2:42 am

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According to Jim Roope of CNN, “One of the most intense battlefields in today’s gun control debate is happening inside Christianity. Christians of every stripe; conservative, moderate and liberal tend to agree with the Gospel’s message of love and peace. However, they don’t agree on what that Gospel message means.”

Here are a few important confessions at the outset of this brief discussion. One, I don’t own a gun, but I am not morally opposed to it. I have shot a few times during my life, at inanimate objects like cans, TVs and clay pigeons. Frankly, I like loud noises, fire, and watching things blow up. Two, as a general rule, I don’t hunt, although I am not opposed to it either. I tried to shoot a blackbird once during a Thanksgiving I spent with a friend in Ephrata, WA…but I missed miserably, despite multiple attempts. Three, I believe firmly that views on education, alcohol, the end-times, politics, facial hair and gun control do not determine your commitment to Jesus Christ. With that said I do want to take aim at Jim Roope’s comments above about why there might be so much disagreement among Christians about guns these days.

I don’t share Roope’s opinion that it centers on a disagreement with the meaning of the gospel. For starters, I think he is far too naïve to assert that all Christians even agree with his lifeless and powerless definition of gospel as merely “love and peace.” Secondly, if the House of God is really the place where the gun-control debate is playing out most ferociously these days I would suggest it is precisely because it is Christians who recognize that the gospel is not just a message of love and peace but also one of war and punishment, grace and truth, judgment and pardon, liberation and battle.

Christians are followers of a God who frees slaves, acquits thieves and forgives whores while simultaneously threatening to cast away others who won’t do likewise. He calls sinners his sons and daughters and refers to religious leaders as whitewashed tombs and children of Satan. Christians are indeed a people who see peace and love in the gospel, but they are also people who know that the good news came by way of murder. I say this to guard us all from the temptation to oversimplify incredibly complicated and highly emotional issues like gun control. I also say this to suggest something that may sound rather relativistic to some postmodern-sensitive ears; maybe we all don’t need to agree.

The truth of the matter is that for centuries Christians (and as many non-Christians as well) have spent countless hours attempting to establish ethical systems that could be adopted to abolish any myriad of moral dilemmas which humans face every day. The problem has always been, especially for Christians, that the Bible would always end up serving as one giant exception clause for nearly every ethical dilemma. Whether the issue was lying, war, murder, deception, genocide, retribution, stealing or breaking the rules of the Sabbath, the Bible offered multiple narratives that suggested, under the right circumstances, many things forbidden become the will of God. These realities lead Dietrich Bonhoeffer to declare that a true Christian ethic was one in which believers attempted to discern nothing but the will of God. The exhausting task of constantly determining “right from wrong,” Bonhoeffer argued, was the work of Pharisees, not spirit-filled followers of Christ. Indeed it was the application of this very ethic that allowed Bonhoeffer to move from the position of a pacifist to a secret agent during WWII.

Admittedly, this kind of theology inevitably leads to necessary discussions of determining the will of God, but not today. Instead I bring all this to the forefront to disclose that while we are all tempted to argue the finer points of the Christian life, many of us ignore the most obvious aspects of what it means to be a Christian. We overlook God’s certain will for debates on peripheral issues. Case in point: I don’t know for certain whether you should own a gun, nor can I say whether you should not. I do know, without doubt, that God’s will declares that the world will know we worship the same God by the way we love one another. If we can’t get that right, I doubt whether or not God is impressed with the decisions we might come to about guns. Let’s make sure we are obeying the clear commands first. Or, to apply a more appropriate metaphor, let’s make sure we are aiming at the right target or we will be sure to miss every time, no matter how nice the gun is.