Jesus and Guns

Conservative America’s relentless insistence on coinciding Christianity and gun ownership has always been baffling to me. While grocery shopping with my wife the other day, I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said: “PRO GOD | PRO GUN | PRO LIFE”

Pro-god-Pro-gun-Pro-life-shirt_1

Setting aside the abortion issue (which is a whole separate issue in-and-of-itself) and ignoring the odd design choice to point the gun at the heart, seeing this shirt spawned a train of thought regarding whether or not Jesus Christ would have been “Pro-Gun.”

Historically (and contemporarily), the Christian Right has been a major proponent of gun rights in America. The N.R.A. has always supported the Christian Republican candidates in political races and it has become a staple of right-wing philosophy to be “Pro-Gun” and advocate for fewer (if any) restrictions on gun ownership.

Personally, I’m not anti-gun. Personally, I really don’t care. I’m neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. It’s not an issue which appeals to me directly, so the whole issue of “guns” merely does not interest me. I’m not neither for nor against guns, just like I’m neither for nor against water polo. If a responsible person wants to own a gun, fine with me.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2017, 30% of American citizens are gun owners. However, 41% of American Evangelical Christians own firearms. Therefore, comparatively, Christians own a higher percentage of guns than the general American population as-a-whole.

But here’s where it starts to bug me a little: Why do people insist on intertwining the concepts of religion and gun ownership? Tangentially, I can understand the relationship between the abortion issue and religion (which, again, is a whole other conversation). But why combine Jesus and guns? Where is there any sort of scriptural connection between firearms (i.e. weapons in general, since guns obviously didn’t exist) and the teachings of Jesus? Essentially, would Jesus have been pro-gun?

First, an equivalency must be drawn between the weapons of Jesus’ day and contemporary firearms. This is a simple comparison: In Biblical times, it was not uncommon for individuals — military and civilian — to carry swords at their side and spears in their hands. These were often for hunting and other culinary needs, but it was not uncommon to pass a man in the town square with a sword hanging from his belt. And, essentially, the sword of their day was the handgun of today. It is not uncommon to see someone (at least here in the open-carry Red State of Kansas) walking through Walmart or Cabela’s with a pistol strapped to his waistband. So obviously, there were similar acts of arming oneself in the days of Jesus as well as in contemporary America.

So here’s the question: Aside from Christ’s flogging and crucifixion, did He ever experience violence firsthand?

Yes. Once.

In the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas formally betrayed Jesus by leading soldiers to his location, a brief fight broke-out as Jesus was being arrested:

Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here! And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear. “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

—Matthew 26:44-53

So as Jesus was being arrested, one of his disciples (which most scholars believe was Peter) pulled out a sword and sliced off the ear of one of the high priest’s men. Some interpret this man to be a servant, others believe he was one of the arresting soldiers. But regardless, Jesus’ subsequent act clearly illustrates his position on the use of weapons.

But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

—Luke 22:51

If anyone had a right to defend himself in this situation, it would have been Jesus. And if anyone had the right to fight for someone else, it certainly would have been the disciples. But that’s not how Jesus saw it. Not only did Jesus put a halt to the violence, but he also healed the injured man by literally giving him a new ear! Christ was literally in a moment when He would be fighting for his life, but He knew violence was not part of God’s plan.

Everything about Jesus’ time on Earth was intended to teach mankind a lesson; this situation is no different. God knew every detail of every event leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and He chose to include this event. But why? What should Christians learn from this? What was God trying to tell us by including this sequence of events?

“Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” Another translation reads, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” This seems completely clear. Those who revolve their lifestyle around weapons and violence are destined to live a violent life. This is not to say they will all be violent people, but nearly every pro-gun Christian has also carried with him a sense of hostility (and sometimes prejudice or racism) regarding certain other groups or demographics which they deem inferior. This is the opposite of Christianity!

Many gun-toting Christians I’ve met have more faith in their gun than in their God. Shouldn’t Christians spend more time talking about their faith than talking about their firearms? Why do many gun-owning Christians feel more comfortable talking about the guns in their arsenal than the books in their Bible?

Does scripture address the issue of having faith in weapons over faith in God? Yes!

I do not trust in my bow;
    I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
    you disgrace those who hate us.

—Psalm 44:6-7

I’ve often heard the justification that the “good guy with a gun” will shoot a perpetrator in public and be deemed a hero. And there have certainly been numerous instances of this happening across the country. But at what point did Jesus tell us to answer violence with violence?

Of course, bad violent people will do bad violent things. But I cannot find a single place in scripture (outside the obvious contexts of war, law enforcement, etc.) where it is permissible for the common man (or woman) to respond to “bad” violence with “good” violence.

Does Jesus address the issue of what Christians should do when a bad person does a bad thing to us? Does Jesus tell us what to do when evil people hurt us?

Yes!

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matthew 5:38-39

Does Jesus mean we should just stand in the middle of a mass shooting and let some madman shoot us in the face? Obviously not. But think about it this way: If God has chosen a specific moment as your time to join Him in Heaven, there is absolutely no human action or reaction which will prevent this from happening. Having a gun and shooting back not only adds more bullets to the air; it literally defies Christ’s instructions to us as Christians. There’s clearly nothing wrong with hiding or running away. Sometimes turning the other cheek is followed by running the other direction; so by all means, run! But Christ specifically instructed us, “do not resist an evil person.”

Personally, I have nothing against guns. They’re inanimate objects used for sport, hunting, competition, etc. When I was a kid, my dad took me to the shooting range all the time; I’ve been skeet shooting more times than I can count; I’ve never been hunting, but only because (as a city guy) the situation never presented itself.

Then again, the unlawful use of guns in America is out of control. Remember Columbine? Remember when that was shocking? Remember when it rocked the entire world?

A few days ago, an NBC news alert scrolled across my iPhone about the recent mass shooting in Virginia.

My immediate thought was, “Hmm, another one.”

I didn’t even bother reading the article.

 

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