Is Carrying A Gun A Christian’s Right?

(image credit to tvline.com)

(image credit to tvline.com)

(Article was originally posted at TimeofGrace.org.)

It seems like we revisit this controversy on a monthly basis. That’s too much.

Last Wednesday, in shocking fashion, Americans were once again alerted to the regularity and accessibility of gun violence as disgruntled ex-WDJB employee Vester Lee Flanagan killed reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward ON LIVE TELEVISION in Virginia. Almost nothing alerts Americans to reality like putting it on TV. In the same way that last year’s TMZ footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancé reintroduced the country to the problem of domestic violence, the footage of Flanagan adds another wrinkle to the gun control debate.

One of the things I find a bit surprising, maybe even disappointing, is where a majority of Christians seem to land on the controversy of gun ownership.

Many Christians, even beyond Midwestern hunters and Southern Fundamentalists, will point to the Second Amendment as the defense of gun ownership. But the thoughtful Christian needs to be shrewd enough to see a line between Constitutionally protected rights and the principles of Christian freedom. Yes, there is absolutely nothing inherently immoral about bearing firearms. Yes, there is nothing illegal about owning registered weapons. But when considering Christian freedom, grace moves us from what we could do in personal interest to what we likely should do for the sake of the greater good.

Let me draw a comparison. One of the most puzzled looks I ever get in Bible studies is when I ask people if we are free to say what we want. Many students, channeling their American spirit, will proudly tout, “Of course! This is our First Amendment Constitutional right! I have the right to speak my mind and express my opinion.” At this point, I’ll generally move the class to collaborate on God’s instructions regarding our speech. I’ll remind them what God’s words themselves do – build up, not tear down. Then I’ll redirect them back to the initial question about free speech. The class eventually comes to the conclusion that while our speech as Americans is largely unrestricted, our relationship with Jesus compels us to forfeit our national rights for the sake of glorifying God in our personal speech. We realize that we’re not really “free” to say anything we want, because that would be to violate a higher law, the law of love. (I’ve written about this at length before.)

The same logic would seem to hold true for the Second Amendment and our right, or lack thereof, to bear arms. I am well within my Constitutionally protected right to own a gun. However, by doing so, and advocating for all Americans to have those same rights, am I contributing to the good of society, or hurting it? Does this seem to build up or tear down civilization? Put differently, while I and 999 citizens can probably responsibly own a firearm, what if one in a thousand can’t? For the sake of that one, should the other 999 put their guns down? What if you asked the victim’s family? What if your family WAS the victim’s family? Would you feel differently?

With each passing month, I’m just less compelled by pro-gun advocacy. Consider the common arguments…

For instance, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” That’s ridiculously truncated logic. There’s a reason why it’s illegal for 3-year-olds to drive actual vehicles, but no law prohibiting them from driving Big Wheels. One is capable of causing significantly more damage than the other. With the “guns don’t kill people” logic, you could equally argue for every one of us possessing nuclear warheads, because “Nukes don’t kill people. People kill people.” The fact that such clichés are still in circulation leads me to believe that we haven’t thought this through carefully enough.

Or, some like to say, “I need to be able to protect my family.” Okay, so now you get a gun…but so do your home intruders. So you’re banking on your ability to out duel your attacker like a suburban Clint Eastwood? On the other hand, if you both were armed with only baseball bats, slingshots, or this thing, you might still do some harm, but death is considerably less likely.

God has given us plenty of wonderful freedoms, including, in our country, the right to bear arms. But there are also plenty of biblical exhortations to give up that right when love obliges us to do so. Consider what the Apostle Paul says to the believers in Rome, when in chapter 14 of his letter he addresses the willingness of Christians to not eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols for the sake of those who are negatively impacted by such behavior. In the midst of that instruction, he says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Rom. 14:19) At this place and time in history, can a Christian confidently determine that private ownership of guns trends toward peace and mutual edification in our communities? I’m not suggesting that the Christian can’t possibly reach that conclusion with a clear conscience. I’m merely pointing out that the Christian’s thought process must sink deeper than “Well, it’s my Constitutional right!”

Even more, consider the example of Jesus, our Savior. Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)

Incredible. Jesus life here on earth, and even his very coming to this planet, was characterized by giving up his legitimate, undeniable, divinely protected rights. And by emptying himself of such rights, he didn’t just potentially become a victim, he was crucified unjustly. This all because he so loved us. And by doing so he rescued mankind.

Therefore, something remarkable is programmed into the DNA of Christianity that inspires us to forfeit some freedom if it may protect another.

So…guns…is this a right that we should give up? I’m willing to consider.

 

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11 thoughts on “Is Carrying A Gun A Christian’s Right?

  1. Ethan Brooks says:

    Hi Pastor,

    I’m a student at MLC and a friend of Paul Bourman, of the Bourman clan at your church. I have been reading your blogs for a long time. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the time and faithful effort you put into writing them.

    I had been wondering if blogging and an Internet presence had a strong purpose in the life of a pastor, probably because not many had been doing it yet. I was a little thrown off by the time of grace ministry work sometimes. (Probably personal preference and for a different audience) I just hate the mindless and spineless comments readers post when they scour the Internet and bash and debate endlessly. Anyways, you have shown me a very solid, approachable, and straightforward way to write and speak on the Internet and have a presence. I’ll hope to use your style as a model in my own ministry. I hope to continue learning from you and I look forward to more posts.

    Gods blessings,

    Ethan

    >

  2. The words of Jesus (if available) are the foundation for me.

    Luke 22:36 “And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”

    Sword -> gun … “sidearm of the day”.

    Take a look at the video in this post … it will set your mind at ease on the truth of guns / violence in the US (and elsewhere). No news to Christians — these issues are issues of the heart and the culture, not inanimate objects.

    http://bilber99.blogspot.com/2015/08/number-one-with-bullet.html

    • Hi Bill,
      Thanks for the thoughts and the link.

      I’ve heard a number of people reference Luke 22:26, the verse you cited. But I’m afraid it often goes misunderstood. I’m yet to run across a Bible scholar who uses this verse to promote armed defense. Let me just give you several examples….

      WELS People’s Bible: The disciples at once pick up on the word “sword” that Jesus had used. They inform the Lord Jesus that they have two swords. This statement provokes a reply from Jesus that has been interpreted various ways. It almost sounds as if Jesus is saying that two swords are enough for the task at hand. But since Jesus prohibited the use of the sword at his arrest (Matthew 26:52), this can hardly be his meaning. His mention of the sword is meant simply to warn the disciples that hard and dangerous times lie ahead. His words “That is enough” must be understood as him saying to his disciples, “That is enough of talk like that.”

      Prange, V. H. (1988). Luke (pp. 237–238). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

      Craig Keener’s IVP Commentary: By mentioning the “sword” here Jesus is not inviting revolution like the Zealots did (cf. Pseudo-Phocylides 32–34). Instead, Jesus calls for a temporary and symbolic act—two are sufficient (v. 38)—so he may be charged as a revolutionary and hence “reckoned among transgressors” in accordance with Isaiah 53:12. (On the messianic import of Is 53, see comment on Mt 12:15–18.) To be without one’s outer cloak at night would leave one cold; yet Jesus suggests that it is better than being unprepared for the conflict these disciples are about to face.

      Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Lk 22:36–38). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

      D.A. Carson’s New Bible Commentary: V 36 is heavily ironical. Jesus knew that from now on he and his followers would face opposition and even death. The disciples misunderstood him and produced weapons. That is enough, said Jesus, to end a conversation which they had failed to understand. The way of Jesus, as they should have known, was not the way of the sword but the way of love.

      Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1016). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

      All the well-respected commentators are saying that that verse is NOT suggesting the disciples become more violent, even in self-defense. And they did not. They all, excluding John, died a martyr’s death. They did NOT go down swinging their swords. They learned further what Jesus meant in this statement of Luke 22:36 when he chastised Peter to put his sword away later in the Garden of Gethsemane that night.

      Again, the point is this: Reading this verse to say, “Well, Jesus said, ‘take up your sword'” as a defense of bearing arms would be to contradict the vast majority of conservative Bible scholarship.

      I’m not at all against a Christian’s freedom to bear arms. I wouldn’t, however, use that verse to support the argument.

      • Pastor, Your answer encapsulates a fundamental question of religion for me very well; “Does the common man have direct access to spiritual teaching through God’s Word, or must the teachings be studied and understood by experts in order to be properly taught to the less learned”?

        Prior to Jesus, Jewish hierarchy, Scribes, Pharisees, etc — no direct access. Christ broke that mold for a short time (not that the learned liked it much), then came “1500 hundred years” of Catholic hierarchy / priests teaching the masses. Then Luther broke the veil again 500 years ago — again, the experts were dismayed.

        Your experts credentials look very impressive. I’d like to make a couple life observation points on their thoughts:

        It is a grave error to believe that fire insurance makes people less careful relative to fire, wearing a helmet gives motorcycle riders a devil may care attitude, or that carrying a sword, gun, knife, having a black belt in karate, or being 6’4″ 280 lbs makes one more likely to “be violent”. All are completely and observably untrue — if you don’t see it now, you will come to know it as you live.

        It is also not true that when a group of football linemen walk into a bar, everyone looks over and says “gee, I think it would be a super good idea to pick a fight with those guys!”.

        In simple Christ like terms. Strength does not encourage violence, weakness or perceived weakness does. Having a capability means you have a REAL CHOICE in using it or not — if you don’t have it, there is no “restraint”, because you don’t have the option. Mere appearance of strength often prevents violence.

        Gun control “experts” — and apparently your experts, often believe things like “swords / guns / strength cause violence, but we know that Christ teaches Truth : (Matt 12:29 Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house) … a gun is an equalizer. Anyone with a gun that properly knows how to use it is a “strong man” — just as with a strong man, how they use that strength is their decision.

        To me, the essence of the “Christian Difference” is the real and direct presence of Christ — and his words that are directly and obviously true because when we live in the world (but are not of it), we see the obvious truth and wisdom of his words and very often the foolishness of those of supposed great learning and credentials ( 1 Corinthians 3:19 – )

        Christ is all knowing — so he KNOWS what his words in the Bible say, and we who have faith in him know his agenda. ALL “experts” are human, far from all knowing, and ALL have SOME agenda — at a minimum, they want to be seen as experts and see their names and credentials quoted.

        Debunking the plain words of Christ is a very high bar for me — your experts fell far short.

        It is far more praiseworthy for a strong man to decide to die a martyr’s death than for a weak man to be overcome with no choice. They were Galilean Fishermen, the Harley Bikers of that day — very strong able men. They were overcome with their swords on (because they followed the simple word of Christ) — but they would have died sooner if they had not been the strong men that Christ chose.

  3. Joseph says:

    Hi Pastor Hein,

    I was talking to a pastor tonight who pointed me to this article of yours, saying it was very insightful. I agree. Thanks for writing it. The gun issue is something that I struggle to understand as a Christian, too. My two basic issues are:

    The idea of arming up to protect ourselves from the government. I think of the New Testament passages about submitting to the authorities. How they were inspired and written during a time when the government had made a national pastime out of feeding Christians to animals in public. Yet it was THAT government that God commanded the Christians to submit to, not take up arms against. I wonder…in what situation would it actually be right, then, by comparison, to bear arms against our government? Even if they did threaten to take away our guns. Seems a far cry short of the context of the Epistles, and even further outside God’s command to us.

    The second issue is this: it seems to me that Christians should be just about the last group willing to resort to violence to stay planted on this earth. We sing “Heaven Is My Home” on Sunday, but then are willing to shoot anyone threatening to send us there. I may be wrong in my perception, but it seems that Christian conservatives are one main group generally outspoken in support of gun ownership, and I hear “self defense” said a lot. Defending…what? Clawing away to stay in a place were we call ourselves strangers. I don’t understand it.

    Thanks for your ever-insightful writing. I’m sure you heard a good share of negativity about this. I’m glad you encouraged the thought and I agree with your points.

    • Thanks for reading and writing, Joseph! I obviously agree with your points and logic wholeheartedly.

      Many did disagree, and as Christians, are free to disagree with “parts” of it. I think some of the disagreement, however, comes from a lot of Christians in the country being scared right now. Without wanting to overstate the point, fear tends to thwart Christian logic.

      Thanks again for the support and thinking this through. An attitude of self-preservation will not get Christianity far. Gospel-inspired nonviolence, on the other hand, tends to change the world.

  4. Thank your for your insightful post. I struggle everyday with my frustration that nothing is done yet i also know there is not an overnight solution. it is just so frustrating.

  5. Rachel Zahn says:

    Hi James,

    I had wanted to leave a comment awhile ago. I read your most recent blog today about dropping the Time of Grace writing, and it made me think of this article and how I was pretty appalled by the way some people were writing comments to/about you, a fellow Christian.

    Anyways, Joel and I are both gun-owners, and enjoy target shooting together (hey, a couple that shoots together stays together! 😉 haha). Joel has a ton of knowledge on gun ownership, safety, etc. You two sat and talked at that wedding in July in Rochester… I’m sure he brought up SOMETHING about guns, so you know his stance on the topic. 🙂 He and I both had to read and re-read this post and also the follow-up post. I can understand some people getting fired up about it, but I think they are also missing some of your points. This is what I took away from it: While our United States constitution gives us the freedom in this country to bear arms and to protect ourselves, as gun owners (and as Christians first!), we shouldn’t be putting our FAITH in guns. I read one of your comments about people currently being fear-driven in our country. Very true. I myself am guilty of that. Jesus himself told us that these things were going to happen. We need to trust God, trust Jesus, and pray, pray, pray.

    Thank you, James, for your different take on things. God bless your future writing!

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