Part 2: A Christian Response
I am going to be straightforward and honest here. I don’t want to post this blog. I know that there will be pushback, however, I made a promise and intend to keep it.
In full disclosure, I am a gun owner. While growing up, we lived out in the country where we had a shotgun that stayed leaned on the counter in the corner, just in case we needed it. My father made sure I knew how to load it, and aim so as not to miss, and taught me how to use handguns as well. I married into a family that enjoys hunting, and they have fed their family on venison for generations. I am also a Christ-follower, so, I am having to dig deep here and ask myself some of the same questions that I will raise in this blog.
The recent shooting in Florida has many people questioning the need for individual citizens to own guns. As always, there is quite a bit of “tribalism” going on where one side is demonizing the other. One side feels as though gun owners have put their love of guns over the right of children to live. The other side believes that evil is what kills people and it has nothing to do with their guns. In Part 1 of this blog, I attempted to show practical things that we could do as a nation to lower our risk. One correlation that I did not point out in Part 1 is that all of the shooters were obviously criminals, had been struggling in life prior to the shootings, and had some deep wounds or issues that were never dealt with in a healthy way, which brings me to our role as Christ followers. Our role in this debate and as we live our lives is to be a peacemaker.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (ESV Matthew 5:9). Though Jesus doesn’t expound on what he means by peacemaker, this could apply to keeping peaceful relationships with others, quarrels, and even wars between nations. However, The Pillar New Testament Commentary points out, “Jesus is talking about more than that. He refers not to peace-keepers but peace-makers, people who end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together” (Kruse 2000). Argyle in “The Gospel According to Matthew,” adds these “are not appeasers, but those who actively overcome evil with good” (Argyle 1963). These peacemakers will be called God’s sons. All Christ-followers belong to God, but those who make peace are living out their identity, as Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. In being a peacemaker, the disciple is imitating his Father in Heaven (Gushee 2003, 45). Glen Stassen takes this beatitude preached by Jesus and expounds upon it further in Just Peacemaking, to build a framework for peace building within war torn regions. He writes, “A positive theology of peace is not simply reactive, but proactive. It takes initiatives. It creates peace. It sees peace not as something to be achieved merely by refraining from war, but by taking peacemaking initiatives. Peace, like war, must be waged.” (Stassen 2008, 21). Peace does not happen by passively standing by. Nor does it occur when retaliatory strikes are encouraged. Peace will not happen with complacent or dismissive arguments.
Christian scholars have built a framework for peace building that has been used to bring warring nations together that is helpful and relevant in this issue we are dealing with today.
- Supporting non-direct action: One of the most effective ways to wage peace is using non-violent direct action. For example Gandhi taught non-violent action in India and in South Africa. And Martin Luther King Jr. waged peaceful action here in America through civil disobedience, protests, and boycotts. The children in Florida have made their voices heard through non-direct action in protesting, talking to representatives, and holding rallies. Though some people feel that they only have a “no-gun” message, I believe that they are being productive in demanding change in this country.
- Take Independent Initiatives to Reduce Threat: This refers to reducing the threat perception and building trust from the other side. An example would be for a country to deescalate a conflict by withdrawing their tanks and missiles from a particular area. This says to the opposing party that we are not going to strike you. Similarly, I believe that Americans could deescalate in two ways: for one side to admit that people use guns for non-life taking uses, such as hunting; and for the other side to evaluate their own gun policies and agree to some regulations. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the religious rulers came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the soldier, and Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, deescalating the situation. He goes on to say, “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:36-38; John 18:10-11) Its worth asking that with statistics ranging from 11,000 to 13,000 deaths a year from guns (not counting suicides), if this is being fulfilled in our society today (CDC).
- Use Cooperative Conflict Resolution: this emphasizes the co-working with both parties to find solutions that all can agree to, affirm, and support. In other words, its compromise. Key to this is understanding the others point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. Strategies for resolving the conflict do not “demonize” the other. Each side acknowledges their own role in creating the situation, and the goal is to never power over the other, but to find a mutually satisfying solution.
- Advancing democracy and human rights: Obviously, we are already a democratic society, however, it is worth noting that on a global scale, democracies rarely fight each other. This can be applied to this discussion because in America, we are more likely to respect the decisions of our legislative and court systems. Similarly, we put a high value on basic human rights and protecting them. Therefore, we must listen to what the Supreme Court has said about the 2nd Amendment. The Supreme Court established in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment does not only refer to militias, but also to the right of individuals to own firearms. So as far as our sacred civil scripture is concerned, we have every right to own guns. However, this right was never without its limitations. As a young country without a well organized or well resourced military, states were expected to put together militias in order to defend the country. They would even have musters to examine guns, but there have always been limits on who could own weapons, certainly not slaves or criminals. In addition, I would argue that there is some hierarchy of rights. The right to life is more important than any other. Therefore, if your right to have or do something endangers another person life, their right to live trumps yours. For instance, if your speech causes chaos and endangers the life of another, it is not protected by the 1st Amendment. It is worth noting here, that as Christ-followers, those who own guns in order to protect their homes from invaders, fall on shaky scriptural grounds. Though going through the Biblical record will take up too much space, a shortened version is that Jesus’s own words and ministry and Paul’s own words and ministry was one of peace and non-conflict. Both men were arrested and beaten (Paul repeatedly) and killed, and yet did not retaliate. The best gun owners do is reach back in to the Mosaic law in Exodus 22:2-4 to point out that if a thief enters your house at night, and dies, there is no bloodguilt. However, if the sun rises, and you kill him, you are guilty. Even this scripture shows that there is a limitation on killing a criminal. God takes taking the life of another person very seriously, even a criminal’s life. There is some basis in applying Just War theory that for humanitarian intervention purposes, one would be doing justice in intervening. However, even this has limitations, such as using the minimal amount of force necessary. Therefore, if stopping a person from harming another can be accomplished by another means, rather than killing them, this should be a priority.
- Strengthen International Efforts for Cooperation and Human Rights: This refers to our obligation as a global state to work together with others to bring peace to the world. This is where I believe the church and its followers can have a powerful impact. We are called to work together, with both faith-based and secular organizations to wage peace. This includes monitoring and recognizing those we believe could be a threat. We attempt to reach out to those people, extend Christ’s love, either as a teacher, a friend, a parent mentor, a co-worker, or a counselor. There might also be times when the most loving thing a person can do is to report the person to the proper authorities. Almost all mass shooters end up killing themselves or being shot by police, so by reporting a person that you believe is exhibiting red flags, you could be saving their life.
Peacemaking should be a way of life for a Christ-follower, and it is not something that is taught often. In John 20, Jesus reappeared after his crucifixion and greeted his disciples twice with a blessing of peace. “Peace be with you” (ESV vs. 19-20). He then sent them out, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (ESV, vs 21). He sends them out, but not before He has blessed them with peace. Then, He breathed on them, asked them to receive the Holy Spirit, and said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (ESV vs 23). This is astonishing considering that he had just shown them the scars from his wounds that were inflicted by the Roman soldiers. And yet, He desires that they take His ministry, one of peace and reconciliation, one in which He Himself is living out, into the world.