Archives For aMERICA and Its gUNS

Our Idolatry of Guns

Jason Micheli —  December 3, 2015 — 9 Comments

Another mass shooting.

This time in Roanoke, OregonSouth Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, California. The 355th this year.

More gun violence.

While Americans get hot and bothered over the specter of an infinitesimal number of refugees fleeing to America from terrorism in Syria, we ignore terrorists of our own making. We watch the aerial footage of standoffs and the ticker tape death tolls scroll across our television screens as though it were all a Quentin Tarantino film.

No, I can actually remember Quentin Tarantino movies: ‘I’m a mushroom cloud laying motherf@#@$r’ said Jewels to Vincent Vega on screen at the Genito movie theater in Midlothian, Virginia in the fall of 1994.

Like long lapsed Catholics, we genuflect towards the terrible headlines, but we don’t actually bother to remember the tragedies.

We note the place names and the dates and the numbers of victims with less investment than a boy memorizing the stats on the back of his Topps baseball cards.

That is to say, we don’t give a damn.

Wolf Blitzer may but we give less than a damn actually. We don’t do anything about it.

We may be willing to shred the constitution when it comes to Muslims, but when it comes to guns we’re all either strict constructionists or we’re, worse, apathetic.

Comfortably numb.

On the left, we respond with resignation that nothing can be done.

On the right, we respond with bumpersticker cliches (‘people kill people not guns’) and specious, apocryphal history (a militarized police and unstable individuals with automatic weapons is what James Madison wanted).

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I know what the emails in my Inbox will say: I’m reacting too rashly, too quickly. We don’t even know the details of this (latest) mass shooting.

Maybe.

I know I’ll get gripes that I’m being ‘political,’ a transgression which pastors should never commit. However, none of the above should label me an anti-gun liberal. I’m, in fact, neither liberal nor anti-gun. That many of you still will label me an anti-gun liberal shows how silly the debate has gotten.

Some of you will be irritated by what follows below. Fine. Whatever.

It’s:

A) not own argument but another author’s and

B) completely in line with the official position of my denomination, the United Methodist Church.

So there.

In America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose James Atwood, a Presbyterian pastor, makes a theological, as opposed to a political or constitutional, argument for safer gun restrictions.

That is, it’s not a question of what’s constitutional, legally allowed or what the Founders envisioned; it’s a question of how we as Christians live as a peaceful alternative to State, placing our identity in Christ above all worldly loyalties.

And its at the question of loyalties and priorities where Atwood makes his argument.

While not disputing the 2nd Amendment, Atwood- ever a good Calvinist- argues that the problem at the root of the gun debate- the gun lobby specifically- is idolatry.

Take this quote: “Former NRA executive, Warren Cassidy, … ‘You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.”

For some people, Atwood argues- and he’s a hunter himself-possession and use of a gun is intoxicating, and the intoxicant is power and the control of someone else’s life. But isn’t idolatry too strong of a term? Atwood singles out gun idolatry in the following three elements:

1. When an owner [of a gun] believes there are NO circumstances when a regulation or restriction for public safety should be placed upon it [the gun/the owner].

2. When an owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.

3. When an owner has no doubt that guns preserve America’s most cherished values.

Atwood goes on to identify other elements:

Deep emotional attachment to guns.

Anger when anyone questions gun values.

When no preventive measures are supported.

When little to no grief is shown for those who have experienced gun violence.

When any restrictions of gun sales are vigorously opposed.

When gun rights carry more moral weight than children’s safety.

When people claim an absolute right to use their guns against the government if they consider it tyrannical.

When people claim the blessing of God on the right to own a weapon.

Because I’ve seen it so many times before- and so have you- I know what’s coming in the days ahead. Those on the left will demand we do something about gun violence but will do nothing about gun violence. Those on the right will point to the individuals involved and ignore the instruments by which they so easily wreaked their havoc.

But, I’m pretty sure, not many people will be pointing to or pointing out our idolatry. Not many will be calling Christians out.

So I might as well: is the sacrosanct nature of the 2nd Amendment proof that people of faith are more shaped by our national story than we are by our Gospel story?

3f22c6cb00087f2649f48006Relax, the post title is just to titillate and get all you bottom feeding voyeurs to click over.

It’s probably beneath me to blog about a story primarily obsessed over by TMZ and the Washington Times, but why put on airs?

If you subscribe to the Washington Times or have been on a treadmill at Gold’s recently (or are a TMZ-watching 7th grade girl) then you likely already know:

George Zimmerman (He Who Stood His Ground or He Who Murdered Trayvon) spent Saturday signing autographs at a Florida gun show.

Signing autographs.

Signing autographs at a gun show.

Believe it or not, I do my best to avoid commenting directly on politics here on the blog, trying instead to reflect on such things from a theological vantage.

I realize all too well how sensitive and partisan guns are as political issue, and I have no problem with say my father-in-law who owns guns, makes his own ammunition, shoots at a target range and sometimes hunts. I’ve no desire to join him in any of those endeavors but neither do I do any woodworking with him. To each his own.

While I’ve got no beef with my wife’s papa, it doesn’t change the fact that guns are a theological issue for Christians.

In the same way liberals can’t pretend they don’t understand how abortion is such a big issue for Christians, conservatives shouldn’t feign surprise that unlimited access to weapons could also be considered a theological concern.

Specifically, I have in mind the (idolatrous?) culture of guns in our country which values unfettered gun rights above any and all other rights and concerns for the common good.

I’ve written about the above before so I’ll stop there.

Back to the titillating title:

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture delivered by the theologian Stanley Hauerwas.

In true post-liberal fashion, Hauerwas insisted on how one of the Church’s primary vocations is to demand truthful speech about our tradition and use it (not the language given to us by politics) to narrate the world around us.

During the Crusades, for example, the Church required returning warriors from the Holy Land to confess, do penance and seek absolution before they were allowed to return to the eucharistic celebration.

Why?

Because even in the Church that had sent them to war there was the recognition that, despite the ‘justness’ of their cause, the crusaders had committed sin. Had been asked to commit sin. By the taking of another’s life.

The Ten Commandments, which so many Christians seem to want to post on public walls, put it simply, even primally in the Hebrew:

‘You no kill.’

And the bottom 9 commandments, as the Jews always understood, were but elaborations on the first commandment about how we love (or don’t) God alone. Coveting your neighbor’s wife, for example, is really at bottom about idolatry. As the adulterer David puts it, otherwise awkwardly: Against you alone, God, have I sinned.

Even when we can debate the justness or necessity of an act of killing, killing is nonetheless a sin.

And with all sin God is the ultimate victim.

I’m not so naive as to think we can persuade Christians to back reasonable gun control  or to repeal laws like SYG any time soon.

It does seem reasonable, however, to ask that Christians remember that God calls killing- regardless of the context- a sin.

Indeed God calls it such so clearly God gives it a number- God doesn’t often make things so plain (see: Revelation, Book of).

Christians, it seems to me, can rightly debate gun laws and matters of the constitution.

What should not be a matter of debate is our expectation that those who’ve stood their ground confess their sin and seek absolution.

Or at the very least, since we can’t presume someone like George Zimmerman is a follower of Christ, we should expect that our fellow Christians should adopt a posture of contrition and not celebrate what is, just or not, a sin.

Our inability to name killing a sin, however, reveals how the sort of moral honesty demanded by truthful Christian speech is exactly the sort of truthfulness our political culture would rather avoid.

I can’t help but wonder if we’ve become captive to our particular partisan tribes because we no longer have any idea what it would be like to belong, firstly, to the tribe called Christian.

The killing of Trayvon Martin (again: justified or not) should be cause for mourning not applause and if George Zimmermann is a Christian, having stood his ground, he should seek absolution not autographs.

 

SHOOT1-articleLargeI’m assuming (ie, hoping you’ve been paying attention) to the story of Renisha Marie McBride, a 19 year old black girl who knocked on the front door of a white family to ask for help.

They assumed she wanted to rob them.

They shot her in the face with a shotgun.

And despite any other causal sequence of logic in those preceding sentences, we’re to believe race played no part.

Recalling the Trayvon Martin case almost a year ago, this story from Detroit provokes questions not only about America’s continued idolatry of guns but also its inability to deal frankly with its racial past and the present problems presented by that past.

I’ve got to confess I’m not nearly as sensitive or self-aware on these issues as I’d like to think I am, but I do at least realize and respect that those who are not in my position (white, well-off, men) have a different and compelling perspective on these issues.

993436_1472586196300558_1645231763_nI asked a friend of mine, Adrian Hill, to reflect theologically on the Renisha McBride story. I hope you will receive it with the sincerity in which it was written:

I admit I first struggled when Jason asked me to write this because I didn’t really “see God” when I first heard of this situation.

I saw anger and frustration, and leftover issues from Trayvon Martin. Another Black human, deemed a threat even though unarmed, was shot dead.

Like Martin.

And like Jonathan Ferrell, a former college football player who was shot to death by police while seeking help after escaping a car crash.

Like Jordan Davis, a young kid who was shot to death after he and a man disagreed over the volume level of his music at a gas station.

Like Darius Simmons, shot to death by his elderly neighbor over a theft accusation.

All Black, all perceived to be threats, all unarmed… and all dead.

Now, those who shot all of the aforementioned people are White.

But, statistically, people are more likely to be killed by people of their own race. Blacks mostly kill Blacks. Whites mostly kill Whites, and so on. So a narrative that one race is killing another at an alarming rate is false.

But emotionally?

This feels like an epidemic to the Black community.

Why does it feel like we are threats? Why are we not given the benefit of the doubt BEFORE we are shot? It doesn’t feel like, in 2013, any Black person should die under these types of circumstances. And we can’t help but feel there is something more to this than isolated incidents or accidents.

So when I was asked to think theologically about this, the one thing that popped into my mind was Galatians 3:28

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

This is a wonderful passage that speaks to equality in the Kingdom of God. In a country with a history of gross inequality towards natives, minorities, immigrants, and women, this verse has proved to be liberating in the face of social ills like slavery and segregation. It is a powerful passage.

However, there has also been a sort of, unintended consequence, of this general kind of thinking. The consequence of assuming we have all truly reached equality. Us recognizing that human beings still have different experiences disappears. In our hope for equality, sometimes we assume we have already reached Dr. King’s dreamland and eschew the difficult task that still lies ahead – the task of ensuring that, in America, a reality that “all of you are one” in this great nation.

Sometimes the experiences of inequality experienced by others are dismissed because we really really want to finally all be equal. But ultimately, we are not yet there

It is absurd to think that there is no difference between a Black man and White woman. Or between a gay White man and a Hispanic female. It is silly to deny the glass ceiling women STILL face in the workplace. Or the difference in the quality of public education in neighborhoods across the country.

We all have our different experiences.

We are NOT all the same And if we are concerned with this Kingdom of God, where there is neither Jew, Greek, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, and so, we still have work to do.

That work involves being honest about our differences and our experiences.

I believe Renisha’s story is evidence that the work remains.

There still remains a climate where we all perceive anyone deemed “other” as a threat. Renisha was deemed an “other.” It is hard for me as a Black man, to not believe her skin color played a role in her designation as “other.“

As I have listed the other names of unarmed, innocent Blacks who were unfairly targeted as threats, it makes me question why deadly force was used so quickly. Or why the shooters were so hostile to their presence. Is it something about Black faces that strike fear into others? Why? What can we – Black people and non-Blacks alike – do about this? Can we have a dialogue where we recognize our differences and not just default to “everyone is equal now?”

I think this is vital for Christians today to speak to the continued notion of the “other.”

In Biblical times, if a stranger came to your home, you were obligated to do all you could to take care of the stranger.

Times have changed, but America could benefit from recovering some common sense notion of that practice.

How can we protect ourselves AND still be helpful to our fellow humans? We don’t have to let everyone inside our homes or even let our guard down, but we can figure out a way that deadly force isn’t the default initial reaction.

In Christ, there may be no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; but in America?

Unfortunately, there still is.

Why I Don’t Own a Gun

Jason Micheli —  February 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

jesus-rile1I’ve had a few posts in the past in which I’ve tried to think theologically about guns. Those posts stirred up some conversation to say the least.

Here’s a well-spoken reflection from Brian Zahnd, a pastor and author at Word of Life Church in Missouri.

I don’t own a gun. I never have. Why?

First of all I don’t hunt. I have nothing against hunting. (After all, I’m not a vegetarian.) I don’t hunt like I don’t golf—it’s just something I never took up. So I don’t own a shotgun or a hunting rifle for the same reason I don’t own golf clubs. And for the same reason you probably don’t own crampons and an ice axe. Since I don’t hunt, I don’t need the equipment.

Secondly, I don’t own a gun because I don’t want to shoot anyone. Shotguns and hunting rifles are designed for the purpose of shooting game. Handguns and assault rifles are designed for the purpose of shooting people. But I don’t want to shoot anyone. So, once again, I don’t need the equipment. I’m perfectly content to allow a trained and authorized police force to handle this equipment on behalf of society. I think that’s a good idea. (If you don’t think that’s a good idea, well, then we just disagree. Don’t shoot me.) I’m not a police officer, so I don’t need police equipment. I don’t own surgical equipment either, because…well, you get my point.

Can you come up with an imagined scenario where I would wish I had a gun? Probably. Can I come up with an imagined scenario where you wish you did notown a gun? Just as easily. (And my imagined scenario turns out to be a whole lot more common in real life!)

So I don’t own a gun. What about protecting my family? Well, I’ve been married for 32 years and a parent for 31 years, and my family has remained safe. To be honest with you, home invasion is something I never think about or worry about. Am I “prepared” for it? I don’t know. I trust God and pray for protection everyday. Does that count? I don’t even have a baseball bat. (I quit playing baseball years ago.) I suppose my ice axe could be used as a weapon, but it’s in the basement with the rest of my mountain gear…because that’s it’s purpose, to climb mountains, not to be (mis)used as a weapon.

So it turns out I have no weapons. I’m unprepared for a home invasion. Of course there are endless possibilities of things for which I am unprepared. I was unprepared for my grandson to get cancer, but he did…and we made it through that. If my home gets invaded tonight, I’ll just have to trust God. Am I a fool? I don’t think so. But if so, I’m a fool for Christ. Because, though I haven’t mentioned it yet, my commitment to following Jesus is part of my decision to live without owning lethal weapons. Do you have to agree with my convictions? No. But you should respect them. Of course, someone will remind me of Peter carrying a sword (at least on one occasion). Well…I have a sword. I keep it in what I call my “closet of weird things.” I’ve used it as a sermon prop on a few occasions. Oh, and I just remembered, I also have the jawbone of a donkey. (Kept alongside the sword in the aforementioned closet.) So perhaps I’m armed after all, but only archaically so.

Ultimately I choose to live without guns because, a) I don’t hunt, b) I’m not a police officer, c) I choose to live gently in a violent world. I choose not to help swell the ranks of the armed in our society. I want to contribute to a more peaceable and gentle society. Does that mean I’m unsafe? No, I don’t think so. But if I am unsafe, well, then I choose to be unsafe. Nevertheless, I’m not afraid. And I’m not ashamed to live unarmed. Does that make me less of a man? Oh, please. That argument makes me think someone is compensating for some insecurity. My father, Judge Zahnd, never owned a gun and he’s among the men I admire most. I’m sure that has influenced me. A good influence, I think.

I’ve had guns pointed at me on two occasions. Once in Haiti and once in Nigeria. I didn’t like having a gun pointed at me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. But that doesn’t mean I want to be prepared to point a gun at someone else. I am intentionally, deliberately, thoughtfully unprepared to do that. My defense will have to come from elsewhere. Or not at all. Life is risky. I accept that. Following Jesus is riskier still. I accept that as well.

I’m not writing this to change the mind of Christian gun advocates. (I have a realistic assessment of my persuasive abilities.) I’m writing this in the moderate hope that Christians gun enthusiasts will at the very least respect their brothers and sisters who don’t share their enthusiasm. Neither is this a piece on gun control. I have some strongly held opinions on gun control—opinions that I formed 35 years ago while debating this topic in college—but this isn’t about that. This is simply a little blog on why I don’t own a gun. I don’t own a gun because I don’t need one and I don’t want one. And that is perfectly acceptable. Please try to be at peace with this. As I said, I don’t own golf clubs either, and that’s bound to upset some people too.

Unarmed, Unafraid, Unashamed,

BZ

 

jesus-rileI’m reading my way through James Atwood’s book, America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose. Someone pointed me in the direction of this article from Deeper Story, a blog that has already been a blessing to me.

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A couple of weeks ago on Instagram, someone posted a church bulletin. Right next to announcements for kids’ church programs was a class on gun ownership, specifically featuring information on carrying concealed weapons. As far as I could tell from the picture, the class was being held at church. 

Right. Because Jesus died to give you the right to carry a concealed weapon. Can I get an amen for an ammo clip with your altar call? How about a semi-automatic rifle with today’s Gospel message? And all the people said….what the Hell?

No, literally. It’s a hellish proposition for houses of worship to condone, sponsor and promote gun ownership rights. Because, sure. As Americans we have the right to bear arms. Fine. OK. Yes, yes. Bill of Rights, etc etc. But as Christians? No. The right to bear arms is not what Christianity is about.

You wanna celebrate, promote and fight for gun ownership? Fine. OK. Go get happy about your gun rights OUTSIDE of church.

The house of God is a place of worship. It is a place for prayer. It is a place for peace. Bringing weapons into a house of prayer is desecration!

Have we really come so far away from the idea of sacred space that our churches are no longer quiet places for holy reflection but rather multi-purpose rooms fit for every conceivable activity? What’s next? Church-sponosred gun shows?

Have we forgotten how enraged Jesus became when the moneychangers sat near the Temple? Do we really believe we are somehow exempt from His wrath when we misuse His house of worship?

I know this sounds crazy but I’m pretty sure Jesus DOESN’T CARE if we’re American.

And maintaining our right to bear concealed weapons is NOT high on His to-do list.

In fact, if we’re gonna get real: Jesus didn’t even use a weapon in self-defense. When Peter tried to defend Jesus from being arrested, He told Peter to put away his sword. And then, Jesus healed the wound Peter caused. 

St. Paul tells us that the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are Christians. We don’t pull down strongholds with physical weapons but with spiritual ones. We don’t brandish weapons that are governed by mere human nature but we fight through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, if you want to own guns, collect guns, shoot guns and fight for gun ownership–go ahead and do that as an American.

Just don’t bring Jesus into it.

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