Archives For James Atwood

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).

jesus-rile1

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?

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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