By Jill Riley
Clearly gun control is an uncivil war on both sides of the aisle of government. But on June 17, 2015 a gunman took the conversation of gun control to church, in a big way. On that day he killed nine people, including the senior pastor, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This tragedy galvanized the debate of guns and the place of firearms in the lives of Christ followers to new heights.
There is no question that the community of Christ is done with the death of innocents. Our hearts are broken at the images of those robbed of a future with their loved ones by gunfire. We cannot stand the thought of one more child dying at the evil hands of gun violence. We are done, undone and overdone at the senseless deaths. The Church seeks to answer the cries and we do not debate or grieve the problem but we do wrestle with the solution.
Many call for complete abstinence of guns, others for stricter laws for buying. Some revere the example of Kenneshaw, GA where all heads of household are required by law to own a functional gun AND ammunition. The menu of solutions is an unsatisfying smorgasbord with no perfect option.
I own a gun and know how to use it. The 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States gives me the right to have my revolver. However I believe in the order of operations. Bible before constitution. And because I am a willing slave to my theology I must ask, “What does the Bible say about my right to bear arms?”
Nothing. It says nothing. However, while the Old Testament is replete with examples of war, weaponry, and violence, the New Testament has much to say about a life of peace and love. Since the whole nature and character of God is told through both Testaments, the scholar must not sever one from the other.
So how are we to reconcile the many battles entered into under the direct command of God, or the people of God being called upon to fashion weaponry, with the writings of the evangelists? Deep questions hang in the air such as “does having a gun imply lack of trust that God will take care of us (John 14:5)?” or disavow that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)? And we cannot ignore the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5. “Do not resist the evil person. If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn other too.” How are we to respond?
Back to South Carolina. What would I do if somebody were to come into my church and initiate such a heinous act against our congregants and my family? Would I use my concealed weapon to stop them?
The moral, theological and ethic question is, do I have the right to defend myself or my flock, even to the point of death? Yes. Why? Because I am called to be a shepherd. Protect the flock. Defend the powerless. Care for the defenseless. If I observe a child being beaten I will defend them. Similarly, if a perpetrator comes into my church or home with a firearm to kill and destroy I believe it is my job, call and privilege to protect those entrusted to my care. Of course, it should go without saying that deadly force is always a last resort.
Can we please be wise and discerning about firearms while also recognizing that the weaponry is not the problem? Since the days of Cain and Abel there have been those who violate and abuse others’ freedoms, rights and property. Evil exists in many forms and some of them buy and misuse guns.
Remember, guns require physics to load or discharge. They are inanimate objects, metal paperweights, unless acted on with intent. Guns have no morals, no convictions, and no opinions. As we concern ourselves with not only rights but also correct theological application lets not give the gun the power of blame or responsibility. Let us continue to work toward the heart of the issue, which resides not in the cartridge of gunpowder but rather in the souls of the people we serve.
As a follower of Christ can I press on towards peace and also own and carry a gun? Yes. I can and I do.