A day or two after the shootings in Newtown, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, was interviewed on NPR. Robert Siegel asked him, “What is the New Testament justification for owning a gun?”
There was a lengthy pause, and then, in the cadence of a question, Land replied, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you?” He went on to say that in his view, Christians had a duty to defend their neighbors from attacks, dealing out lethal force, if necessary. For this reason, owning guns was justified. The better to do unto others.
I’m going to set aside the fact that there are several holes in this theological framework. (Jesus, for one, rather glaring, example. And who, exactly are “the others” in that phrase, for another.)
Rather, it’s become clear to me that as the nation increasingly coalesces around the idea of controlling its supply of guns, we need some theology for this. Is there some theology we can construct around this, other than reciting lines from the West Wing? Because as people of faith who are not Richard Land, we need to give reasons for what we are doing.*
At least, I’d like to hammer out a theology behind this. So for my edification, I’ve written a multi-part theology of why we might want to have gun control in America. This is part 1. Part 2 will come later this week.
First, let’s start with the place of honor guns hold in America. One of the arguments that has been circulating for a while now is that guns are untouchable, because of culture! And History! Particularly in the South and in the West, and in places where people hunt, and places where there is lots of sport, and in places where are men… So that’s pretty much all of the US right there.
Guns are an important part of America, quoth this line of thought. Citizen militias are how we defeated the British, and how we won the frontier, and manifested our destiny all over the place. They are enshrined in the Constitution in their very own amendment. They represent our freedom as much as the flag. And for these reasons, even as we might want to restrict guns, it’s pointless! Because they are too ingrained.
Now, ignoring the really problematic reading of American, and judicial, history that crops up here, let’s attack this with theology.
Just because a thing is American, does not make it Christian. Just because a thing is in the Constitution, does not make it Christian. (In fact, the suggestion of very much of an overlap would probably make the Founders roll in their graves, deists as they mostly were.)
As an example, recall the Constitutional procedure for calculating the representation in the House as it originally was: “the whole number of free persons, plus those bound to service for a period of years, …and 3/5ths the number of all other persons.” (Article I, Section 2)
Now, just who do you suppose they were talking about, with that “all other persons” stuff? We enshrined slavery in the Constitution until after the Civil War. We enshrined male-only suffrage until the 1920s. Neither one of those things represents the values espoused by Jesus.
The Constitution remains a document in progress. This country and its culture, and the world itself, remain a work in progress, and hopefully God will give us enough sense so we can keep learning from our mistakes.
More importantly, though. As Christians, we’re called to live in the ” already/not yet”, as outposts of the reign of God. It’s a bad idea to enshrine any status quo as God’s reign arrived, because, unless I missed something major on Dec 21, Jesus hasn’t shown back up yet. It is perfectly all right to question the culture.
In fact, as resident aliens, that’s our job. We are supposed to question things, and kick the tires of this world a bit. We are supposed to recognize that this world is broken, and in a state of ongoing messy redemption. And our call is to see the messiness, the brokenness for what it is, and to try to help heal it as Christ’s hands in the world. Not just stamp everything with a cross and call it good.
Next time: In what do you trust, and why does it matter?
*Cribbed Sorkin dialogue works great in most, if not all, circumstances. But in this case, let’s face it, we need more.