During the 12th Century, crusaders often hired mercenaries to fight in their stead during the Crusades. Because the Crusades were viewed as a religious undertaking, the mercenaries had to be baptized before being deployed to the Holy Land. But as they were being submerged, the mercenaries would hold their swords above the water to symbolize that their swords were the one thing they would not surrender to Jesus.
This is an open letter to the evangelical Christians in the audience, the ones who are more likely than not to bristle at the bare mention of gun control or believe that dastardly U.S. government is looking to take away all your guns.
Please try not to twist my words. I grew up in the south and am intimately familiar with the gun culture of the United States. I won’t be suggesting that U.S. citizens shouldn’t have the right to choose whether or not they want to own a firearm. Instead, I’m asking what we – as Christians – should do with that choice.
If you are a follower of Christ, this isn’t a policy issue. It’s a heart issue.
And it is directly informed by your response to the Gospel.
shoot first, no questions later
Gun rights activists love to pepper their arguments with hypothetical scenarios:
- What if the teachers at Sandy Hook had been armed?
- A lot of people die in car crashes. Should we ban cars too?
- What if someone broke into your home and attempted to rape your wife or daughter?
(Side note: I’m pretty sure America’s hypothetical wives and daughters are tired of being raped and murdered in order to make points about gun ownership and abortion. Seriously, what’s up with that?)
The deployment of questions such as these usually marks a turning point in any gun control debate – a point where emotional response and fear become as pertinent (and often overrides) data-driven research and Biblical precedent. Which is interesting because most of us understand that we shouldn’t make lifestyle choices or policy decisions based on extreme hypothetical scenarios.
But that rationale and logic leaps right out of the window when we start questioning the role of firearms in the life of a follower of Christ. So, in the spirit of fair and balanced debate, here are three hypothetical questions directed toward my brothers in Christ:
- If Jesus walked the Earth today, would He be the keynote speaker at a National Rifle Association (NRA) convention advocating our right to own assault rifles?
- Does “blessed are those who own swords and defend their life, property, and liberty, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” thematically fit anywhere within the Sermon of the Mount?
- Which phrase flows quicker from your lips – “Lord, I surrender all to you” or “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands?”
I’m not trying to be provocative. I’m just applying the same litmus test on gun control and violence that evangelical Christians place on other hot button issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Because, the truth is, Jesus devotes way more airtime advocating for peace and non-retaliation (Matthew 5:39 – 44) than he does rallying the troops to defend the sanctity of marriage.
What is it about gun ownership and self defense that stirs up such an intense, emotional, and judgmental reaction in most Christians? Any belief that ignites such a vitriol response in people that is not steeped in a Biblical foundation deserves to be examined and cross-examined at great length.
In my opinion, my fellow conservative evangelicals’ propensity to elevate a doctrine of self-defense and gun ownership above the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself represents a barrier to the Gospel to those outside the faith.
Late one evening in August, as I was wrestling with these ideas, I bluntly posed that infamous hypothetical scenario to my girlfriend.
“Shannon, suppose we get married,” I said. “And one night, I get out of bed to use the bathroom. When I get back, I discover someone has broken into our home and is in the process of raping you at knifepoint. There’s a pistol in the top drawer of my nightstand and I race toward it. What would you want me to do?”
A pensive look crosses over her face as she mulls over the question. After what seems like an eternity, she answers.
“I would rather be raped and murdered than have my husband be responsible for sending someone to hell.”
I don’t like this answer.
blood in the garden
In Matthew 26, Jesus is approached in the Garden of Gethsemane by an entourage of armed Roman soldiers and officials who are tasked with arresting Him and bringing him before the Jewish high council. Peter – one of Jesus’ disciples – believing it is his righteous duty to defend the Son of God, draws a sword from underneath his cloak.
The blade flashes. Blood sprays. A severed ear drops to the ground.
In the stillness that follows, Jesus turns toward Peter and says, “Put your sword back into his sheath. For those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
I can’t imagine that Peter liked this command.
But Jesus isn’t through yet. In the Gospel of Luke, we’re told Jesus reaches out and heals the man that Peter struck with his sword (Luke 22:51).
Do you understand the gravity of what has just taken place? In the final hours of His life, Jesus healed someone who was sent to deliver Him over to be crucified.
Early followers of the faith use to say, “When Jesus disarmed Peter, He disarmed all Christians.” According to church tradition, nearly all of Jesus’ original disciples were tortured and murdered for their faith. Even in the midst of intense persecution by the Roman Empire, early Christians willingly laid down their lives for their beliefs and fellow believers.
When we send missionary families to dangerous mission fields – like Somalia or Iraq – we don’t send them overseas with rifles and crates of ammunition in case they “have to defend themselves.” At the same time, most Christians would (rightly) view wherever God has placed them at any given point in time as their “mission field,” including the U.S.
So, I have to ask: Why is it okay for U.S.-bound Christians to arm themselves to the teeth to protect their home and well-being, and yet not okay for international missions families to do the same thing in a much more dangerous part of the world?
Let’s return to that distressing hypothetical I posed to my girlfriend – the one with the rape and murder that gun right activists like so much.
I’m not implying that I would do nothing while my wife is being brutalized. That would be evil. I would do everything in my power to protect my future wife’s honor and life. If it came down it, I would die for her.
But I will not kill for her.
This is probably why Jesus didn’t say, “Greater love hath no man than this: to take a life in defense of a friend or one’s own self.”
I’m not saying we should abolish the 2nd Amendment. I’m not saying that citizens shouldn’t have the right to own firearms.
But, as Christians, we are meant to be Christ’s ambassadors to a fallen world – a world already inundated with violence and bloodshed.
We are also commanded to emulate Christ in all that we do (John 13:15), and when Christ arrived on the scene He made a point to liberate His people and conquer death with the cross, not with the sword.
I can only imagine how confusing it must be for nonbelievers to see us coming at them with a Bible in one hand and an AR-15 gripped in the other.
It must certainly make for an awkward hug.
“The Way of the Gun” is the first installment of my American Heretic series, in which I attempt to explore controversial issues using the framework of the Gospel. They are designed to be thought-provoking pieces that challenged widely-held beliefs. They are also written primarily for a Christian audience. Therefore, if you are a Christian and are deeply offended or infuriated by what you’ve read, please take the time to prayerfully consider whether or not the root of your response is God-honoring before commenting or replying to this article. Thank you.