The Common Good

The NRA's Dangerous Theology

Tuesday was the 84th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know about you, but I miss his words, so I offer a few. King said “people often hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate, they cannot communicate because they are separated.” I would add to his words: ‘and in that separation they seek guns.’ As an evangelical Christian, I’m going to make this theological. 

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
A membership card for the National Rifle Association. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant. 

The world is not full of good and bad people; that is not what our scriptures teach us. We are, as human beings, both good and bad. This is not only true of humanity as a whole, but we as individuals have both good and bad in us. When we are bad or isolated or angry or furious or vengeful or politically agitated or confused or lost or deranged or unhinged — and we have the ability to get and use weapons only designed to kill large numbers of people — our society is in great danger. 

As we have just seen again, when such destructive weapons are allowed to be used out of powerful emotion without restraint or rules, that is bad. In dangerous situations, we as parents cannot tell our children they are safe. We cannot, because they are not. After Sandy Hook many child psychologists were counseling parents like us (I have a 9-year-old and 14-year-old) to hold and love our children, tell them they were safe. We can and did hold and love them, but we cannot tell them they are safe. Not as long as such weapons are available to human beings when they are acting badly.

When we are good, we want to protect our children — not by having more guns than the bad people, but by making sure guns aren’t the first available thing to people when they’re being bad. Being good is protecting people and our children from guns that are outside of the control of rules, regulations, and protections for the rest of us. 

Let me be personal and theological again, this time with Rev. Phil Jackson, a young pastor from Chicago who I talked with earlier this week. A young, dynamic street pastor, he told me that Chicago had 2,400 shootings in 2012 — 505 of them resulting in death. More than 100 of them were children from elementary to high school. Almost all of the murdered ones were people and children of color — African-American and Latino. That’s more gun deaths in Chicago than American troop deaths in Afghanistan last year. One city. 

Rev. Jackson thinks that God cares as much about murdered children of color in Chicago as God cares about murdered white children in Connecticut. But it seems that mostly the white children get our attention and break our hearts. He thinks those murdered black and brown kids also get God’s attention as much as murdered white kids. But he wonders why they don’t get ours. It’s morally mistaken and also religiously repugnant. 

Finally, what will make a difference this time? Only two things I can think of. First, is if people of faith respond differently just because they are people of faith — that our faith overcomes our politics here, and that gun owners and gun advocates who are people of faith will act in this situation as people of faith, distinctively and differently. Second, that we act differently as parents. What has hit us all so hard — what caused the president’s tears and my own on that day — was looking at all our own kids, feeling their own fragility. Parents across the spectrum, gun owners or not, must demand a new national conversation on guns. 

I was putting my 9-year-old to bed a few nights ago. He said, “Dad I heard you talking on the phone about guns and the press conference you’re talking at tomorrow. “

“What do you think about it Jack? What do you think about it Jack?” I asked him.

And here’s what Jack said:

“I think that they ought to let people who, like licensed hunters, have guns if they use them to hunt. And people who need guns — who need guns for their job like policemen and army. But I don’t think that we should just let anybody have any kind of gun and any kind of bullets that they want. That’s pretty crazy.”

I agree with Jack.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in April. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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