So you might think that religious folks for the most part are not big fans of guns, and for the most part you’d be right.
And then you run across these comments from a California legislator, who said guns are “essential to living the way God intended.” That was Rep. Tim Donnelly, who told a Christian radio show Jan. 16 that guns “are used to defend human life. They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom.”
Well, yes, guns are used that way. They are used in lots of other ways too — to kill people we don’t like, to hold up banks, to commit suicide. It’s harder to wrap those under the banner of God’s intent.
For Christians, it’s hard to square the deification of guns with Jesus telling his followers to put away their swords, even as he was being arrested and led off to death.
That’s why a wide coalition of religious voices are speaking out in the great national debate about how we can live up to the Second Amendment’s call for having a “well-regulated militia.” Notice the words “well-regulated.”
As the Very Rev. Gary Hall, the new dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., said two days after the horrific shootings at Newtown: “I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby.”
In mid-January, 47 faith leaders from across the nation called for stronger measures to prevent gun violence. This included not just Christian groups, but Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Unitarians — a wide spectrum reflecting the diversity of beliefs in this country.
Despite all this, Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute wrote in a column for The Washington Post earlier this month: “Religious groups do not speak with one voice on the issue of gun control.”
He noted that by margins of 60 percent or more, Catholics, Protestants from minority groups like African-Americans, and people who are religiously unaffiliated favor stronger gun control laws. But, he wrote, “a majority of white mainline Protestants (53 percent) and more than 6-in-10 (61 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose stricter gun control laws.”
Even those who oppose stricter gun control laws would have a hard time convincing me that their opposition is based on the teachings of Jesus. They may say Jesus was not realistic, that it’s a dangerous world, that traditional Christian theology makes a moral case for just wars and self-defense.
What America is dealing with now, though, is a culture so saturated with firepower — whether AR-15s in the hands of individuals or drones in the hands of the military — that we have gone far beyond the rationalizations of previous eras.
I know there are folks who think God must be on their side when they are in a war of any type. Hence, Tim Donnelly in California can claim that having guns is “essential to living the way God intended.”
I think there are better images out there. The Jewish prophet Isaiah talked about beating swords into plowshares. Jesus talked about those who live by the sword dying by the sword. It’s pretty hard to make a case that a God defined as love would embrace an arsenal as the best way to live life.
Phil Haslanger is pastor of Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis. This article originally appeared in The Cap Times.