During the Crusades, conversion by the sword was a common practice. Today, it’s conversion by the bullet.
A growing trend in evangelism among some more conservative churches is to promise people a gun in exchange for attendance.
Some more prominent examples from the past few weeks: In Kentucky, several churches are hosting “Second Amendment Celebrations,” which feature a steak-and-potatoes dinner followed by a conversion sermon preached by a former pastor, outdoor TV host, and gun enthusiast. Attendees are promised the chance to win a firearm in exchange for showing up and staying to the end of the event. In New York, one church is planning to end its Sunday worship service with a raffle for a free AR-15 to honor “hunters and gun owners who have been so viciously attacked by the anti-Christian socialist media and antichristian socialist politicians the last few years.”
The organizers of these events claim they’re an effective way to bring people to Christ. By uniting gun culture with Christianity, they’re reaching out to an unchurched population to lead them to salvation. Literally “pointing people to Christ” by drawing connections between enjoyment of the outdoors and God’s creative action in the world, they have set out on a hunt for souls that may conclude with a new gun with which to nurture that enjoyment.
The key question here is: Would Jesus support evangelism by the assault rifle?
As a faithful Christian, I would say with certitude: absolutely not.
I say this for many reasons. First and foremost, Christ calls us to be peacemakers. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a series of teachings on how to respond to a violent society. Instead of telling us to arm ourselves for protection against known and unknown enemies, Jesus teaches that we should “turn the other cheek” and “love our enemies” and “be reconciled with our enemies.” We should not respond to the evil of an intrusion in our personal space with the evil of injury or even death at the hands of a weapon.
And even if one does not intend to use a gun for defensive or offensive action, just the sheer presence of a gun increases the possibility that it will be used for harm, rather than good. Countless stories exist of tragic accidents in which a small child found a gun and killed or severely injured herself while handling it. Or homicides committed in moments of blind rage when the anger a person feels is so thick that he grabs for the closest item with which to dispel his fury. The presence of a gun does not always lead to an injury or murder, but it definitely increases the chances that this will happen.
Even more deeply, these actions by churches reflect the idolatry of guns that has permeated our culture. In his book America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose , Rev. James Atwood asserts that guns have become an idol to many in the United States. Atwood cites three marks of this idolatry:
- An owner believes there are no circumstances when a regulation or restriction for public safety should be placed upon it.
- An owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.
- An owner has no doubt that guns preserve America’s most cherished values.
In short, the gun becomes the ultimate, the sacred, the sacrosanct. Nothing can limit its use, it can do no harm, and it is the protector, the provider, the defender of all that is good in the world. These idols gain power by inserting themselves into our culture and everyday lives in insidious ways. They latch on to a culture’s spiritual values, moral codes, language, personality, and religious texts. In short, guns weasel themselves into our culture and religion so that they are so closely tied together that it’s almost deadly to try to separate them.
This is what disturbs me about luring people to church with a gun – it lifts the gun up to the level of God. By giving people a gun to show up to church, churches are making a tacit link between God’s blessing and the unrestricted use of guns in our society. They sell the message that salvation and guns go hand-in-hand while ignoring the harmful and sometimes deadly effects of a gun when it is misused. These churches lift up guns as the sole defense against perceived attacks on religious values, many of which are confused with values promoted by the gun culture. These churches promote worship of guns, not God, and do little to lead the new converts to a life in the fullness of God.
As faithful Christians, we need to stand up and say that we stand for God, not guns. We need to expose the idolatry that is entwining itself with our faith and the way it’s practiced. We must stand, with conviction, against anything that promotes and expands the use of guns in our congregations and communities in order to prevent gun violence. We must do all of this lovingly and with great hope, following the lead of the One who taught us to live lives of peace and justice.
For now, we can at least share this message: You can’t point a person to Christ with a gun.
Katie Chatelaine-Samsen is Director of Individual Giving for Sojourners.
Image: AR-15 front combat site, Artifexx / Shutterstock.com