The NRA's Dangerous Theology


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

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. 

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. 

What Would Jesus Say To the NRA?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as the NRA's Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?

I want to suggest — a lot.  A whole lot.

Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).  

Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.    

From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence.  Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence — and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be. 

So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?  

Anti-Abortion Activist Rob Schenck Now Opposed to Christians Owning Guns

Image via Jeff Hutchens / Fork Films / RNS

Schenck, the Washington-based leader of the Faith and Action ministry, has been known for his anti-abortion work for three decades. In the new documentary The Armor of Light, which releases Oct. 30 in more than 20 cities nationwide, he is first seen as many know him: carrying a preserved fetus in his hands at a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1992.

But after personally seeing the bodies of the Amish schoolchildren prepared for a funeral after being gunned down in 2006, he began to realize he needed to care more about life outside the womb, too.

Schenck, 57, credits two other catalysts that led him to devote half his time to the issue of gun violence. He lives in the neighborhood of the Washington Navy Yard, where a shooter killed 12 people in 2013. And he was encouraged by Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed black Florida teen killed in 2012, to speak out.

'Nothing We Can Do' and Other Lies About Gun Violence

Image via  / Shutterstock

There is nothing we can do to reduce the growing number of mass shootings in America — except get more people to have guns. Unbelievably, that’s what conservative spokespersons and Republican presidential candidates are saying after the latest college massacre in Oregon which killed 10 and wounded 7 others.


Saying there is nothing we can do to end such killings is patently untrue. And suggesting that more guns in more places would reduce gun violence is not only morally irresponsible, but also flies in the face of all the facts. Suppose we arm everyone — do we really want to live in that kind of country and raise our children there? Or send our children to college on those campuses, as I will do for the first time next fall? I think there is a better interpretation of the Second Amendment than the idea that the Constitution allows individual citizens to own whatever form of lethal weapons they want.

A Consistently Pro-Life Ethic Should Include Gun Control

Image via RNS

There have been two very different sets of responses to last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore. The shooter killed nine people before taking his own life during a shootout with police, in what was the 142nd school shooting since Sandy Hook, in December 2012, when six teachers and 20 children were killed.

Gun rights advocates and gun control supporters alike have used the opportunity to politicize the tragedy. That isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. If politics is the business of governing a diverse body of people, and guns are both used and governed, then our response to repeated mass shootings ought to be, at least in part, a political one.

To “politicize” something that is inherently political isn’t a dirty thing. In fact, to keep ignoring mass shootings, to refuse to change gun control policy because of the power of the National Rifle Association lobby, to let 20 children die and take no national action to restrict gun access in this country — indeed, to vote against an assault-weapons ban — that is the dirty thing.

WATCH: The Gun Conversation We Need to Have


A floral memorial stands in front of John Weir Foote V.C. Armouries in Hamilton,Ontario, Oct. 22. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday a gunman opened fire in Ottawa and killed a soldier at a war memorial. It is a stark reminder of the kind of world we live in every time a life is taken through violence. My prayers are with the victim and his family and for the authorities leading the investigation in trying to understand the shooter’s motives.

Like Ebola and ISIS, the shooting is spreading fear around the world. It is not unnatural to experience fear as a reaction to danger. However, reacting out of fear instead of wisdom is the mistake we must stop making.

What happened in Ottawa is also a reminder for me that while we can’t remove all violence, we can take steps as a country to reduce it. In 2011, the last year complete numbers are available, 32,163 died in America due to gun related deaths. In Canada that same year the number was 781. While gun violence can happen anywhere, as Ottawa shows, it happens much more in the United States than any other developed country.

Why the discrepancy? The full answer is complicated, but one of the driving factors is not.

A Sandy Hook Father’s Plea from Sojourners on Vimeo.

Sarah Palin’s Dying Breed of Christianity

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz /

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz /

Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.

She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.

Sarah Palin and the Beauty of Baptism

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Oh, Sarah Palin.

So you’ve most likely heard Sarah Palin used baptism as a metaphor for waterboarding terrorists. (I mean I heard and I’m in Australia!) I found out when fellow neo-Anabaptist Tyler Tully sent me his reflections. Many are blogging thoughtful responses. But more and more this is my conviction: the best critique of the bad is the practice of the beautiful. So I want to testify to the beauty of the baptisms I was a part of on Sunday.

I do so knowing that the despondence and darkness I feel when baptism is equated with the diabolical is driven out in the joy of the mystery of what happen when we say yes to the Holy Spirit by wading in the water. Our new sister Natha, brother Ky, and I met separately in the End Poverty movement. Both of them, in quiet different ways, found themselves being found by God while looking for a better world. And in Jesus they found the world they were looking for has started! Without a dry eye in the community that surrounded them on Sunday, they shared their wanderings in the wilderness before following Jesus through the waters.

Grief, Courage, and Perseverance

swatchandsoda / Shutterstock

swatchandsoda / Shutterstock

[editor's note: This article first appeared in our December 2013 issue to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.]

IN THE YEAR since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Dec. 14, thousands more have died by gun violence, and the NRA seems to stymie sane firearm measures at every turn. How do we stave off despair, hold on to hope, and keep moving forward when the odds feel overwhelming? —The Editors

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Furious with Senate, Activists Go After the Roots of Gun Culture

A woman protests the NRA's influence in Washington, DC on April 25. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Before last week’s Senate vote, we learned that 90% of Americans supported universal background checks as a way to reduce gun violence.

The Senate’s vote against background checks shows that public opinion is not the driving — or defining — force behind America’s gun culture. In fact, to find that force, you don’t have to look any farther than money.