Recently, I considered buying a handgun. The consideration came after a series of violent crimes grabbed the headlines in my area. The crime spree led to a number of conversations with neighbors, friends and family members. Most of my conversation partners argued that owning and carrying a handgun provides a very real protection against threats to life and property, and I must agree. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Christians should pack heat.
The debate over firearms is usually conducted using a mixture of social, logical, and anecdotal arguments. What’s often missing from the debate is a biblically based approach to the question. As I considered buying a handgun, I have to admit that I put the witness of Scripture lower on my list than I should have. Before getting to what Jesus thought of my idea, I considered “facts” such as:
- We live in a dangerous world, even though danger is not always evident.
- I love my family and I want to protect them from danger and the evil that gives rise to much of it.
- In the case of an imminent threat, the police would likely arrive too late to prevent harm to me, my family, or other innocent persons.
- I know how to care for and use a handgun, and I am rather comfortable doing so.
- Many people, including faithful Christians, own and carry a handgun, and this has normalized the practice to an extent.
- Owning a gun could lead to an accidental shooting.
All of that is nice and we could use these and similar facts to establish a pros and cons list that might aid the decision-making process. But not one of these is unique to Christians. We have to ask, What does God think of all this? And how should a Christian approach this issue in a faithful and thoughtful way?
The Christians I know who consider Scripture and still make the argument for owning a gun typically lean on a notion of using a firearm as a means to resist wickedness, to protect innocent persons, and to maintain order in the face of evil and chaos. While these may be worthy ideals, I don’t see a lot of (any?) scriptural evidence for the use of violence, especially lethal violence, by those who strive to participate in God’s kingdom.
My concern is that we too often equate God’s agenda with our own agenda and then we make decisions like owning a gun based on our personal values instead of a keen Christian ethic. If my value is to stay alive and protect what and whom I love, it’s not too difficult to project that value onto God and make weapon ownership a God-given right, if not command. The only problem is that these are not God’s values, at least not as I read Scripture.
When I read Scripture, I read of people killing and being killed. Sometimes God commands killing and other times he commands not killing. But the overall sweep of the Bible and the specific teachings of Jesus lead me to conclude that violence is not the way to go and that I, as a Christian, should not own a firearm for the purposes of self defense (recreational shooting might be another issue). What God is up to in the world is not bringing all things under his authority at the barrel of a gun – if this were the case, Jesus would have chosen some way other than the cross. Neither does God always prioritize the welfare and safety of you, your family, and the other people you love – after all, look at the tragic lives of Jesus, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and the martyrs who followed them.
While not owning a gun may square with Scripture, the choice is not for the faint of heart. Doing so means giving up my right and my ability to defend others and myself. This choice could result in harm to me, my family, or other innocent persons. So what does it take to make this kind of choice?
- It takes courage. Our culture admires the courage of the war hero, the action hero, and the everyday hero, all of whom step up to resist and to overwhelm that which is wrong. Heroes win. However, the archetype of Christian courage is not the sharpshooter hero, but the martyr. The martyr has the courage to suffer at the hands of evildoers, and in doing so to be a witness to the otherworldly ways in which we pilgrims are called to live.
- It takes imagination. “Kill before you get killed” is pretty simple math. As Christians, we are called to something higher. We are called to pray and join God in working to address many of the issues that lead to violence – issues such as poverty, mental illness, family dysfunction, and drug dependency. Most of all, we are called to join God in rescuing sinners from darkness and welcoming them into God’s family (not gunning them down before they hurt us).
- It takes faith. You’ve seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Protected by Smith & Wesson.” Some trust in chariots and some in horses and some in guns, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Trusting in God to protect (and to still be good when he doesn’t protect) takes faith.
What about you? Do you own a gun? Why or why not? How has Scripture informed your decision? What would you add to conversation?