On Clinging to Guns and Religion
My business as a pastor is to point people to Jesus, not to put forth strong opinions on the specifics of our nation’s gun laws, though I may have strong opinions on that issue. But sometimes these two things intersect.
I was in a conversation with a Christian friend right after the Sutherland Springs shooting, and we started chatting about firearms. Living in Michigan and growing up in Texas I have been constantly surrounded by a strong pro-gun culture. My observation has been that pro-gun conservatives in these areas generally have made their commitment to own and carry guns functionally sacred. To infringe upon these rights would be the worst possible thing to happen to them, and the question of gun control legislation is a question of attacking their personal identity. I was worried that this was also the case for this friend.
Now, this friend is a well intentioned and faithful Christian, though his grasp of the Bible is not very strong. He often, as so many Christians do, struggles to know the Bible well and express the gospel in a biblically coherent manner. When I asked if his rights, not as an American but as Christian, would be infringed if owning firearms were illegal he did not hesitate to say yes. In fact, he went so far as to say that it would be sinful if we were not allowed to own and carry firearms. This friend, who so often cannot articulate the basic message of the gospel, swiftly pointed to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:35-38 and stated that the modern equivalent of the mentioned sword are guns.
What disappointed me about the conversation was not his conclusion, but that someone who otherwise is an immature believer became a hermeneutical master when he needed to defend gun rights. The liturgy of politically conservative media has shaped him to such an extent that he cannot discern between a partisan political position and what the Bible teaches. The Bible has become a tool to justify his political position on guns and condemn those who disagree. The practice of preaching and Christian discipleship needs to take this cultural reality into consideration, or otherwise we are just shoring up this faulty way of understanding scripture and Christianity rather than challenging and replacing it with something superior.
As a pastor, my concern is not that he, and many others like him, have this political position or even that he reads Luke 22:35-38 this way. My concern is that biblically this is the only thing he cares about. He clings to the Bible not as a way to cling to Christ, but as a way of holding onto a particular cultural identity and justifying clinging to guns. He cannot get animated over the grace extended in Christ to his people, but does get energized by reading of scripture to justify carrying lethal weapons. This is a perennial pastoral problem, and arises with all sorts of different issues. My business as a pastor is not to change his political views, but to encourage him towards a different source of scriptural excitement.