by Tony Minear
I own a hand gun. It is a 22 Ruger revolver single action with a 6-inch barrel. I received it from my dad on my 18th birthday. I even bought a genuine leather western-style holster in Tijuana to go with it. The next two summers I played cowboy while working at a church summer camp. I haven’t shot that gun for over twenty years. I go back and forth between selling it or some day giving it to one of my grandchildren. However, the possibility of one of my grandchildren or any individual doing harm to themselves or someone else, intentional or unintentional, frightens me. Occasionally, I contemplate literally carrying out the Hebrew scripture, “Hammer your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks.” I could have my pistol melted down to a pile of metal. Maybe even molded into a miniature plow. Not sure how the grandchild would like receiving a plow as an heirloom.
With the recent church shooting in Vegas and now Texas, the topic of gun control is once more front and center in our conversations. What can Progressive Christianity bring to the table in this arena? I offer an entrée, food for thought, for your culinary pleasure. What one believes about God can inform one’s stance on gun control.
Would Jesus under any circumstance condone a human being taking the life of another? No. Would one human being inflicting violence upon another ever be present in the realm of God’s will, which Jesus envisioned, either now or in a future “heaven?” No.
My understanding of Jesus’ view of the Kingdom of God, or God’s will for humanity, is centered around God’s love and value of life. Yet some stories in the Bible seem to contradict this. God is said to have ordered the genocide of groups of non-Hebrews. Justification? They are evil. Yet God admits to using a wicked people (The Hebrews), who are slightly less evil, as executioners. This doesn’t compute. Perhaps our willingness, and at times, desire, to use violence influences how we interpret God’s will and imagine God. For me this does compute. If God is inclined to acts of violence, no wonder we are too.
Wasn’t it God who established and decreed that the results of sin are death? Wasn’t it God who desired daily sacrifices for enjoyment and appeasement? Isn’t it God who continues to use the threat of death as a means to shape our beliefs and control our behavior? If God constructed a system of justice based upon death and violence, is it any wonder that some Christians and nations are comfortable turning to violence to resolve their problems or punish evildoers? Is it any wonder that some Christians carry a gun and are willing to use it to protect themselves or their family? Is it any wonder that efforts to legislate laws to limit certain guns in our communities, to decrease the chances of such weapons ending up in the hands of unstable individuals, or to take steps promoting gun safety in homes, are opposed by some Christians?
What if this picture and understanding of God as violent and using violence is incorrect? What if what the historical Jesus taught about God and God’s kingdom being encapsulated in one word, “love,” is right? I choose to believe it is. For this reason, I read all of scripture through the filter of love. It is my bias. It is the presupposition I bring to my study of the Bible. It is the reason why I choose not to have ammunition for my gun in the house. It is the reason I continue to ponder the validity of a pacifist life for myself and what that might look like. It is the reason why I’m googling metal artists who can take a gun and turn it into a plow.