Monthly Archives: June 2014

Without a Vision…

It’s become common to see on blogs and social media posts lists of “commonly misused” passages of scripture accompanied by explanations of their proper usage. I’m usually pleased when I see these because, often enough, I find myself in agreement with the critiques.   In my interpretation and theology classes, and in my sermons, I frequently attempt to deconstruct the popular aphorisms people throw around like “God never gives us more than we can handle” (a common gross and sometimes damaging misinterpretation of Paul’s statement in 1 Co 10:13) or the way Ro 13 is often used to justify nationalism and endorsement of, or even participation in, government (unless we happen to disagree with that government). I always want to ask, “Did Paul mean that Mussolini, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein were ‘established by God?’ Wouldn’t that imply that the American Revolution was, in fact, as un-Christian as it could possibly be?” Perhaps there is another way to understand Paul—one that would keep Ro 12 in view?

Hmm…that probably isn’t a comfortable way to start.

So, I think it is good that people are saying these things. However, lately I’ve become sensitive to the kind of easy public righteous indignation that social media makes possible. So, when I deconstruct, especially online, I want to do it…well…constructively.

I’ve found myself wrestling lately with the notion of “vision.” It’s common to hear ministers and other Christian leaders talking about their “visions” for their churches and ministries. Often enough, these “visions” include large-scale budgets, building programs, acquisitions, and multi-year plans. It’s just expected that the first thing a minister must do upon taking a ministry is developing a “vision statement” and, then, pursuing that vision. I’ve heard it called “vision-casting” along with any number of similar bits of jargon borrowed from the corporate business world.

In fact, it isn’t hard to see how this kind of language is not much more than a baptized adoption of the corporate consumer model. I’m finding more and more literature revealing, and talking to more and more people who are telling me that, the common notion behind church-growth models is remarkably similar to the kind of world created by the rampant capitalism and corporate greed that developed in the 80s and 90s, and crashed in the early 2000s.

What do I mean? When church leaders stop understanding their church as a kingdom mission (or reframing their idea of “kingdom mission”) and start seeing Christians as consumers, we create the kind of church-world we see today.   Churches begin working on selling a product and improving their product to attract more customers. The language of “excellence” (which is a nebulous word which can mean anything we need it to and do whatever whenever we need it to), “professionalism,” “production,” “attraction,” “marketing,” “success,” “quality,” and even “customer service” becomes common in our vernacular. Churches begin to find themselves in competition with one another, driven by ego and ambition, to expand to multi-campus “empires,” often relying on celebrity and materialism to attract, build, expand, and take over more and more of the “market share” of available Christians.

And when they’ve attracted enough Christians who’ve confused size and glitz with church “success” (as this blogger intimates is one reason people are attracted to larger churches) that they eventually shut down other churches in the area (often buying their old buildings at reduced rates), they proudly chime about how God has “blessed” their vision with a new building and a place for a new campus.

Sam Walton couldn’t have imagined a better model. But, to me, it seems a far-cry from the way Jesus talked about what the kingdom of God would look like.

That said, when I’m critical of this model, I often run into the same rebuttals.

  1. You’re just against big churches.  Wasn’t the church in Acts 2 a “mega-church?”

In my own defense. I’m not against big churches. The truth is, size doesn’t have anything to do with it. My concern is always—ALWAYS—that often enough the way we have built big churches is to appeal to the idols we’re supposed to be knocking over. That’s why, when well-meaning defenders of the current mega-church culture so often refer to the moments of fantastic growth in the book of Acts and claim similarity to the current church-growth approach, I find that their response just doesn’t stand very well to scrutiny.

First, at the end of Acts 2, when the church grows from 500 to 3000, it’s hardly an attractional model.   Peter had not impressed the crowd with a quality production. They were not blown away by the professionalism of the “worship” of the apostles. In fact, Peter had just accused these people of murdering the Messiah they were waiting for. I DARE any preacher to try that next Sunday.

The growth found in Acts 2 can be attributed to two things: The Holy Spirit, and the fantastic way Peter and the apostles appealed to their Jewish listeners with a distinctly Jewish message. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 (a brilliant sermon), drew on Jewish expectations about the Messiah to prove that Jesus was who he said he was.

The difference between Peter and the current trend in church growth? Peter did not appeal to the idols of their culture to attract listeners. He didn’t promise that Jesus had come to free Israel from the Romans or reinforce the temple cult. He knocked over their idols by showing them that they had misunderstood the Messiah.   He told them that the Day of the Lord had arrived and they’d chosen the wrong side. He called them murderers and offered forgiveness. And a large number of them responded well. (Notice that Luke does not tell us in 2:42 ff that they built a new church building or produced “professional quality” worship services.) But not everyone. In fact, the experience for much of the rest of the book is not the kind of response we would typically consider successful. Most of the growth that occurs after the Day of Pentecost is cellular and relational. It’s never attractional.

It should also be noted that the growth of that church was true growth. It had produced followers of Jesus where there weren’t followers of Jesus prior. However, what the current trend of church-growth focuses on is not making new followers but attracting people who are already followers.

  1. But without a “vision” the people perish!  You have to have a vision.

This is the one I’ve been thinking about lately. It seems like a show-stopper on the whole conversation. This passage gets thrown around by “visionary” people because the people who follow them tend to think, “Well, it seems I’ve read somewhere in the Bible that we’re supposed to have ‘visions.’ Maybe I shouldn’t be critical of using corporate business language in the church and I should just follow this visionary.” And that would certainly support the whole “vision-casting”/vision-statement approach to ministry. However, there are some problems with this improper use of Proverbs 29:18.

First, it isn’t at all clear that “Without a vision, the people perish” is even a proper translation of Pr 29:18 (keeping in mind, that’s only half of the actual verse). The KJV translates it this way, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Perhaps a brief translation comparison would help.

  • Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. [1]
  • Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. [2]
  • Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. [3]
  • When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. [4]

While this passage is often used by people to sell “visions” and “growth plans” and even ego-driven ideas of what the church should be, it is far from a divine mandate to have and follow a growth vision or a vision statement. It may be true that lack of a “vision statement” in the capitalistic corporate business world will make for a confused company. But it is not true for the church. What Solomon is arguing for here is simply not a growth vision at all, but a call for people to follow the law of God. Notice that the word vision is, in some translations, even translated “revelation” or “prophetic vision.” It would seem that what Solomon is telling us is that if people don’t know what God wants, they will live lives unrestrained. But those who follow God’s laws will be the ones who are blessed.

And when this passage is used to promote a specific vision, the question begged is “Just whose vision is this thing supposed to be?” When it comes to the church, one vision just isn’t as good as another. In fact, if we take Solomon’s advice in this proverb seriously, it should make us far more critical of the visions people try to sell us. What we should be asking is not “do we have a vision” but “what IS our vision and is it in line with Jesus’ vision of the church and or our ministry?”

It seems to me that Jesus just wasn’t that impressed by large numbers, powerful personalities, and buildings. Nor was he interested in allowing his disciples to remain impressed with those things. Jesus was always trying to challenge those idols and get people to think about one another. Service. Mission. Love. Relationship. Community. Compassion. These seem, to me, to be hallmarks of Jesus’ “vision” for the church.

Would that his vision were ours and that our ministers and members were less interested in the trappings of “success” (as this world defines it) and more interested in the act of following Jesus on the hard road of the cross.   Would we not be better off with more churches and less glitz?

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (1995). (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version., Pr 29:18). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Pr 29:18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Pr 29:18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed., Pr 29:18). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.


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My Thoughts after Watching the Movie “Maleficent”

Last night I saw the new film Maleficent, which is Disney’s retelling of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty—from the perspective of the antagonist. Aside from the special effects and fantastic acting (Angelina Jolie was flawless), what I loved most about the movie was how it revealed what was the most mythical part of the original fairy tale.

Certainly the story of Maleficent is itself a fairy tale. But there is something about this retelling which is truer than Sleeping Beauty. This story recognizes that what was most fantastical about the old fairy tales was the myth that the antagonist is always “evil” and the protagonist is always “good.” In fact, as Maleficent demonstrates, it often depends on who is telling the story.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that the stories I’d always been told about who is “good” and who is “evil” were not always accurate. Or, at least, I’ve often discovered that the “good” were never quite as good as I was led to believe.

In Sleeping Beauty, the character Maleficent is a cruel witch who casts a horrible spell on an innocent baby who is born into an, otherwise, idyllic setting. It is easy to hate the witch because her motives are portrayed as simply evil…presumably because she is simply evil. Of course, in that story, Maleficent’s plans are foiled by “true love” in the form of a valiant prince who undoes her spell.

In those old fairy tales, the good are always portrayed with a certain image—white horses and charming personalities. The evil are always portrayed as black-hearted and cruel. And it is important to note that we are never intended to ask why the evil are evil and the good are good. It is important in fairy tales to simply assume that the evil are evil and the good are good. The evil are evil because they are inherently evil. They do evil because they ARE evil. They are evil because they DO evil. The good are good because they are inherently good. They do good because they ARE good. They are good because they DO good. The reasoning is circular.

And, in truth, when we interact with people out in the real world, we have the same tendency. When someone does evil (and we run into evil every day), we have a tendency to assume that they do evil because they simply ARE evil. And, of course, because we believe ourselves to BE good, we tend to assume that everything we do is good (or, at the very least, justifiable based on our sense of ourselves as “good”). We do good because we ARE good. We are good because we DO good.

These people who we take to be doing evil, we often call our “enemies.” And we presume that whatever horrible fate they meet they deserve because they are evil. For instance, this week a man in our town was shot and killed because he attempted to invade the county courthouse to “cause havoc,” presumably to take hostages or even kill people working in the court system. His unprovoked attack was, certainly, evil and could have injured or killed anyone of hundreds of construction workers, bank employees, court employees, police, or others in the downtown area. As of the writing of this post, it is still not clear just what his motive was. However, it is very tempting for us who watched this unfold in our hometown to think, “Well, he got what was coming to him. He got what he deserved. He was killed.” In other words, “He did evil because he was evil therefore he deserved evil.” And I am off the hook feeling anything other than contempt for him.

However, in the story of Maleficent, we find that it is not always true that the antagonist does evil because they are evil. In this story we find that Sleeping Beauty’s evil witch had, in fact, a backstory. She had actually been an innocent child who had made friends with a human boy. Later, this boy betrayed her for power; he betrayed her to become king and wounded her very deeply by stealing something very dear and important to her. For this reason, she placed the curse on his child (Aurora). In other words, the evil that she did was a response to the pain and betrayal she experienced. By the end of the movie we have learned that some of those everyone took to be “good” in Sleeping Beauty had in fact done far more evil than she had and the person we took to be “evil” was, in actuality, wounded and capable of redemption.

Now, some might say, “But isn’t this a little naïve?” People have a tendency to balk at letting murderers, child-molesters, rapists, and thieves off the hook because they themselves were once wounded. And I am not suggesting that people should dismiss the evil others do (or we do) as simply “misunderstood.” In fact, in Maleficent, Maleficent’s actions aren’t dismissed at all. The character freely admits that her actions were evil. And it is Maleficent herself who seeks to resolve them when she realizes that she truly loves Aurora.

What I am suggesting is that the notion that “people do evil because they are evil and others do good simply because they are good” is a myth. The truth is that all of us are capable of good and all of us are guilty of evil. That the man here in Cumming, GA was killed for doing evil on the courthouse steps and I was not is only because he had the nerve to do what I have only thought in my heart. As our Lord told us in Matthew 7, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder…’. But I tell you, whoever is angry with a brother or sister…will be subject to judgment.” My anger—my hatred—is murder. In truth, I deserve no less evil an end than the terrorist.

We are all capable of good and all capable of evil. We have all done good and are all guilty of some evil. Why is it that we are so often ready to believe that the “enemy” is evil and that ‘we” are good? Because we have bought into a myth—the myth of redemptive violence that says that somehow we can wipe all evil out if we, who are good, would just stand up and fight it. And this has happened for generations…millennia. Those who were “good” fought those who were “evil” using the same tools, tactics, and violence as those who were “evil.” The good have been fighting the evil for millennia and, it seems, no matter how long they fight, evil continues to exist. Why is it that evil is never eradicated?

Perhaps the reason that fighting evil does not work is precisely because those we take to be “good” are simply not good. Evil is something that lurks within all of us. And we cannot fight enough, legislate enough, or kill enough to eradicate it. We are, all of us, part of the problem.

Consider WWII. We are often told that WWII was the “Good War.” A clear enemy, a horrendous evil, and a righteous cause seemed to make WWII the quintessential example of “good vs. evil.” For my part, I was always told that it was the Nazis, the Italians, and the Japanese (and Stalin’s Russia) who were evil. And make no mistake—they did do horrible, atrocious, and unspeakable evil. However, we have been led to believe that they were evil because of the evil they did. And they did this evil because they were inherently evil.

What was evil about the holocaust? Certainly the dehumanizing of an enemy (the Jews), blaming them for Germany’s economic depression, hoarding them into camps, and mass murder and torture were all an unspeakable, horrific evil. The atrocity of it was only matched by its scope. A horrible, relentless, terrible, unspeakable evil.

Of course, we were always told that our nation was on the side of good. And any violence that was necessary to stop such evil was NECESSARY because there is no other way to “stop” evil. Therefore, we were good.

But, how is it that so many of the things the Nazis did we also did and no one questions how those who were “good” could also do “evil?” The United States also took part in dehumanizing propaganda against the Japanese. In fact, I recently learned that it was so effective it was reported that President Roosevelt received the gift of a letter opener made from the bone of a Japanese soldier.  The U.S. also had internment camps for Japanese citizens (presumably to “protect” them from the backlash of angry citizens) in which Japanese Americans were rounded up and kept from their homes like prisoners. And, of course the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki included the murder of millions of innocent people.

These actions, too, were evil. So, why is it that the Axis powers were “evil” and we Allies were “good?” In truth, this was not the case. It was a myth. The Axis powers did do horrible evil. But we have all done evil. It is just that the winners of wars are the ones who have the power to tell the story in such a way as to make their evil sound justified, or even noble. We have all done evil. We are all guilty of the holocaust.

But we are all capable of redemption. Yes, even the most horrific murderer is capable of redemption. Christians who doubt this should remember that one of the most respected and revered contributors to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, referred to himself as a mass murderer (Acts 22:4) and was redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ.

This is why, as I watched Maleficent, I couldn’t help but reflect on the myths and fairy tales I had been told my whole life. Not of fairies, goblins, and magic spells. Those have their place in helping us tell our stories in such a way as to allow our imaginations to correct the errors our rational selves sometimes make. The myths and fairy tales I am speaking of are the notions of “good guys” riding white horses, wearing white hats, with charming personalities and gleaming characters free from flaws or blemishes vs. notions of “bad guys” who are wholly evil, without backstories; who, having dark souls and cruel intentions, do their evil with reckless abandon. These fairy tales are far more dangerous than the others because they seduce us into believing that they are true, especially when our experiences with such evil have affected us so personally and wounded us so deeply.

As I watched Maleficent, I was reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in his efforts not just to stop the evil of the Nazis, but to save the Nazis. Bonhoeffer said, “Because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and his Word.”[1]

As I have attempted to teach and preach what I take to be the non-violent teaching of Jesus, I have often been asked, “How is it possible to love our enemies as Jesus has commanded?” When asked, I generally try to make some attempt to concoct a clever answer, but the truth is I have never been terribly successful at loving my own enemies, so most of my responses have rung pretty hollow. In truth, it may be among the most difficult commands that Jesus gave us. All I know with any kind of certainty is that he gave it to us and expects us to do it. And…he showed us how.

What Bonhoeffer seems to be saying is that the trick is to stop thinking of the enemy as an “enemy” at all, but to think of that enemy as my family…as my brother or sister. I must stop seeking something from this person, and start seeking to love this person as if they were related to me. This doesn’t mean I don’t call them out on their evil. It means that my desire is to save them from their evil because I love them as God does and desire for them to know him as I do.

This means that I cannot see my enemy as being wholly evil and without backstory. I must see my enemy as being a human being who, tragically, has become twisted (either by experience, pain, mental sickness, or poor thinking) into doing evil. I must remember that God, even after Cain has killed his brother in cold blood, still cared for Cain and sought to save him. And I must remember that I, like Paul, am no better than Cain or my own enemy apart from the grace of Christ.

Brother Dietrich also taught us that, “Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ; the image that Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men.”[2]

In other words, what may be even more helpful than seeing my enemy as a calculating doer of evil might be seeing him or her as someone created in God’s image whom Christ himself would have for his own. What if, rather than seeing our enemies as evil and ourselves as good, we found ourselves thinking always only that the Son of God himself died for this person I see? Might it, perhaps, remind us that this person is our brother or our sister and not simply our “evil enemy?”

Maleficent reminded me that the poor man who was killed in a barrage of gunfire in my town as he attempted to perpetrate evil is actually someone with a story. He may have been poisoned by hatred and evil. He may have entered that building to do evil. And it may have been that what happened to him was better than some alternatives. But what is certain is that his death is a terrible, horrible tragedy of evil. He was my brother. He was Jesus’ beloved lost sheep. Therefore I may not, as a Christian, think of him as “evil.”

Augustine (whose own sins are many, IMHO), would have us believe that we are all born inherently evil. And it is only those God has chosen to receive goodness who are good. Those of us who are elect, then, are good. And those of us who are not are evil. Augustine was incorrect. We are all evil. But we are all evil because we have chosen to do, be, or think evil. And we have chosen it sometimes because we knew nothing else.

What is true is that there was only ever one good person in this world…in the history of time. And he fought against evil. He called it what it was. But he did not fight evil by fighting against those who did evil. He fought evil by dying at the hands of those who did evil. You and I killed him. If you think we didn’t, ask yourself if you have ever hated another. Guess what? You, too, are evil. But God loves you anyhow. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps it is because he knows your backstory better than you do. Perhaps he understands why doing evil seemed so right to you. Perhaps he understands your pain.

Perhaps he wants you to remember that the next time you feel that you are good and someone else is evil.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:8-10)

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: the Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 1St ed. (London: HarperOne, 2009), 35.

[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: the Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 1St ed. (London: HarperOne, 2009), 36.

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Another Quick Reflection

In the spirit of my blog post from yesterday (and the subsequent conversation on facebook), I want to point out something about a story I heard on the news today on the way in to work.  This story is about a man in San Francisco who was arrested because he had the components for a bomb in a duffle bag in his home.  In fact, the FBI was so concerned about him, they conducted a massive manhunt to find him and have charged him with having an “illegal destructive device.”  This device was designed to “kill or maim human beings.”

Now, before I start, let me reiterate that I do not believe people should have or want devices which are designed to “kill or maim human beings” (such as bombs).  In other words, I do not think people should make bombs or collect their components (although most of us probably have the components under our sink, just not put together in a suspicious “duffle bag”).

What I want to do is reveal the contradiction in a place where it is considered a person’s right (even, for some, a moral responsibility) to have and carry firearms (which are designed to maim and kill human beings) and even keep them in duffle bags and to carry them wherever they deem necessary (for, supposedly, the express purpose of possibly maiming or killing a human being).

What I have often attempted to ask my adamantly pro-gun Christian friends (and have yet to hear a response) is, “if you support people owning guns, why then don’t you support their owning bombs, or grenades, or flamethrowers?”  In other words, how do you draw the line?  Why should it be illegal for this man to own “the components of a bomb” in one place, even a suspicious looking duffle bag?

To use the arguments my friends have always used to justify their support of guns, “It isn’t the bomb which kills people.  It is people who kill people.  When we blame the bomb, we are ‘scapegoating’ and not addressing the real issue.”

I mean, why shouldn’t this man be allowed to make a bomb and keep it in his apartment?  Any argument that would defend his right to have a gun (with which he could accidentally kill his neighbor) should defend his right to create a bomb.  What if he wanted to use a bomb to defend himself?  What if he felt that a person was attempting to bomb him?  What if he wanted to “stand his ground” and bomb that person first?  Shouldn’t he be able to do this?  Doesn’t he have a right to “defend himself?” (If you wonder why I have stated “defend himself” in quotes, see my last blog post “A Christian Pacifist’s Reflection on Guns.”)

To say it another way, “Since we’ve outlawed bombs, only outlaws have bombs.”  Doesn’t the second amendment protect our “God given” right to arm ourselves with bombs?  If we are to be allowed to openly arm ourselves with guns in public, as has recently been legislated in Georgia (turning every public place into a potential place for a shootout which has the potential of killing or maiming hundreds of human beings), shouldn’t we also be allowed to openly arm ourselves with bombs in schools, government buildings, college campuses, bars, and (appropriately) churches?

Certainly, what must be obvious is that I am being facetious.  Perhaps I am even being ridiculous.  But for my part, I don’t see the difference.

Again, let me reiterate that I am not interested in discussions about how these things should be legislated.  My hope is that I might ask Christians to think differently about this issue…to think critically about it.  It is my guess that my Christian brothers and sisters will agree with me that we wouldn’t want a world in which people carried bombs everywhere, or even had them in our homes.  I think Christians should also feel the same way about guns–or at least acknowledge the fact that their faith in Jesus puts them in tension with their willingness to do or condone violence.

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A Christian Pacifist’s Reflection on Guns

I became a pacifist several years ago. It happened during my intense study of the person and teaching of Jesus and after a period of personal reflection on atonement theology changed my thinking on why Jesus died. My understanding of Jesus’ death is no longer bound up in a divine exchange which satisfies God’s need to punish us so that we can “go to heaven.” Instead, Jesus died in response to our violent wrath, not God’s. He died and called us to die with him. He called us to live and die like him so that we might live with him in the resurrection. This is the reason I believe that Jesus was very serious when he said we (Christians—the Church) should not fight back against our enemies. When Jesus said, “You’ve heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you…” he was trying to tell us that what we’ve always believed about how more violence will end violence was wrong—that God had another way to resolve the violent sin of this world. That is, that godly people would die for their enemies.

This is also the reason I find the recent spate of conversations and legislation about guns at once so distressing and mystifying. On the one hand it is distressing because when I see the world become more and more entrenched (seemingly) in what Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence” (I think it was Wink, sometimes I get my authors confused), I feel like things are slipping further and further out of control. In truth, things are no different than they were in Jesus’ day. People are no different, that is. But it still distresses me. I find myself thinking, “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.”

It’s mystifying to me for a far different reason. What is mystifying to me is the fact that many Christians just do not seem to be very reflective about the issue of guns and violence. Please keep in mind that I understand that not everyone who claims to follow Jesus has come to my conclusions on atonement and violence. I understand that my view (though I know many who share it) is just not the consensus. In other words, I know there are Christians who disagree with me.

Yet, I’m still mystified by the lack of reflection I see on the issue. Forget Sarah Palin’s blasphemous comment, “Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists,” at a recent NRA convention in my hometown. I guess I just don’t count political personalities as Christians. What I am talking about is the constant epithets about war, self-defense, and violence one sees on social media outlets and hears in conversations. Statements such as “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” are a means which so many “conservative” Christians use to simply dismiss the whole topic of gun control without really engaging it. It seems to me that Christians, on the whole, have simply accepted violence as the normative reality and have decided to fall on the politically conservative side of the issue of guns and violence because that’s what is comfortable to them—because they assume that Christians are just politically conservative, so therefore whatever conservatives believe, Christians believe.

Again, I don’t expect all Christians will become pacifists (though I believe in the resurrection, they will find they were supposed to have been). And, I understand that it is hard to imagine an alternative to violence when you’ve been raised on “eye for an eye.” But it seems to me that it isn’t just that Christians don’t agree with pacifism, but they simply won’t consider it. They think it’s foolish (ironically, Paul said that the [way of] the cross would look foolish—to the perishing). I understand and respect the person who has thoughtfully reflected on the issue of violence and decided that Christianity is not contradictory to doing violence. But the way I hear Christians speaking, it’s almost as if there is no tension whatsoever between Jesus telling us to “love our enemies” and our willingness to blow them away with a gun. They arm themselves and practice to “defend themselves”(in my opinion, they practice to deny bearing the cross that Jesus told them to) without any reflection that there is any tension whatsoever. I was once like them. I keep telling myself.

Anyway, that is the sense I get from the conversations I have. In a recent facebook rant by an otherwise normally reflective friend of mine about this article  my friend argued strongly against the man whose son had died—even accusing him of opportunistically using his own son’s death to promote a political agenda. It was just not conceivable to my friend, apparently, that perhaps the father in this article really believed what he believed and was speaking from terrible grief. In fact, my own comments asking this were completely ignored in the conversation. The whole topic was simply dismissed as “liberal.”

Can’t Christians have an opinion on guns and violence which isn’t conservative but which also isn’t “liberal?”

My friend relied on the old standby that it isn’t the guns which kill and that when people blame the guns, they are avoiding the bigger issue.

Now, I agree. Wholeheartedly. I agree that the problem is not the weapon, but the violent heart of people. This is even MORE reason why Christians should not use guns. It is important that we lead the way in practicing the way of the cross, to demonstrate the way of Jesus to a violent world.

However, I find it absurd that Christians should simply stop the conversation there. Yes, it isn’t the guns that kill people. Yes, if people didn’t have guns, they would probably use knives or some other weapon. But does that mean that Christians should be “pro-gun?” Does that mean we should own guns and be supportive the most permissive gun laws?

The argument that it isn’t the guns that kill people is just lost on me. I just can’t understand why people can’t see through it. The assumption that guns are, somehow, morally equivalent to knives because they are practically equivalent (in other words because both can be used to kill) is lunacy. If guns are practically (and therefore morally) equivalent to knives, then I wonder why the military is so sold on using guns in their operations? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to simply use knives and blades instead of expensive guns and bullets? Why does the military use guns?

Simply put, the military uses guns because guns are far more effective at killing than knives. They allow people to kill more quickly, more efficiently, more easily, and with less effort. The idea that you can’t stop school shootings by eliminating guns is stupid. It would be far more difficult for one or two teens to conduct a mass-murder at a school with a knife than with a gun. Far. More. Difficult.

Now, I’m not a big believer in the political system. I think fighting to have them removed is problematic (if not impossible). My understanding of Jesus prohibits me from trying to impose his teaching on people. But, what it also does not let me do is be blindly supportive of “gun rights” and the use of violence.

When will some of my conservative Christian friends address that? How can Christians (people who believe Jesus was always right) be so unreflective as to not even see the tension between Jesus and guns? Doesn’t what Jesus said at least hint that we ought to be a little more careful how we talk about this topic?

“But if we make guns criminal, then only criminals will have them.” The assumption is, we ought to have them to “protect ourselves.” In fact, when people find out I don’t own one, they often tell me that I’m doing nothing to protect myself or my family. It is just assumed that the responsible, the moral, thing is to keep a weapon handy in case you have to kill an intruder in defense of your home, your car, your dog…your dignity…whatever.

Often with these folks, getting involved in a theological discussion about violence is difficult. I generally respond this way, however. Guns aren’t defensive. Guns are offensive. They don’t defend. They attack. They don’t stop bullets; they throw them. They don’t end violence; they facilitate it.

Therefore, it is simply inaccurate to say that using a gun is a way to “defend yourself.” Using a gun is a means of attacking someone who is attacking you. A shield, a bullet-proof vest, a wall—these are “protection.” There are many things a person can do to protect themselves without becoming their attacker. And they should do this because that is what Jesus has said we should do.

And he also said that “living by the sword” causes “dying by the sword.” In other words, using a gun is simply no guarantee that you will be “defended.” In fact, Jesus guarantees the complete opposite.

Again, I am not a “pro-gun-control” person simply because I cannot imagine trying to force that issue. My goal, though, is to ask Christians if they could please think more about what Jesus says about these things. Could they please be more thoughtful before they speak about violence? Could they please at least acknowledge that the teaching of Jesus will at least cause them a little tension when they go to their gun cabinet?

One friend said to me one time, “When the time comes, you may not have a choice.” He said to me, “It’s easy to say you wouldn’t fight back now. It’s harder when someone is attacking you.” It is just assumed that if someone does violence to me, I am left without the choice. It is just assumed that my attacker controls me and has forced me to fight. This is not true. What Jesus has showed us is that we always have a choice (though even I don’t know whether I have the courage to make the one I believe he would have me make). That’s why I have decided now, when it is easier, that I will not actively plan and practice to do exactly the thing that Jesus has told me not to do. In that moment, when someone tries to hurt me, if I act on my fear I will have to deal with that afterwards. But now…now I must acknowledge that what Jesus said is very different from the world’s “common sense” about violence and weapons.


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