Editorial: What is the ‘Christian’ position on guns?
Buffalo, N.Y. Uvalde, Texas. Tulsa, Okla. As the death toll…
His views didn’t change overnight, but Justin Bell has come to believe that gun ownership in the U.S. should be tightly controlled.
That’s understandable, considering that Bell, a member of the Lakewood Church of Christ in Colorado, is a graduate of Columbine High School. In 1999, just a few years after he walked across the stage to get his diploma, two gunmen — students themselves — entered the Littleton, Colo., school and killed 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives.
Bell also has been in two active shooter situations himself, one at the high school where he teaches and another at a movie theater. He said these events have had a “huge impact” on his life.
“I have slowly changed my views on guns from believing that everyone should own a gun — so that criminals were not the only ones with guns — to … guns should be heavily regulated.”
“I have slowly changed my views on guns from believing that everyone should own a gun — so that criminals were not the only ones with guns — to my current belief, which is that guns should be heavily regulated,” Bell told The Christian Chronicle.
He was one of 294 respondents to an online survey about Christianity and guns in the wake of high-profile shootings in Buffalo, N.Y.; Uvalde, Texas; and Tulsa, Okla. While he prays for those victims, Bell said he tries to avoid being consumed by the news.
“It’s just too much,” he said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s just like here we go again.”
He was also was one of 116 Chronicle readers who said they personally knew one or more victims of gun violence — some from accidental discharges or suicides, others from robberies or homicides.
“If you’re not affected by it yet, it’s just a matter of time,” Bell added. “And that shouldn’t be. … It should be an anomaly, not the norm.”
Other survey respondents shared a wide range of strong opinions on the subject of guns. For some, the recent shootings were a critical juncture that made them reevaluate their position.
“For years I have defended gun rights,” said Rod Dollins, a member of the East Grand Church of Christ in Springfield, Mo. “With the daily reports of shootings of innocent people and especially children, I have changed my views. There is no reason to own an AR-15 or other automatic firearms other than to hurt others.”
But for many others, these tragedies did not lessen the importance of gun rights.
“These attacks have been horrific,” said Tim Tripp, senior minister for the West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, Ark. “My heart breaks for the families of the victims and all who are impacted by them. Yet, I also believe in the Second Amendment and that responsible people should retain the right to own guns.”
For supporters of gun rights, the current spate of gun violence is a problem of morality. They say that America’s values have eroded over the years as more and more Americans have turned away from God.
“It’s not about guns,” said George Taylor, a member of the Clear Creek Church of Christ in Hixson, Tenn. “It’s about people who are not guided by any kind of morality other than what they develop on their own. … The issue is not the gun. It’s the person holding the gun. Has that person even been exposed to the teachings of Jesus? Do they understand how he (calls) us to live? Are they aware of the basic commands of God?”
“It’s not about guns. It’s about people who are not guided by any kind of morality other than what they develop on their own.”
Ralph Brewer, an elder of the Alvaton Church of Christ in Kentucky, echoed that sentiment.
“It is a moral and spiritual problem,” he said. “Why is it that thousands of teens in previous years took a gun to school because they were going hunting after school, and we didn’t have these kinds of problems? … Guns are not the problem any more than anything else that can kill a person. Even if it were possible to take away everyone’s gun, people would still use poison, knives, rocks, bombs, cars and other things to kill others.”
But opponents of gun rights say guns themselves are the issue. They believe Americans have come to idolize guns and worship them — to the point of caring more about gun rights than peoples’ lives.
“When I was a child, I saw guns every day, but no one really talked about them,” said Brandon Britton, minister for the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Killen, Ala. “They weren’t a focus of our lives, just a part of it. As a nearly 50-year-old man, that has changed radically. There is a gun culture that has fetishized guns and defends any criticism of them with a religious zeal that seems idolatrous.”
Hunter Wiederstein, youth and family minister for the Alameda Church of Christ in Norman, Okla., said the reasons given to “excuse” guns — hunting, personal protection, freedom — are all based in idolatry or fear.
“Mass murders have revealed the true idols and priorities in our country. Are we clinging to our weapons or (to) the lives of the ones we love who have survived?”
“None of these reasons are worth (more) in comparison to the unbelievable number of lives that have ended by them,” Wiederstein said. “Mass murders have revealed the true idols and priorities in our country. Are we clinging to our weapons or (to) the lives of the ones we love who have survived, unlike others, due to those weapons?”
The question is raised, then: Is Christianity compatible with gun ownership and support for gun rights? Most Christians, even those who have been close to gun violence, seem to believe so — to an extent, at least.
More than half of respondents to the Chronicle survey said they or someone in their household owned one or more guns. And most of those mentioned owning more than one.
The reasons ranged from sport — hunting or target shooting, for example — to collecting to personal defense.
Some Christians, like CeCe Stover, say that guns are necessary to protect the innocent — even that the Bible calls for Christians to do so.
“I believe God wants us to be willing to lay down our life for our faith and our loved ones, but I also think He wants us to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
“If you’re faced in a situation where you have to either kill someone who is killing children or do nothing, you need to kill the other person,” said Stover, a member of the White House Church of Christ in Tennessee. “I believe God wants us to be willing to lay down our life for our faith and our loved ones, but I also think he wants us to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
But others, like Scott Self, say Christians are called to peace, not violence — no matter the reason. Self, a member of the East Brainerd Church of Christ in Chattanooga, Tenn., noted Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 26:52 as Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus: “Put your sword back in its place … for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
“Jesus called us to be people of peace; not people who carry weapons to impose peace,” Self said. “I know that most of my brothers and sisters disagree with me, but I believe that Jesus called us to radical forms of agape, and that weapons are not compatible with that radical form of love.”
“Jesus called us to be people of peace; not people who carry weapons to impose peace.”
For Debbie Christian, though, it’s less a question of whether Christians can have guns and more a question of if they should.
“I believe many things can be compatible with Christian life that may not be wise for the good of the whole,” said Christian, a member of the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas. “Apostle Paul talked about eating meat sacrificed to idols. He didn’t personally have a problem with it, but he did recognize it could cause problems for others.”
What is the answer, then, to continued gun violence?
Surprisingly, there may be some room for agreement — despite Christians’ polarization on the issue.
Only a handful of those surveyed by the Chronicle expressed an interest in loosening restrictions on guns in the U.S., and even supporters of gun rights largely favored stronger background checks and restricting access to “assault-style” rifles.
Only one respondent was in favor of a complete repeal of the Second Amendment, and most of those opposed to gun rights seemed to accept that guns in the U.S. are here to stay, to a degree.
In between, many other suggestions were offered — higher age limits, “red flag” laws, mandatory licensing and training, waiting periods, quantity limits per household, registration, reference requirements, mental health checks, banning of high-capacity magazines.
Support for strengthening mental health, the family, morality and spirituality also seem to be popular among most Christians.
Some of these answers were part of the bipartisan gun violence bill signed by President Joe Biden in late June.
Regardless, for John Moore, a Christian from East Hampton, N.Y., “whether guns kill people or people kill people, something must change … before we begin to believe this is normal, and acceptable, and an issue we can simply do nothing about.”
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