March 26, 2017

February 2, 2013

The PB is certain about gun control, or, A comment I wish we hadn’t deleted

Back on December 27th, one of our readers asked why SF kept going on about gun control without bringing in the Bible.  An SF colleague deleted the comment, with an explanation you can read at the link.

But I wish I’d engaged the question, especially now that the Presiding Bishop of TEC, fresh from calling people who disagree with her terrorists and mass murderers, has proclaimed gun control advocacy as a(nother) Christian duty.  It is so cool how many articles of faith emerge from a church that proclaims itself a core doctrine free zone.

So, a belated series of thoughts on why an ostensibly Christian blog might critique gun control advocacy. And I’ll bring in Scripture.

1) Gun control advocacy, like any number of other litmus test issues, inevitably devolves into legalism and a false religion of human works: “If you don’t support this, you’re not a ‘good person.’  And being a ‘good person’ is the message of Jesus, right?”

Well, no, that’s wrong.  Profoundly wrong.  It hit me full force reading the Daily Offices over the last few weeks:

“...we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16)

And it’s loud and clear in the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany:

“If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

We’re not justified by supporting gun control or any other cause.  The church obscures the message of Jesus when it spews out litmus tests and club membership handshakes in place of Christ crucified.

Now, I’ll concede here that I would be wary of someone saying, “Here’s the New Testament reason for the 2nd Amendment.”  I actually agree with some of the progressives who cringe when somebody proof texts with, “Jesus said, ‘Get yourself a sword.” Arms are a symptom of the fallen creation, and if you want gun control, bring people to Christ so they will live in the new heavens and new earth from which violence is banished.

2) Jesus warned against

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:24)

Not to trivialize gun violence, but what we have right now are some statistically rare but sensational stories driving a “There oughtta be a law!” panic.  The odds of such incidents happening are, as they say, less than getting struck by lightning/attacked by a shark.

Meanwhile, there are camels being swallowed.  Alcohol does demonstrably more harm, in more ways, than gun violence.  But Episcopalians continue to wink and nudge about booze as a church staple.  Bars do well when our conventions come to town.  While we pass resolutions about “recovery,” they’re kinda like having a greasy cheese burger and fries as an a.m. hangover cure.  It’s back to the bar in the p.m. 

But advocating for gun control lets us put on our pious face for the public.  Costs us nothing, demands nothing of us but “correct” opinion, and demonizes everybody else as the problem.  Strain out their gnats, swallow our camel.

3) Gun control advocacy mires the church in proof texting every bit as silly as that which it claims to scorn.

The PB’s latest message says,

“We believe all God’s people should be able to live in peace, as Zechariah dreams, ‘old men and women shall again sit in the streets…And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing.’  The prophet reminds his hearers that even if this seems impossible, with God it is not. [Zech 8:4-6]  I urge you to add your voice to those clamoring for peace.  Call your legislators and sue for peace.”

Zechariah dreamed spoke God-given words about ruined Jerusalem and its temple being rebuilt by God’s mercy.  They were in ruins because God had lifted his protection, due to the people’s routine, cavalier disregard for the Law of Moses.  They weren’t innocent people, slaughtered because Babylonians lacked sword and bow control.  They were an internally weakened community, ignoring God’s prophets, and overpowered by a more powerful ungodly community.  Future peace is offered, not by legislation (they were dispersed and not even functioning as a nation, if you actually read Zechariah), but by the mercy and inspiration of God.

In New Testament terms, Zechariah’s prophecies open up our understanding of Jesus, the one coming to gather us out of earthly exile and into the coming kingdom of God.  Gun control advocacy reduces this magnificent message, treasure for which we are called to be stewards, to a moralistic exhortation to write letters and pass laws.

In short, church advocacy for gun control distorts and trivializes the witness of the church.  It can squander our moral voice and render us bullies and hypocrites, as we pass laws that don’t cost us much and which demonize others while glossing over our own substantial sins.

A Christian might find gun control a prudent social policy, and debate this on the merits of evidence.  But other Christians might, on the evidence, find it an unwise policy and argue against it. 

When you start saying, “This is God’s will,” you’ve probably run out of evidence.  And Biblical evidence for or against arms control, on this side of the coming kingdom, is scant to nil.  Christians practice peace as fruit of the Spirit, not because the state deprives them of a particular weapon.

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John 18:10 “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

So, at least one disciple sometimes walked around Palestine armed- and knew how to use weapons, well enough to chop off someone’s ear.  Note that our Lord instructs Peter to put the sword back in its sheath (not to disarm).

While in this case, it was indeed God’s will that Peter not use his sword, he still carried it, and probably for a reason.

In the modern day, I suppose the PB would label Peter a terrorist and compare him to psychopaths who shoot children.

[1] Posted by tjmcmahon on 2-2-2013 at 08:08 PM · [top]

Note also that the roll call of faith in Hebrews 11 does not just describe martyrs. It also says:

Heb 11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
Hbr 11:34   quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

How would one (1) conquer kingdoms, (2) enforce justice, (3) become might in war, or (4) put foreign armies to flight without a weapon?

And those are accomplishments achieved by the faithful, through faith according to Scripture.

[2] Posted by RedHatRob on 2-2-2013 at 08:13 PM · [top]

I have often witnessed revisionist clergy attempting to “go prophetic” over whatever cause du jour should come up. They really get a kick out of doing this. It must satisfy some deep inner desire.

I agree with you and find these issues, when presented in Church, with the inevitable spin, to be to be litmus testing of the worst sort. Does it go so far as to devolve into works righteousness? I would bet dollars to donuts that the PB or any of her revisionist clergy would deny this, but your point stands up quite well IMHO.

[3] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 2-2-2013 at 08:37 PM · [top]

This is what you get when you ordain just about anything and them promote them indiscriminately into leadership positions.

[4] Posted by Nikolaus on 2-2-2013 at 10:36 PM · [top]

My best effort at a 2nd Amendment apology, from Scripture, would be that Romans 13 allows the governing authority to wield the sword for suppression of evil.  Since our Constitution enfranchises the citizenry, arms them for common protection and says “this shall not be infringed,” gun control advocacy can be faulted as rebellion against the legitimate governing authority, at least in the U.S. where an armed citizenry is part of that authority.

The kingdom vision is, of course, beating swords into plowshares.  But until the kingdom comes, we are in a fallen world and God gives us governments of various kinds to resist our sinful proclivity to victimize others - what Hobbes called our “state of war.”  The government in this country is set up to have armed citizens as part of that resistance to greater evil.

[5] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 2-3-2013 at 07:17 AM · [top]

I realize the Zeitgeist rejects the Old Testament (dead patriarchy) as having anything normative in it, but:

Gen 14-16 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
15   And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus.
16   Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.

Abraham’s “trained men” were not trained in civil disobedience. They carried weapons.

[6] Posted by RedHatRob on 2-3-2013 at 09:48 AM · [top]

Psalm 144:1
Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight

[7] Posted by Capn Jack Sparrow on 2-3-2013 at 09:58 AM · [top]

The PB won’t be too happy about what sort of behaviors will NOT be happening any more when the peacable kingdom finally comes!

[8] Posted by Capn Jack Sparrow on 2-3-2013 at 10:01 AM · [top]

#3 I think the term “secular prophesy” is applicable.

[9] Posted by Pb on 2-3-2013 at 10:15 AM · [top]

TJ, I suspect that cutting off an ear is more a mark of an enthusiastic but untrained swordsman than it is of a skilled one.

Even so, I agree with your statement that Peter was told to put the sword away, not get rid of it.

[10] Posted by AnglicanXn on 2-3-2013 at 04:57 PM · [top]

More to the point, when Jesus tells the disciples “Now is the time for swords” (perhaps metaphorically, perhaps not), they produce two of them without much trouble.  Two of the disciples had brought weapons with them to the passover meal.

Now, the swords were probably fairly poor quality, and Peter’s efforts suggest that he’d had perhaps an hour more training at swordsmanship that advanced calligraphy, but nonetheless the swords were there.  Further, the response is “well, we’ve got two”, not “where do you expect us to buy swords now?” (compare feeding of the 5000).

Now, this barely scratches the surface of a discussion of weapons and private citizens, but it’s quite clear that it was not uncommon for ANE citizens to be armed and that for the most part Jesus didn’t feel the need to comment on it.

The only other example I can think of is when he deliberately sent out the disciples on a mission with minimal equipment (no spare food, no spare clothes, no weapon).  It seems to me that the weapon here is but one part of relying on their own strength (in territory beyond their comfort zone).  A Christian’s identity is not to be vested in his weapons, or clothing, or house, and it does not help the cause if responses give this impression.  And yet there is place for wise and informed discussion on what “necessities” should be delegated to the community (sewage, power, ...?) and what should rest upon individuals (housing, food, ...?). Where does “security” fit in this?

[11] Posted by Andrew W on 2-3-2013 at 08:24 PM · [top]

I guess from my imperfect point of view you should be prepared in all circumstance, yet completely willing to let God lead you.  So I am armed and pray I never ever have to use them against another human being.  A person’s life is PRECIOUS, even if they are trying to steal your stuff.

In fact, one of my kids’ friends, who was addicted to drugs, robbed us while we on vacy.  I pointed out to my son that, if his friend had robbed us while we were home, he might be dead.  And we would have all had to live with that the rest of our lives.

Dangerous, stupid thing to do…

[12] Posted by B. Hunter on 2-4-2013 at 09:21 AM · [top]

It’s okay to smoke pot at your wedding to someone of the same sex as long as it’s fair trade pot and you don’t own a gun.  Got it.  I am grateful to her nibs for the explanation.

[13] Posted by observer145 on 2-4-2013 at 09:38 AM · [top]

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