You have likely heard of Christianity Today, the online magazine founded by Billy Graham. You may have never heard of it before Dec. 19, but on that day they published an editorial that broke the internet. It was picked up by news outlet after news outlet, went viral on social media, and within 24 hours their servers had crashed.
This article commented on the presidential impeachment hearings, and the president responded on Twitter. All of this feels very expected in the world we currently live in, but there was a phrase in the president’s tweets that stuck with me. The president stated that his Democratic opponents in the 2020 election “want to take your religion and your guns.” I couldn’t get that pairing out of my head: religion, and guns. Religion ... and guns?
....have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2019
I understand there is an audience in mind, and this statement is meant to stir up fear and call people to action, but how in the world did Christianity (assuming that was what was being inferred by the word religion) become synonymous with gun ownership? Or worse, with political movements against any form of firearm regulation?
Christianity, at its core, is a commitment to imitating Jesus. You know, the “turn the other cheek” “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” guy. How is He synonymous with gun ownership?
I’ve heard a few arguments from people over the years that Jesus was in favor of violence, but, given a little context and in light of the bulk of Jesus teaching and action, they all seem to fall short.
“Jesus made a whip and flipped over tables in the Temple.” Yes, but that whip comment is right by the driving oxen and sheep out of the temple comment, maybe the two were related? Besides, the reasoning Jesus gives for His actions is not in any way condoning violence, rather seeking justice for the outsider: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
What about when Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”? Yes, He did say that. Matthew 10 starts with Jesus calling Talmudin (commonly translated Disciples) to imitate Him, live with him, learn through observation, and then sends them out to do the same work He has been doing all over the region. But before sending them off, he launches into a long speech about how they will be persecuted or mistreated. “They call me Beelzebub, what do you think they will call you?”
So yes, He did say that, but He wasn’t calling His disciples to use swords. He was giving them a lengthy pep-talk about the type of reception their message was going to get from people. At that moment, He was specifically talking about families being turned against each other. Do you suppose “Daughter-in-law against Mother-in-Law” was a call to bloody violence? Is that what he meant by bringing a sword?
“But Jesus told the Disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword during the last supper.” Yes, indeed. And again, let’s remember the context. First, let’s pick up in Luke 22, following right after that buy a sword comment:
“’For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” For what is written about me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough.’”
Between Jesus’ comment about being numbered with transgressors and His replying that two swords are just fine for the 12+ party they had, I’d say condoning violence wasn’t the point. But in case you have any doubt, remember that later this night when Peter tries to defend Jesus with this sword they are all talking about, Jesus stops him, says basically “that’s not the way we do things,” and heals the soldier Peter attacked. This is the very same night in question. If He literally wanted them to buy swords (it seems pretty clear He didn’t) He definitely didn’t want those swords used on other people.
And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I know it is possible to own a gun that will never be used to harm a person. I know many people who own guns and do everything they can to ensure that no person would ever be harmed by those guns. But I have also met many, many people who have guns as a measure of protection against other human beings, and many of them also claim to be followers of Jesus.
I will never argue one way or another about a person’s efficacy at imitating Jesus; I think we are all in process and becoming more fully human day to day, year to year. But please don’t argue that Jesus would be for violence against other human beings: self-protection, property protection or otherwise. That was not Jesus’ way. Jesus healed the soldier, went quietly to the cross, and spoke words of compassion and grace over His torturers.
So when it comes to firearms, you can commit to following Jesus and in no circumstances use that gun to harm another human being, or you can buy that gun to protect yourself and your property and choose to live a different path than Jesus, but you cannot equate attempts to regulate firearms with an attack on your religion. That is, if your religion is about following Jesus.
Buddy Gharring is the pastor of the United Methodist Church, 360 Shoshone St. E., Twin Falls. Sunday worship is at 9:30 a.m., and the Be Open meditation group meets at 7:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, email email@example.com or go to twin.church.
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