Thoughts on Gun Violence

The words below are taken from the sermon I preached last Sunday. There is more to say. There are better things to say. But these are the words I have right now.

The Bible does not specifically address issue of gun control, but there is a lot in scripture that speaks to various aspects of our problem with guns—scripture about how to deal with fear; about how to respond to violence; about how we should live in community.

Obviously fear is part of what fuels our obsession with guns in this country. And it is a never-ending cycle: there are lots of guns out there so people are fearful and go buy more guns. It is a skewed and deadly logic that can only be stopped if we can interrupt the fear. The good news is that as followers of Jesus, we have been called out of fear and into the promise of God’s eternal and abundant life. Scripture is full of passages that tell us not to be afraid.

The Bible also addresses how we are to respond to violence—Jesus in particular addresses this. The story of Jesus’ arrest, while not particularly addressing the issues of guns (which wouldn’t be invented for 13 centuries), is pretty clear about what Jesus thinks of retaliating with weapons. “Put away your sword,” says Jesus.

He refuses to meet violence with violence because he knows that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword;” he recognizes the need to interrupt the cycle of violence, no matter what the cost—and the cost for him was great, indeed.

There is also a lot in scripture about living in community—especially in the letters written by early church leaders to various congregations. Let’s listen again to some of Paul’s words to the church in Rome:

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty.

Do not be haughty. Let me replace haughty with a word that gets more use these days: Do not feel entitled. Now the problems of entitlement reach beyond the issue of gun violence, but are certainly part of our gun problem. Did the man in the Biloxi Waffle House believe he was entitled to smoke in a non-smoking restaurant? The NRA certainly believes that Americans are entitled to have as many of whatever kinds of guns they want. The assumed white supremacists who shot four BLM protestors in Minneapolis feel they have more right to freedom of speech and assembly that black people do. Racism is connected to gun violence in horrifying and sinful ways in this country.

If you want to live well in community, do not be haughty. Do not act entitled. None of us has the right to take the life of another. But carrying around a loaded handgun suggests otherwise.

And Paul continues:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves.

The way of the world seems to be to repay evil for evil. The way of video games and TV shows and movies is certainly to repay evil for evil. But if we want to live in healthy, loving communities, we have to be willing to stop the cycle.

Those who seek retaliation and revenge have plenty of role models—from the Terminator (“I’ll be back.”) to Inigo Montoya (“You killed my father, prepare to die.”) But those of us who want to stop the cycle of violence also have role models. As Christians, Jesus is our primary example. Though we don’t have to look that far back in history. I think of the BLM protesters, most of whom are black and have endured lifetimes of discrimination and violence and injustice; who are demonized and gassed and arrested and shot at and still remain peaceful in their protests.

Yes, our country’s obsession with guns is deadly. It is overwhelming. It is sinful.

And yet, this morning, on the first Sunday of Advent, we have lit the candle of hope. We claim hope in the midst of our gun crisis because Advent reminds us that God–who is coming, who has come, in Jesus—is a God of life. It is God who creates, redeems, and sustains life. It is God who calls us through Jesus and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to live into the Divine life even—and especially—in the face of the deadly forces of the world.

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