Can you be a gun-lover and a good Christian?

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Dear Rebecca:

Serious question: Is there a good theological case for the ownership and use of guns by Christians?

I’m not really aware of one, but I raise the question for a couple of reasons:

• I have friends whose faith is far more sturdy than mine who are also avid gun owners. They live a more authentically Christian life than I do, but with one glaring (it seems to me) exception.

• I think there are robust theological arguments against Christian gun ownership. (But then I would wouldn’t I?) The latest comes from Charles Marsh at Religion & Politics:

Suffice it to say, the call to an armed laity puts the evangelical gun loyalist in an exceedingly awkward relation to the teachings of Jesus.  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus tells Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Everyone who uses a sword will be killed by a sword.” This is not to say that the Christian tradition is, or ought to be, uniformly pacifist; still, the religion of Jesus clusters undeniably around the practices of forgiveness, reconciliation, and the preferential option for nonviolence. “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer,” wrote one of the fourth-century authors of Christian orthodoxy, Athanasius of Alexandria. An armed church is a church without martyrs.

Marsh goes on to ask: “What real significance can the Gospel have if its ambassadors so readily gamble with human life?” And it seems like a good question to me.

Still: Talking about martyrdom is easy – living a life in preparation for it is really hard. And maybe this is one of those areas where I notice the speck in my neighbor’s eye without checking the cinder in my own?

One of the most straightforward cases for Christian gun use I can find is here, in a post called “Why Some People Need a Good Killing.”

 While it is true that Jesus told Peter to put away His sword because he must be crucified for the sins of the world (Matthew 26:52), he told them that very night to buy a sword in advance of their coming persecution (Luke 22:36). While Jesus’ exhortation that we turn the cheek from insult (Matthew 5:39) has been taken by pacifists (defined by JD’d dictionary as “those who let others die for their lives and liberties”) to be the locus classicus text for passive non-resistance, a robust theology of persecution reveals that that the thrice-holy God has indeed called his people to self-defense, protection of the innocent through violent means, and promotion of the general welfare through war. There is no logical reason to believe that God’s call to arms throughout Scripture has been abrogated in this current dispensation, for God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and his Word is immutable (Hebrews 6:17). Furthermore, the call to martyrdom that we see repeated throughout the New Testament does not imply that our death for the sake of the cross be a peaceful surrendering of ourselves over to injustice or voluntary death.

That seems … like a rationalization to me.

Let me explain: It seems like the New Testament most clearly implies that “our death for the sake of the cross be a peaceful surrendering of ourselves” with one knockout blow: The example of Jesus himself, where the author of this paragraph begins. If Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away, why would I — the follower of Jesus — be encouraged to do any differently?

I want to be fair to my gun-loving friends of faith. But I have a hard time seeing the case for their stance. Defending yourself is the most natural, most human thing in the world. Living a martyr’s life? Not so much. That’s why I expect it’s probably the more Christian stance to take.

Sincerely,
Joel

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