I am a Conservative, both socially and economically. I believe in a small, limited-power, fiscally-responsible government which seeks only to protect the liberties, well-being and safety of its people. I think there is something to be said about each of those qualities in a government.
However, the more I grow in God’s Word and the more I become familiar with other viewpoints, the more I am beginning to see that many of the values I once held as a Conservative are counter-biblical. This has never become more apparent to me than in the recent controversies over the Confederate flag after the massacre in Charleston, SC and the very recent issue over gun laws following the killing that occurred in Oregon this past week.
What do I mean by that? Let’s start with Charleston. After the killing of a group of African-Americans in an AME church during a prayer service by a deranged, racist, young white man, there was an ensuing push to remove the Confederate flag from public grounds, as it was (in my view) seen as a symbol of white victory, numbness, insensitivity, and perhaps even blindness. Of course, such a movement would never move forward without opposition. Pretty soon, we all saw Confederate flags waving from the back of pick-up trucks and planted at the end of many people’s driveways. All I heard from that side was, “We have a right to do this.” Anything that was posited in response to that position was seen as an infringement on freedom of speech. On top of this, we heard, “It’s a heart problem. Don’t blame the flag. It’s a sin issue.”
Now we have Oregon. An armed maniac invades a college and massacres several students, targeting especially those of the Christian faith (which is a discussion for another time, but one that needs to be had). Of course, this once again incites the President to issue a statement on gun laws, and how we should enact “common sense” measures to prevent this from happening. As with before, this could not be said without a heated uprising from the opposing, politically-conservative side. “We have a right,” we hear all the time. And, as with before, we hear this anthem: “It’s a sin issue.”
We all know this: Christians tend to be Conservative-leaning and all others tend to be Liberal-leaning. because of this correlating divide, it necessarily follows that many sharply-contested political issues become religious issues (especially for the Conservatives). For perhaps the first time in my life, I have taken a back seat to observe these things transpire, opening my mouth only when feeling obligated. Now attending a conservative (theologically speaking) evangelical seminary, I am now forced to not only think about these things politically, but primarily from a biblical perspective, because, after all, being myself a very Reformed Protestant, I hold Scripture as the highest (and really only) authority in my life, with the enabling of God the Holy Spirit. Doing this has caused me to really think deeply about what I am seeing and hearing from both sides of these issues. And, surprisingly, most of the words I have are not—as opposed to times past in my life—for the Liberals, but for the Conservatives. Being a Conservative myself, I hope that this entry will at least be given more credence than my fellow Conservatives are giving to the opposing views. I hope they will hear me out, as I only wish to challenge all of us to think biblically, laying aside all political creeds and commitments. I pray this article does just that.
That being said, I wish to offer a couple of my thoughts on the issue.
1. The right to bear arms—or, more generally, the right to self-defense—is an American right, not a biblical one. This one is important, and demonstrates exactly what I am talking about when I say that too often American democratic politics gets conflated with the tenets of the Christian religion. The right to bear arms is not a religious issue. While, yes, Scripture may give warrant for self-defense, on my reading of it, it doesn’t seem to make it a right. In fact, far more weight is given to the defense of others, both in the Old and New Testaments. The much to say about protection of widows (Deut. 14:28-29; 27:19), the poor (Deut. 15:11) and the unborn (Ex. 21:22). Likewise, the New Testament talks about giving to the poor (Acts 20:35; 1 Jon 3:17), taking care of widows and orphans (James 1:27), and pursuing the protection of anyone who is otherwise defenseless. I would dare say that we as Christians are called not to assert our rights and privileges, but to sacrifice them if it means the betterment of our brothers and sisters. After all, the Christian life is about sacrifice: the sacrifice of Jesus (he had the right to call legions of angels to eliminate the wicked men who crucified him, yet he didn’t), sacrifice to the lordship of Christ, sacrifice for your neighbor (remember the good Samaritan?). I believe Romans 14, though not specifically about our present discussion, has principles that can be applied to this.
Now, am I saying we should all just lay down our arms now without restraint or hesitation? Of course not. As I said before, I believe there is some biblical warrant in for self-defense. And, at this time in world history, it is not possible to adequately protect others, especially those within our own households, without the use of deadly force, namely, a firearm. However, what I am calling for is for Christians to think deeply about this situation. What if stricter gun laws actually helped? What if they would actually eliminate the threat of mass shootings like this? I’m not saying they would, but what if they did? Would we Christians be willing to give up that right for the good of our neighbor? I hope so.
2. Saying, “It’s a sin issue,” really adds nothing to the conversation, and in a way reveals our inconsistency in dealing with certain ethical issues. Yes, it is a sin issue. Absolutely. Every problem is this world is a sin issue. The Oregon shooter had a sin issue; the Boston Marathon Bomber had a sin issue. The Charleston shooter has a sin issue. Those people who fought tooth-and-nail for the flying of the Confederate flag in the midst of extreme African-American grief have a sin issue (!); I have a sin issue, one with which I struggle every hour. Nobody denies (even atheists, I imagine) that people are imperfect. But, what does saying it over and over actually do? Personally, I feel that it is a mere deflection, an excuse and justification for our inaction. Let me put this in a scenario about which we Christians are passionate. Let’s look at abortion. If you are like me, you would want nothing more than for laws to be passed that would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. In fact, I would love to see abortion tools, drugs, and machinery taken away and outlawed completely in this country. However, what if the abortion-supporting Liberals took to the strategy we are taking about this gun issue? “It is a sin issue.” Abortion clinics don’t kill babies, people do!” We would cry out in abject fury—and rightly so! Yet these are the exact same arguments we are using with regard to guns. “It is a sin issue.” “Guns don’t kill people, people do!” Clearly we understand that abortion is a sin issue, yet we don’t sit back and say it over and over, nor would we tolerate such remarks for the other side. No, we seek to take the means out of the hands of the perpetrators—funding, legality, etc. Well, why? If it is just a sin issue, why go any further? Because, since it is an evil we are passionate about stopping, we understand that punishing people is not enough. The means—the drugs, clinics and machinery—need to be gone.
My question is, what is different about guns? Of course, we all say in response, “People (particularly criminals) will still find guns regardless of the law.” Well, people, just like they have for thousands of years, will still find ways to abort children, but that doesn’t stop us from pushing for its demise, does it? So, what’s the difference?
Please understand me. The purpose of this article is not to try to convince people that self-defense or owning guns are un-Christian or unbiblical; they are not. The point of writing this article is two-fold: 1) I wish to get my brothers and sisters to think critically and biblically about things before they push for action of any sort, and 2) I wish to plead with my fellow believers, before they make political decisions, to search their own heart. Currently I see so many Christians basing their political agendas on their rights, their privileges, and their protection. Where is the regard for others? To others even enter our minds when trudging through these complex issues? I hope so. Sure, we all have our political convictions, and that is awesome; it is a gift from God to be able to have political beliefs that can make a difference. However, my lament is that so much of the conviction comes from however we answer the question “How will it affect me?” I believe as Christians we are called to first think biblically, then consider others and their well-being, and then to lastly consider ourselves.
To conclude, I return to my question above: What if changing gun laws were proven to help? What if it were even highly likely that it would help? Again, I am not saying they would (because I just don’t have that kind of knowledge or information), but if they did, would we lay aside what we feel like are our rights to seek the well-being of another? With God’s help and grace, I believe I would, and that is a massive change that God has cultivated in my heart recently. I never would have said such a thing 2 years ago. Well, would doing so compromise my own safety and security? Possibly. Would it open me up to violence unprotected? Maybe. But, as a Christian, I believe that is what I am called to in this business of loving my neighbor. Jesus is my prime example here. He willingly gave up his safety, his comfort, his security, and even his very life for the sake of his sheep; he thought nothing of himself. Even in the moment of death, his accusers and murders received his selfless compassion (Luke 23:34). I believe we are all called to do the same.
As the debate continues, dear Christians, do not merely regurgitate the political values you have been taught for its own sake. And, whatever matters you consider, do not consider only the affect it will have upon yourself. Weigh the issues carefully according to Scripture. Be not first concerned with yourself, rather be concerned with others before yourself. It is hard, but that is what we are called to do.
The grace of God be with us all in these coming weeks.