On Guns...

I've not been blogging much lately, as December and January are quite busy times in the life of a United Methodist pastor.

Over the coming weeks, I do want to share a couple of nice articles I've run across.
The first has to do with gun ownership in America.

Now I should say first off that, like many of the people in my homeland (Louisiana), I am a gun owner.  And I strive to be a responsible one.  I have taken a couple of gun safety/training courses over the years and regularly practice in order to be proficient (rather than clumsy and dangerous) with my firearms.  I keep them for sporting and - God forbid that it should ever be necessary - legally authorized defense of my person and family.  So, I am by no means "anti-gun."  In fact, I do agree with the argument that having significantly more well-trained (and I emphasize that qualifier) concealed weapon carriers in this country could limit the impact of (though not actually prevent) San Bernardino or Paris-style mass shootings by Islamists and other terrorists.
Theologically, I think of armed citizens (duly authorized, trained, and licensed by the authorities) as an extension of the legitimate role of coercive force as it is described in Romans 13.

I know some Christian pacifists will disagree with the traditional reading of Romans 13, and I appreciate their valuable witness, but (beyond the obvious arguments about the Nazis) I've always wondered if they really want to assert that only non-believers who do NOT believe in Christ or his teachings should be law-enforcement officers or members of the military.  That sounds like an argument for religious isolationism and doesn't seem to ring true for me if we believers are to be "salt and light" in every corner of society (nor is it consistent with John the Baptist's message to the soldiers).

However, I do support any common-sense improvements that can be made in back-ground checks and gun-sales screenings to keep weapons away from criminals, the mentally ill, and terrorists.  I don't really understand the logic of opposing such measures.

But more important than any of that is this: as a pastor I am keenly aware of the many Biblical passages that urge us not to trust in or rely upon weapons for our future security.  The Psalms repeatedly affirm, and Christ himself embodies that our trust is not in our own ability to do violence to our enemies, but in God's power to work wonders - even raise the dead (Psalm 20, is one typical example from the Psalter).

So my own position (which I accept is fraught with ambiguity and tension) follows thus: While the coercive power of the government (and by extension, that of the individual gun-owner) does have a legitimate place in diminishing the impact of evil in a fallen world, such use of violence is "by way of concession" and it can never be our true and final hope ("Don't put your trust in princes" say the Psalms - which is not to say "get rid of princes/governments altogether").  Even in the midst of a fallen world, Christians should work creatively and deliberately to transcend violence and retaliation with non-violence and with the Gospel of Christ, that the violent and fallen world may be transformed by the leaven of the Kingdom.

The question of guns (relating either to war or to coercive force in law-enforcement) reminds me of what C.S. Lewis once said about never confusing a necessary evil with a positive good.

I recently saw an article on some Christian website critiquing American gun-culture called "In Guns We Trust."  That title might feel like a slap in the face to some Christian gun-owners, but perhaps it is a "wake up" slap.  If you take seriously what is said on some online message boards and YouTube videos, a lot of people go to church and profess to trust in God, but actually trust in their ability to out-gun others.  It begins to sound like what some "gun guys" really believe in is the me-first "law of the jungle" which, morally, falls far short of even human chivalry and gallantry, to say nothing of the inspired teachings of Christ and the Bible.

SO HERE is an interesting article exploring Gun ownership and following Jesus, entitled "Jesus may not care if you own a gun..." It really asks what "rights" we have when we (in that great evangelical expression) "surrender our lives to Christ," and it asks (like 1 Tim. 6:17 in relation to wealth) what we are ultimately putting our trust in.  I recommend it as food for thought.

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Anonymous bthomas said...

The exercise of any right under the Constitution of the United States requires no qualification or justification. It is our right as free citizens. Training to exercise the right to own and use firearms is no more legitimate than expecting would be authors to first be certified in the use of the English language before they begin to compose and write.

The greater use of our rights is to be encouraged, our country benefits from more people exercising their rights to speak, own and use firearms, etc. No citizen can look upon any effort to restrict our civil rights as anything but a attempted hostile takeover of what is basic and fundamental to the long term well-being of our nation. To assemble for whatever purpose one might value, to speak in whatever manner one might choose even if others object, to take up arms for whatever purpose, these rights were to dearly bought to be pawned for the sake of merely feeling safe. Franklin said it well, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

4:08 PM, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...


Thank you for your response;
I am not sure what exactly your point is: whether you are saying that you oppose background checks, or oppose the licensing requirements for the concealed carry of a fire-arm (as both of these are in fact restricting or regulating a constitutional right) or are you simply making the more general point that you support gun ownership?

I should note that we do, however, restrict certain rights for the common good of society (there are a great many cases, actually - a few we might consider are restrictions on the right to vote for incarcerated criminals, or even the basic right to life in cases where capital punishment is used; certainly seditious speech or "yelling fire in a crowded theater" are forms of speech that are legally restricted to protect the population); so I agree with your general principle - that the right to keep and bear arms is a basic right for Americans that is (Constitutionally speaking) a "given" and therefore need not be justified in order to be exercised. But general principles very often admit exceptions, exemptions, or nuances...that is in fact one reason why we have courts, lawyers, and a body of case-law after all.

But my general point (and that of the article I link) is not really about "justifying the exercise of a Constitutional right" or about Constitutional Law at all, but rather asking the far more important question about whether we have idols in our hearts. The Constitution like everything else in this world will fade away into oblivion, but the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ will stand forever. So the far more important question I am asking is whether my attitudes (and those of my compatriots) in relation to guns (or indeed money, or sex, or anything else) is in keeping with the higher laws and will of the Almighty, or if it strays into idolatry that must be guarded against. After all, idolatry is a far greater danger than terrorists, as terrorists can ONLY kill my corruptible body, but idolatry can lead my soul into eternal death and darkness.

11:42 AM, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Also, I think your analogy about requiring training in order to use a fire-arm would be analogous to requiring people to be certified in order to write or compose in English breaks down.
I said I want concealed carry holders to be well-trained, since it is obvious that clumsy use of a firearm is dangerous to the user and the bystanders. I did not offer a particular endorsement of some kind of certification requirement (though I do not in fact oppose it). But even with the English language, if we are to compose and write, we must first learn to use the language. This happens both informally as we learn our first words from our parents and formally through elementary education. One will not make good use of English without learning to use it. One will not make good use of a firearm without learning to use it as well.

I would assume that every gun-rights advocate, including yourself, also believes that common sense requires that we should - formally or informally - acquire the skills (through training) that enable us to keep and bear arms in a way that is SAFE, COMPETENT, and RESPONSIBLE; surely you do not suggest that gun ownership is a civic virtue in and of itself, regardless of whether such ownership is responsible?

3:09 PM, January 27, 2016  

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