Friday, December 21, 2012

Take the Gun Out of Jesus' Hand

When The National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre blames the violence being peddled as entertainment as a contributing factor to the mass casualty shootings we have seen, I must agree.  When he points to our woeful lack of services for mentally ill people as another factor, I again agree.  But my agreement ends with his statement, ‘‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’’

I know that what I am about to say will make me sound like a fool, in fact, I was called an idiot and accused of having "sissy sensibilities" for saying what one person called the stupidest thing he had ever heard when I suggested that what truly stops a bad guy with a gun is the truth.  Yes, I know that the truth won't keep me alive if I am shot, but I do believe that it will save my life. Because I don't believe that the highest good to be defended is life, I believe that the highest good, the one thing I will not abandon is love.  If I must return violence on violence in order to know peace, then, logically, I have not found peace, even if the violence stops.  When Jesus said to love our enemies, I don't believe that he meant that we could somehow love them while continuing to kill them.  When an armed mob came to take Jesus, he not only didn't defend himself (with an army of angels no less, sort of the ultimate arsenal) he chastised Peter for attempting to do so.  He reminded Peter that those who live by the sword die by the sword.  It is true, that the swordless also die, often first, but Jesus not only told us that laying down our lives for others was the greatest love, he led by example.

Sadly, we too often save such idealistic rhetoric for Sundays alone and come Monday pragmatism and patriotism put the gun in Jesus' hand justifying killing for the sake of saving others.  While sound moral arguments may be made for violence on behalf of protecting the innocent and even self-defense, all I'm saying is that Jesus would never pull that trigger.  A single episode of table-flipping rage is far from sufficient to offset the rest of Jesus' teaching and example.  We have the Second Amendment because we extrapolated from the experience of the armed underdog winning a bloody revolution against the greatest military power on the planet that democracy could be purchased in blood, effectively that might makes right (since it is the victors who write the history...and the constitution).  This current round of angst about the availability of guns has opened my eyes to the tragic realization that the Second Amendment is quite possibly all about the fear factor: the citizenry need to remain armed to the teeth in order to balance the threat that government's army poses.  If that is indeed a legitimate interpretation, then I am ready to work for its repeal for I don't want a democracy that relies on an equilibrium of fear instead the power of truth in ideas.

The marriage of a twisted version of the Christian story with the American ethos has existed since our nation's founding when we accepted that the genocide of the native peoples because we were God's chosen people, the new Israel, we had a Manifest Destiny.  We Americans have a deep seated belief in the power of redemptive violence.  It is just as Mr. LaPierre states, the bad guys with guns (or bows and arrows) were stopped by the good guys with guns.  Good guys with guns brought justice to the Wild West at the end of a barrel. Even today when we execute foreign policy through killing we talk about brave soldiers defending our rights by killing others even when those others pose no viable threat to our rights. And if our schools become veritable prisons or worse, become Dodge City full of gun-toting teachers, then we may have freedom only in an Orwellian sense.

Instead of being a voice raised in lament crying out for peace, the church has instead played a supporting role in the violence by providing theological underpinnings for redemptive violence.  When Jesus' death is seen as paying the price for all of us, it is easy to assume that the price (death) is set by a God who allows compassion to be trumped by a cold calculating form of justice that demands an exchange.  What would we say of a father who requires the death of his own son to forgive a debt?  Wouldn't we expect an all powerful and all loving God simply to forgive the debt without the blood?  Thankfully, theologians do struggle with describing the atonement accomplished on the cross in other ways than this barbaric substitution.  I understand the crucifixion as the work of humans not of God.  We are the ones incapable of overcoming evil with good.  We are the ones that trust violence over love.  But God's work in the death of Jesus is to take away the victory by raising him to new life. 

May we find the strength to place our faith in that hope.  May we be fools for God by choosing to believe that love is more powerful than anything else in the entire universe.  May we come to accept the hard truths taught by Jesus about love and forgiveness.  May we learn to turn the other cheek...and take the gun out of Jesus' hand.