I have taken to stepping away from Facebook and Twitter for Lent. Actually, I’ve stepped away more and more from those places generally, with occasional dips back in the water to remind me to get back out again. Lenten abandonment of Facebook always leaves me refreshed and amazed at how much clearer my head is when I’m not finding ways to be annoyed or offended or whatever on my phone.
After seeing the numbers roll in from yet another school shooting on Wednesday, I very quickly thought, “Oh I’m so glad I’m not on Facebook right now.” We’ve seen so many explosively violent acts, so many school shootings that I know exactly what I would find there, who would say what. There’s the inevitable crying face emoji status, the statuses about being sad and praying for the victims. There’s the equally inevitable, often profane statuses of angry, hurt people telling the other people what they can do with their thoughts and prayers. There’s the people saying, “When will we do something about this?” There’s the pre-emptive, “We can’t ban guns, let’s have more guns to stop this” posts. Then there’s the collisions of the two groups shouting over rights and deaths and then… it’s over. Until the next one kicks up in, what, like five days? It’s the cycle we live through in this country, right?
I’m so glad I’m not on Facebook to watch it again.
And I’m so tired of it. I’m so, so tired of watching news clips and seeing photos of children, actual children, crying and screaming because violence has entered their sanctuary. I’m exhausted at being confronted with the thought that I send my children to these places and hoping the next one doesn’t happen with my kids inside. And I’m most exhausted at the reality that we will do absolutely nothing about this. We, as a society, have chosen to be this. Because these are our rights.
And I think it’s inarguably our right. I think the 2nd Amendment is what it is and has been interpreted to mean exactly what we’re seeing. It’s our Constitutional right to have guns with very few checks and balances on that right. And so we (very many of us) have decided that that right is worth the cost of violence like this. Gun owners are generally good, caring people. And they hate these news stories as much as me. But we, collectively, shrug our shoulders and say, “What can be done?”
I don’t know exactly, but it seems every other country on Earth has figured out what can be done. We could ask them, I guess. Or… you know… just wait for the next one.
I’m not here to argue for legal gun control. I don’t know enough about it. It’s not my area of expertise or particular interest. It seems like a meaningless conversation because it has become so politicized that I just think nothing will ever be done about it. Someone walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and murdered kindergarteners and we did precisely nothing about it. If we’re not going to legally do anything at the sight of babies bleeding out, nothing could convince us to change any laws. So I’m not here for that.
I would rather ask a different kind of question that I feel is more my field, my area of responsibility:
How do Christians in America provide counter-cultural formation in a culture of violence? How should Christians deal with guns?
I do not have all the answers here and I don’t feel like I have to provide all the answers. But I think there are questions worth thinking about here. And I do recognize these might feel like (and I’m sorry about this terminology) loaded questions.
One thing that will often be repeated (and probably is being repeated right this very second) is that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” And, of course, there’s real truth to this. There’s a broken mind, a broken spirit behind that trigger that is different from many of the other kind and loyal and compassionate minds behind other triggers.
However, we may need to stop and consider as Christians: are things ever only things? What I mean by that is, lost in the furor of trying to make legal arguments about keeping guns and protecting gun rights, I think many Christians fail to consider how a gun is a spiritual object, or an object with particular spiritually formative possibilities. “But it’s just a thing!” you might say.
Pornography is just a thing, though. Really, it’s just images, composition of light and sound on a screen. It cannot force something upon you. It’s constructed in such a way to form us and provoke a response, though. And therein lies spiritual formation. Food is just a thing, yes? It cannot force a spiritual outcome on us. But gluttony and feasting are two potentialities lying dormant in food, preparing to form us. Money. Money is just a thing, right? Money is not inherently evil, but there lies potential for great evil or great good and riches seem to have with them an inherent danger that we should be wary of, though we are not helpless before those dangers.
I could go on. There are a multitude of examples. Things are never merely things because we are not merely living in neutral territory unencumbered by a spiritual world. We are spiritual beings, the world charged with more than what we see. Guns are not demons, of course. They are not stalking anyone or whispering lies at night.
But at the very least, Christians should be cognizant of what guns do as spiritual objects. How does Christian participation with gun ownership, then, expose us to spiritually formative powers? I would suggest that, at the very least, there is real spiritual danger in gun ownership. Not only danger. I do recognize the virtue of desiring to protect family and neighbor. But Christians should not be blind to the dangers beyond and behind the bullets. Let’s think about some of those possible dangers:
-Guns might convince us that we hold all the power to sustain our own lives. This is a lie, of course. Gun owners die in violent crimes. They die in car accidents. Or from heart attacks. Or from gun accidents. Really, there are thousands of ways to die even if you have a gun to protect yourself. You and I are not in control of our own lives to a very great degree. Our lives are sustained by more than our own strength or ingenuity.
-Guns might convince us that the way to secure a good world is through violence. Violence, even used towards a good end, does not appear to be the way that God will set the world to rights. In fact, it is by suffering violence that God drives a stake into the ground. It is the offering of sacrificial love that it seems that God intends to remake and reshape the world.
-Guns might convince us that our actions are disconnected from the lives of our neighbors. By this I mean that it may be possible to own a gun with good motivations, good intentions, and good practices. And it would be tempting to think that that alone justifies an action (any action). But that is not quite far enough to think, as a Christian. Does purchasing a firearm and ammunition fund an industry that harms your neighbor? Have you participated in and therefore facilitated something that is not so good? This becomes complex because it’s possible to make every possible choice connected to every possible evil, so I do not have a clear answer for you here. But my suggestion is that guns might tempt you into never asking the question.
-Guns might give us the wrong ideas about death. That it is acceptable and a small matter for some to die while others live. That death is the inevitable way of this world. That death can be an ally.
I’ll stop here. My point is not that you absolutely will believe all of these things or things like them. My point is that guns should be seen as dangerous not simply in the obvious way that they are so deadly. Christians should consider their involvement with weapons as also potentially spiritually dangerous.
If everything surrounding guns in this country is essentially boiled down to, “What is my right,” even for Christians, I think we have missed the mark. Like I said, I think gun ownership really is a right guaranteed in the Constitution (though… you know… we can amend it). But those are not good enough questions, those legal questions. They are incomplete.
Much of following Jesus is about forfeiting what are our rights. A better question to ask is “what would following Jesus as Master, as King look like in this particular realm?” The same question should be asked of every single facet of our lives, of course. Ours is a rights-driven culture. As long as Christians live by those ways of doing business in any realm of our lives (sexuality, guns, food, whatever), we will be capitulating to the logic of the kingdoms of this world that revolve around self-rule, self-empowerment, self-ish ways.
But Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world. Jesus said that himself. Accepting that to be true, how does Christian gun ownership look different? How do Christians own guns (or not own guns) in such a way that our friends, our families, our culture looks and says, “Ah yes. They’re that way because they follow Jesus. They’re all a bunch of weirdos.” Are they looking at us and seeing signs of an otherworldly kingdom?
What I’m asking is… are we sure that we are weird enough?