Does God have a place in the gun control debate?
on January 18, 2013 at 11:00 AM, updated January 18, 2013 at 1:50 PM
In the debate over gun control, people of faith can be found on both sides.
Those advocating gun control argue that it’s a moral issue that can be viewed through the lens of religion. Those preaching the Second Amendment say it’s a matter of personal opinion whether such legislation can prevent violence.
“I can understand how you can have a multilevel debate about Jesus and tax policy, because he didn’t have much to say about it,” said historian and ordained Baptist minister Wayne Flynt, who retired from Auburn University.
But Jesus and gun laws?
“He is so obviously arguing that the use of weapons, swords or anything else … that was not the kingdom of God. That was not what he came to proclaim,” said Flynt, who teaches a Sunday school class at First Baptist in Auburn.
Flynt points to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew: “You’ve heard that you shall not murder, but I tell you that if you hate someone in your heart, you’ve already murdered them,” he said, paraphrasing verses from chapters 5 and 6.
Flynt also cites Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for cutting off the ear of a soldier during Christ’s arrest. ‘He said, ‘Peter, put up your sword. This never settles anything.”
There are many Christians, however, who take exception to this logic, including Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he is also professor of Christian Theology and Ethics.
“Obviously, Jesus does not oppose the owning of all weapons, as the Apostle Peter clearly was armed with a sword on the night of Jesus’ arrest,” Moore, a Mississippi native, said Thursday. “Jesus rebuked Peter for using the sword against the servant of the high priest but he didn’t rebuke him for owning it.”
Moore, who studied history and is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister, said in his blog that he doesn’t own a gun.
However, he said he largely agrees with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s interpretation in the landmark case D.C. vs. Heller, in which the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes — though it said that right is not unlimited.
“But I don’t do so with some claim that the Bible is on my side,” Moore said.
Moore said he stands by an article he wrote in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo., shooting last summer titled, “Is Gun Control a Pro-Life Issue?”
The article argues that tying the gun control debate to the church’s stance on abortion confuses the issues.
“The gun control debate isn’t between people who support the right to shoot innocent people and those who don’t,” Moore wrote. “It’s instead a debate about what’s prudent, and what’s not, in solving the common goal of ending criminal violent behavior.
“That’s why orange-vested NRA members and vegan gun-control advocates can coexist, as the body of Christ, in the same church, without excommunicating one another,” he said.
The Southern Baptist Convention has not taken an official stance on gun control, but the president of the denomination’s public policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to reject “knee-jerk policy responses” that would infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
In the letter, Commission President Richard D. Land laments the “horrific mass shooting” in Newtown, Conn., but says, “Noble desires to protect innocent lives from another killing spree should not translate into shortsighted legislative or executive actions.”
Popular culture vs. religion
Flynt, of Auburn, says there’s a moral disconnect going on.
“The culture has swallowed Christ, and you hardly recognize him down here,” he said. “What we do is create a social religion that is compatible with the Southern, white culture and then just sort of move the Bible and Christianity to the background. We’ve done this historically through time.”
Flynt referred to the antebellum South’s use of a theological argument to justify slavery.
“Then we mobilized the white evangelical church as one of the most important institutions defending segregation,” he said. “Then we mobilized it around conservative political policy so that I would argue that you can hardly separate the typical white evangelical Southern church from a precinct headquarters of the Republican Party.”
He said that many congregations today put so much emphasis on what he calls the “external appearance of religiosity” such as attending church, abstaining from alcohol and sex outside of marriage, “that the substantive issues of what’s in your heart , what kind of human being are you, what makes you tick, have been largely lost.”