Galatians 5:1, 13-25
When an indoor shooting range and gun club opened in my rural Illinois town, I didn’t give it much thought. Guns have never been a part of my life. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, have never been hunting, and wouldn’t trust my clumsy and anxious self anywhere near a lethal weapon. The new “Tac Shack” in town wasn’t my scene. But for others, it was.
I grew curious about the Tac Shack as I noticed a trend on social media — young local moms posing for profile pics with handguns or long guns. It startled me to see moms I knew from the baseball field and basketball bleachers. Logging on to the Tac Shack’s slick website, I discovered what I suspected was the source of this new local trend — Good Shepherd Defense & Training classes for women only. “Your life may depend on it,” they advertised.
The need for stricter gun laws feels more urgent than ever after the terrorizing tragedies in Buffalo, New York, Laguna Woods, California, and Uvalde, Texas. Yet, the seduction of guns, their ability to make us feel empowered, and an industry whose profits depend on us believing we have no other choice but to protect and defend ourselves with guns has an idolatrous hold on us Americans.
In our lectionary text from Galatians, Paul writes about the nature of Christian liberty. In Christ, we are not freed from responsibility, not freed to do whatever we want, or freed to indulge in self-centered desires of the flesh. Rather, in Christ, we are freed for love, freed to care for, respect and cherish all lives. The cross is the symbol of this Christian freedom. Jesus did not pick up a weapon to defend himself from the violent Romans. He went to the cross. In his life, death and resurrection, the transformative power of God’s love for humankind is made known. Nothing can separate us from this love.
In the terrifying world in which we live, where parents worry about their kids’ safety at school, where a mob can infiltrate our Capitol threatening to hang our vice president, where Black, Asian and Jewish Americans are stalked and gunned down in their grocery stores, neighborhoods and places of worship, I can understand and empathize with the argument that drastic times call for drastic measures, that we must protect ourselves and our loved ones, that violence can only be stopped by violence, that Paul’s fruits of the Spirit aren’t much help when a terrorist with an AR-15 is at large in your building. But I also recognize the trap of this escalating violence, the way fear changes us and distorts our thinking, our desperate need to be freed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
In the chapter he contributed to God and Guns: The Bible Against American Gun Culture David Lincicum writes, “To use a gun to hammer a nail or squash a fly is possible, but the gun is designed to kill; it achieves its proper purpose when used to kill. We tend to trade in euphemisms, so we might say that we’d like to have a gun for safety, for peace of mind, for protection, or ‘just in case.’ But any serious consideration must clear-sightedly remember precisely what a gun is designed to do and the capacity it gives its user. …[W]e desire to own a gun in order to kill instantaneously should the necessary occasion arise.”
Lincicum goes on: “To navigate the world with the capacity for instantaneous lethal force is to navigate the world as a profoundly different type of self than that envisaged by Jesus and his followers.”
I can understand and empathize with the mothers who learn to shoot to protect themselves and those they love. I also understand that my fear of picking up a gun is rooted in my fear of how that weapon would change me — giving me the power to kill instantaneously, to escalate conflict, to respond to violence with violence, to destroy my chance to respond in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control with a single pull of a trigger.
Let us not be deceived by the power of the gun, nor those who sell it to us. We are not freed by the power to kill instantaneously. We are freed by the power of love.
Questions for reflection:
- What thoughts, feelings, questions or concerns arose as you read this Scripture passage?
- What is the gun culture like in your community? What is the peacemaking culture like in your community?
- Do a quick search for “de-escalating violence” on the internet. What strategies make sense for you or your church to learn and practice?