Thursday, January 3, 2013

For Evangelicals Defending Freedom

Daniel Darling is my friend and pastor for a family member in the Chicago area, and he has called on evangelicals to speak up about guns. He and I have engaged on this issue before. He publicly raises some good points and other points worth a response, so I thought I would answer his call here.

"The Bible doesn’t clearly express an opinion on the possession of guns, but many evangelicals defend the unlimited distribution of firearms with the same fervor that they defend biblical orthodoxy."

Somewhat to my surprise, an opportunity to "defend biblical orthodoxy" came along sooner than expected, even since I read his recent year-ending post. It has already reached the top 5 of the most popular posts on this blog ever (which may not be saying much). I don't think this will post will rise to the level of "fervor" (thoroughness, in this case, perhaps) as that, but we shall see.

"According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey, 8% of white evangelical Protestants favor tighter gun laws."

And I would say, please count me among the 92% that do not favor more gun laws.

Points of Agreement
" the wake of yet another deadly school shooting, it’s time for evangelicals to contribute to the national discussion..."

I agree. Evangelicals should regularly be contributing to the national discussion. We may also have more such opportunities on immigration reform, and Daniel and I have more agreement on that issue.

"Even President Barack Obama and other influential voices have called for a balanced approach that looks not only at guns but also at mental illness, violent video games and a culture of fatherlessness that produces young troubled men."

I agree that fatherlessness is a huge issue and merits more attention and prayer.

A Time
"Still evangelicals should not defend the use, proliferation and availability of assault weapons with as much vigor as they defend their faith."

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Thus, I would disagree that one "should not" ever outweigh the other. It's quite subjective to measure "as much vigor."

Question: What weapon isn't an assault weapon? If a machine fires a bullet, it fires a bullet. To put "assault" in front of that is a reference to something external to the nature of the device itself in that it only speaks to how it is used. If I fire a bullet into the ground, have I assaulted the ground?

The clearest distinction when it comes to guns is whether or not they are automatic weapons or not. Automatic weapons, like machine guns, are devices that when you pull and hold the trigger, it repeatedly fires without any additional effort. Semi-automatic weapons operate on a one-bullet-per-trigger-fire principle, and do not require special action to reload. And there's everything else down to my grandpa's old muzzle loader that was a multi-minute process to reload between rounds.

The discussion of "assault weapons" raises the emotional level of a discussion about semi-automatic weapons to the level of a discussion of automatic weapons. For that reason, I am do not prefer to use the term "assault weapons" as I find it to be misleading.

Roles of Government
"On one level, the Bible affirms the government's first and most basic job..."

There are two specific Biblical roles for any government: punish those who do evil, and praise those who do good.

"...the government's first and most basic job (is) to protect its citizens..."

I disagree with our current and previous Presidents and Daniel Darling on this. Neither of the two roles of government is "to protect its citizens." While the net result of government in its proper role may be the protection of its citizens, to task the government with a broader and less defined role (protection from... what?) opens the door to punishing more than evil.

"...protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable, our children. Romans 13 reminds us that government is 'God's servant for our good.' The Bible also gives high priority to the welfare of children."

While Romans 13 indeed says, the ruler "is God's minister to you for good," it also gets very specific about what he does that makes for that ministering for good.

As for the "especially the most vulnerable, our children," and "The Bible also gives high priority to the welfare of children," Matthew 18:10 is in a completely different context. Those were comments to his disciples in the context of eternal salvation. There is nothing there about any role for civil authority. These are emotional and inappropriate ties of children to the role of civil authority.

Violence vs. Life
"On the other hand, the Scripture is pretty clear that Christians should not only oppose violence but should be advocates for the sanctity of human life. This doesn’t simply apply to abortion but to any unlawful taking of human life. Advocating for life also includes taking care of children's and others' well-being after they are born. Each life is created in the image of God; therefore, death is the work of the evil one (1 John 3:15). The Apostle Paul labels death God’s final enemy. Christians are also called to be 'peacemakers' and not lovers of violence."

I agree with these life-affirming statements. I also wonder how the rest of it fits in with, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).

"Why can’t we support sensible restrictions, such as a ban on military-style combat weapons?"

While phrases like "military-style combat weapons" are ripe with emotional value, they are just as lacking in specifics as "assault weapons."

"These weapons seem to serve no purpose other than the glorification of violence."

The key words here are "seem to." Just because there may be some medicated mental illness patients among us who would glorify violence in their own death does not mean this is the only purpose.

Unstable People
"If we take seriously the command to protect our children, we’ll avoid the risk of these weapons getting into the hands of unstable people. Sure, a ban won’t eliminate all weapons, especially those purchased illegally, but it may reduce the chance of another Sandy Hook massacre."

It's inconsistent to say that "a ban" would "avoid the risk" while at the same time saying it "may reduce the chance." If it isn't a guarantee (and it's not), then we shouldn't double up on language to say that it is.

Further, who is to say who is "unstable"? This becomes especially problematic when one considers that the treatment for such instability, or "mental illness," has a history of creating the most dangerous "instability."

Means of self-defense are most essential specifically when government goes beyond punishing evil. Who needs to shut down opposition by calling it evil when you can just call it "unstable" or "mental illness"?

Second Amendment
"Gun ownership should be a privilege earned by good behavior and conferred only on the most trustworthy of our citizens. I think we can do this without disrespecting the Second Amendment..."

I think this completely disrespects the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is clear: "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

"...besides guaranteeing the right to bear arms calls for this right to be 'well-regulated.' As blogger Marty Duren says, 'While the Second Amendment provides the right to keep and bear (“carry”) arms, it does not necessitate the right to own any armament the mind of man can create.'"

And neither is any American insisting on a personal right to nuclear weapons. The first part of the Second Amendment says, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State." Those that argue such means the right is only for the purpose of a militia, or that "regulated" implies that the state can then regulate the right to bear arms, are, I rspectfully submit, missing the point. It's a right that "shall not be infringed." There is a reason this is part of the Bill of Rights—it's a right of the People. These are declarations of the rights of the People apart from the government, even whether the government is there or not.

Origin of Rights
Rights come from God by virtue of God giving us commands. Commands to worship imply the right to freedom of worship. Commands to speak imply the right to free speech.

Which command of God implies the right to self defense? Does the Bible "clearly express an opinion on the possession of guns"?

At one point Jesus told his disciples he was sending out, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36). I wouldn't call that flimsy. (I wouldn't call any Scripture flimsy.) A change of clothes was a big deal back then. For Jesus to tell someone to give up a change of clothes for a sword is significant. A sword was the weapon of choice at the time, and an individual's most significant tool of parity for purposes of self-defense. Considering that a gun is the tool of parity for self-defense today, a gun seems to be a reasonable comparison, and application of this Scripture today.

Troubled Young Men
"New gun laws won’t prevent every future crime, but perhaps a few common-sense regulations would help destroy a culture of violence that so tempts young troubled men."

We've going from laws by which "we’ll avoid the risk" or "may reduce the chance" to regulations that will "destroy a culture of violence."

What do troubled young men need today? They need Jesus! They need the Word of God! They need to be taught how God created everything, how sin corrupts it, and how Jesus wants to redeem everything on this earth for his purposes, and what that understanding can look like in a person's life. That is what will destroy a culture of violence!

(To be clear, it is not the role of government to make sure people have Jesus. It is the role of government to protect the right of others to speak to others about Jesus.)

Laws or regulations that punish evil like murder are helpful for limiting violence. It's not evil to own a weapon, and laws that go beyond this basic role of government are what open the door of its role to greater evil.

"Some will argue that new restrictions only hurt those who are already law-abiding. This may be so. But as Christians called to care for the common good of our communities, we should be willing to endure the inconvenience if it saves one child from death."

Just to be clear, the "inconvenience" advocated here is a world of "new restrictions" in which gun ownership is "a privilege earned by good behavior and conferred only on the most trustworthy of our citizens."

I disagree. It is not the role of government to assume people are not "the most trustworthy" until they have demonstrated sufficient "good behavior" upon which the benevolent government will then confer upon such citizens the "privileges" of being able to defend one's self and family from natural or manmade evil. Those are not citizens. Those are subjects.

Would it please the king to consider me worthy to bear arms upon his determination that I am not a threat to a child?

This not a choice between inconvenience and saving a child. This is a choice between keeping the unarmed disarmed and keeping a threat to tyranny equipped.

"Since 9/11, we have all endured more hassle at the airport to prevent even one terrorist from killing our fellow citizens."

TSA is neither what keeps us safe, nor is a guarantee of future safety. We do not put our trust in princes (Psalm 118:9; 146:3). Our security comes from God (Job 24:22-23).

In addition to telling his disciples to buy a sword, when they used it Jesus also told them to put it in its place and that "all who take the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). There is a subtle and important difference between not taking the sword out and not having it to take out, and yet a bigger difference still with not having one to take out because one was not among "the most trustworthy."

Total Depravity
"Followers of Christ know that it is ultimately not the gun that kills, but evil that resides in every human heart."


"And yet it is precisely this belief in total depravity that might inform our views on gun control. In a fallen world, the most vulnerable among us need protection from those who cannot or will not discern right from wrong."

The faulty assumption here is that the government can, would, and would always provide that protection from the evil of the human heart if provided the opportunity. The evil of the human heart is not limited to those outside the government, and those at the controls of power need a check on their own proclivities as well.

"Ironically, this is the focus of the Christian anti-abortion argument."

This isn't ironic. The pro-life movement believes that abortion is evil and as such merits punishment from the government.

"Let's not put instruments of death so close to hands that would do evil."

Who is determining which hands "would do evil"? If, after having just argued that every heart is evil, are we saying that no one should have "instruments of death"? Even if we were identifying such hands, who would be putting the instruments there? While this statement sounds like an obvious observation, it also has little meaningful value outside what everyone would obviously not do anyway.

"At the end of the day, living out our faith requires that we do more than simply react in a defensive posture but engage in this important debate."

I think, hope and pray we are doing that.

"We can protect the cherished right to bear arms in self-defense and still make sure unnecessary and violent weapons are not sold on our store shelves and online and are not accessible by those in our communities who would use them to commit acts of aggression and murder."

As previously argued, ending the sale of weapons does not "protect the cherished right to bear arms." We haven't even begun to consider how one makes those that are already sold "not accessible." Determining who "would use" them requires many overstepping presumptions.

"Furthermore, an unwillingness to entertain common-sense restrictions casts the evangelical faith in an unnecessarily unfavorable light. It may cause some to think we love our guns more than our neighbors."

I would hardly count eviscerating the Second Amendment to be a "common-sense restriction." If that makes people who are already unhappy with evangelicals unhappy, that's not my top concern. It may allow some to love their neighbors more by protecting them. It's not an either/or question here.

"There are many things about which Christians should be unyielding; the right to own a killing machine should not be one of them."

In the most recent presidential election, the contrast was often raised between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. One of those documents is all about compromise, and the other is all about no compromise. The Bill of Rights is about embedding the things on which we do not compromise into the document that was forged in compromise.

This is not to say that Christians should literally and physically fight to the death of the government ever comes for our guns. Some may; some may not. This is to say that the principle is sound, and as long as we have opportunity to argue principle, we can be unyielding on what we believe to be true.

Some may think Jesus' command, and thereby our right, to own a sword is flimsy and doesn't fit their picture of Jesus. It's not my place to judge what He said no matter whatever emotional descriptions someone may use.

No one wants another mass shooting. And no one should think laying down our freedom is any way to protect anyone.

1 comment:

David C Brown said...

"My kingdom is not of this world ..."

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