Before I start I want to say that I know many gun owners, and all of the gun owners I know fall into the ‘good Christian folk’ category. I went to a primarily agricultural school in rural Texas and I pastor in Johnson County, Texas. I pastor hunters, recreational shooters, and the like. There isn’t a single gun owner in my life that I don’t believe to be a responsible human. I love my people, my church, my community, and my Texas. But this world is changing, and I believe people of faith should stand for meaningful dialogue in a culture that is rife with fear of the other. A fear that I often share. A fear that Christ would rather me not have.
Driving into town this morning on my beautiful country road I was cut off but a pickup truck driving about 20mph slower than I was. I was actually driving the speed limit, which isn’t a regular thing, and very quickly I was nearly in the bed of this truck, hitting the brakes of my Honda Accord.
My immediate thoughts were to do three things, by instinct:
- Lay on the horn.
- Hit the gas and tear around them in anger.
- Yell angrily at the driver, but mostly to myself.
Except, I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I braked and hung back at a safe distance while the truck got up to speed.
Because, before my traffic instincts kicked in, I looked up at the sticker on the back of this person’s vehicle. This was the sticker I saw:
And I quickly decided, another instinct overriding the usual, that I didn’t know what this person would do if I let them know how rude they were.
Did they have a gun in the cab of their truck?
Would they use it on me?
Did they have a bad enough morning that they would let their emotions take over and do something terrible?
I didn’t know this person. But simply seeing a sticker on their truck made me instantly, irrationally, afraid. Knowing where I live, I’m sure that the driver falls into the ‘good Christian folk’ crowd as much as any other person I meet on a day to day basis.
That sticker made me more polite, to be sure. I backed off to a safe distance and as soon as an alternative route became available on my GPS, I turned off the road. Maybe that’s the purpose of that sticker? It certainly didn’t make me feel safer on the road, knowing this person probably had a concealed or open carry license and was ready for self defense. For other gun owners, that sticker likely would’ve been a call to community with the driver.
For me, it made me afraid.
And, how can I not be afraid with the terrible events of this week weighing on our American culture? As I was driving, I was listening to a podcast ... One of the hosts works for a company based in Las Vegas. The podcast was recorded Monday morning, just after the news began to come out about another Worst Mass Shooting in the History of Modern America. The host said that his company email was a flurry of communications trying to account for all of the employees, as casualty numbers were just beginning to become clear.
We shouldn’t have to live in fear, but that’s what we have. Because every issue has to be political. Every. Issue. Has. To. Be. Partisan. About a third of American citizens own nearly half of the world’s guns. That’s. A. Lot. And how are we regulating that ownership? How are we engaging in meaningful dialogue to create safer communities? When are we going to stop saying that it’s too soon after a tragedy to talk about guns and violence in our country? That sentiment was shared after Pulse last June. That sentiment was shared after the shootings in Dallas last July.
How long, O Lord?
At General Conference 2016, United Methodists approved a resolution, Our Call to End Gun Violence. Resolutions aren’t typically church law, and this one isn’t, but a majority of delegates at our global gathering approved this statement, a theological claim that Christian’s are called to help end gun violence in this world.
Read the statement. It contains logical things. Universal back ground checks. Psychological screenings of some kind. Banning sale of large capacity magazines and automatic weapons.
And it frames it in the context of scripture:
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
[Micah 4:1-4, NRSV]
Our liturgical work as people of God should call us to partner with God to create a world without fear. Maybe coherent, loving, honest, respectful dialogue on gun control is a good place to start.