Monday, January 7, 2013

Intersection of Faith and Politics: A Christian Response to the Gun Control Debate?

The Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy has caused a not unusual response.  Everyone has once again been given a disturbing reason to make their positions clearer. That this latest school shooting involved young children has made it even more emotionally-driven. My heart still aches for all the parents forced to endure the Christmas Season without their babies. Every time I think about it tears well up. I’ve posted a number of comments on Facebook about his tragedy to express my own thoughts but want here to write more extensively about this issue and weigh in with what I hope is a Christian response. You can let me know by posting a comment if I achieved by goal.

Pro-gun advocates are arming for the battle with guns sales soaring while anti-gun advocates are calling for disarmament and Hollywood hypocrites make a video saying “it’s time” while continuing to earn millions through violent films. Personally, I’m not as much a proponent of gun rights as I am a opponent of logical fallacies, a misconception resulting from incorrect reasoning. The opposing camps both need to understand that neither side has it completely right since much of what we believe is based on our imperfect perception of the world. Maybe Hollywood has at least one thing right that it’s time to at least give serious thought to this 2nd Amendment issue, and maybe in a way few are talking about. 

In my opinion, the facts tend to support the pro-gun side of the argument. The fact is there are about 11,000 murders committed annually by those who use guns in the course of committing their crimes. It is simply a logical fallacy to say that guns commit murders, since such is an impossibility for an inanimate object.  A 2011 Gallup poll estimates that 47 percent of US households own a gun, for an approximately 50 million American household. If we consider each of the gun related murders a household we arrive at the fact that 99.98% of Americans households who own guns are responsible law abiding citizens in any given year. It is simply emotionally unreasonable of the anti-gun side to look past the fact that the overwhelmingly majority of Americans, almost 100%, who own guns do so responsibly. There really is no rational basis to penalize the many for the crimes of the few. Such emotional response of gun control proponents is not the way to make good public policy.

However it would also be a logical fallacy to say that access to guns doesn't make it easier to commit crimes like Sandy Hook, especially since the expired assault weapon ban in 2004. Easy access to weapons such as ARs and AKs, coupled with lax or non-existent background checks, compounded by improper care and storage of household weapons (which was the case in Sandy Hook Elementary), does allow those who would commit such horrible crimes to get their hands on these weapons. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the country and in 49 of those cases the gunmen obtained the weapons legally. Therefore it is another logical fallacy that our protocols for legal gun ownership are not at least part of the problem.  Another logical fallacy, known as a genetic fallacy, is to link efforts at gun legislation today with history of gun confiscation under communist or fascist governments of the past. Such speculation based on history is also an emotional fear-based response. 

Now what? How do we proceed with all the emotionally based arguments? How do we have a reasonable debate, about such an important issue, with all the emoting going on? Knee jerk responses will never produce well-reasoned public-policy. It is worth the effort to have a rational debate for the common good of our nation. Some compromise is needed from both sides but the discussion must be broadened to other important issues that create a culture where such tragedies as Sandy Hook have become all too common. Ronald Reagan thought so which is why he supported Bill Clinton's assault weapon ban in 1994. But our problems go well beyond gun rights or gun control, both arguments simply miss the point. There are mental health issues and spiritual issues that must be addressed in this national conversation.

It is estimated today that more than 40 million American are on some form of anti-depressant drug, Adam Lanza among those. There are many factors that drive this epidemic and no easy answers on how to solve it, especially without a spiritual component. The mental health of our nation is perilous and a few are driven to commit such atrocities as mass shooting. Postmodernism and secularization, which I believe to be the root of our national emergency, has disaffected many from any basis of truth or a purpose for living beyond themselves. Value for life is lower today than even a decade ago,  if our national suicide rate, especially among young adults is any indication. What Sandy Hook and our depression epidemic should clearly show us is that we need something real beyond ourselves to hope in.  It should also demonstrate the emptiness of the world’s values that infect our 21st Century culture, that may contribute to the lack of mental health in country.

A recent Huffington Post article cites Frank Newport, author of "God is alive and well in America," as saying:
"the correlation between religion and well-being has been established by Gallup and many other organizations. The question is causality: Maybe healthier people choose to be more religious. But it's clear that religious (people) are less of a drain on our mental and physical health systems. So, a company may want to give discounts for employees who attend church four or five times a month, just as many give discounts for employees who go to the gym. If America were to become more religious, and this is controversial, it would become healthier."
Such a novel idea who's time may have come again as an answer to our gun control debate. But are American Christians ready to respond with real answers for the hope that we say we have? I don’t think many when we have so much syncretic political belief mixed with our faith. Many American Christians are gun owners who place a premium on their rights to bear arms. Where does the idea come from that American Evangelicals in particular stand on 2nd Amendment rights, but from our cultural heritage? We need to take caution that we don’t mix our faith with too much Americana. Other Christians approach the subject from a pacifistic position. They believe that Jesus was opposed to any form of violence and therefore they are for gun control. They need to be take caution that they understand the inalienable right to self-defense even Jesus agreed with (see Luke 22:36). But who is right?  How can we communicate to our culture a united message as Christians? 

Some Christians who are for gun control will look to Matthew 26:54 for support. There Jesus says, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” But pro-gun Christians might look to the same verse that begins with Jesus saying, “Put your sword back in its place," and note that the Lord didn’t tell Peter he was wrong for possessing a sword, he simply warned about the consequence of living by the sword. Sometimes looking to the Bible doesn’t provide clear direction for such issues. Other times it can tell us clearly the direction we need to go.

Certainly Jesus calls us to be peace-makers (Matthew 5:9) but he obviously also understood the sin laden dangerous world he had entered. The fact is Jesus allowed Peter to keep a sword in his presence. The Lord didn’t come to disarm the world but to save it from itself. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” But Jesus didn’t call upon Heaven’s armed forces because he understood what he had come to do. The reason he told Peter to put away his sword was because Jesus understood his time had come (John 13:1). Nothing would keep him from completing his mission. 

How then do we communicate a united message as Christians on this issue? I would like to offer these 4 ideas for starters. First, by showing proper respect for others who have a different opinion on the subject (1 Peter 2:17). We must not allow our witness for Christ to be tarnished by how we respond to others we disagree with. Second, by not allowing truth to be outweighed by our emotions or politics (Philippians 4:8). Honest debate is a good thing because no one has all the answers, as much as we think we do. Third, by focusing on the Gospel message which is something every Christian should agree on (1 Corinthians 1:10). Jesus did come to bring justice and establish righteousness (Matthew 12:18) and the darkness of our nation will not be overcome except by the Gospel. Finally, with much prayer for God’s will to be done and his purposes to prevail. Anything short of at these four, at least, is not a Christian response. 

We cannot expect that our secular government will understand or agree with any of these ideas but that should not really be our concern as Christ followers. Neither should our concern be with unrestrained gun ownership, even if our founders understood that no government should disarm its citizenry. Rather our concern should be with the spiritual health of our nation, which requires the advance of the Gospel, and peace of our society (Psalm 34:14), even Newport points to. And, our primary concern should always in all things by all means be that Jesus is made known. 

The Apostle Paul who also lived in troubled times, actually more troubled than our own since Christians were being brutally persecuted for their faith, instructed Timothy with these words:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Perhaps maybe when we make prayer and proclaiming Christ our primary focus all our politic issues will work themselves out for the glory of God in our nation. Regardless of what happens in this national debate we are called to do both anyway. Can I get an Amen!?

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