what do we want to be known for?

jesus and gun picture

today is the march synchroblog, centered on guns & God.  yikes, it’s a tricky topic with so many strong emotions, but i have faith that we can have a kind and respectful conversation. it’s a way to practice listening and let others be where they are at without feeling the need to convince differently. i have written several very clear-here’s-where-i-stand-today synchroblog posts in the past on issues of health care reform & immigration & marriage equality as part of past synchroblogs.  i have shared openly about the paradoxical conflict i feel about abortion, where it’s so much harder to take one side or the other because of the complexity of the issue.

my feelings about guns are similar. while i have strong feelings against personal guns (except for hunting or sport), i do believe in people’s rights to have one. i do not think stricter gun control laws will necessarily keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys, but i think it might help them not be quite so easily accessible. i also understand that many feel passionately about being able to protect themselves or their families (i do struggle with having guns to protect our “stuff”, that just feels extra jacked-up to me as christ-followers). i am not a pure pacifist and believe that unfortunately, because of human nature’s bent toward power, we have to have a military.

but for jose and i, we have made a conscious decision not to have guns in our home.

they do not make me feel safer. in fact, it feels just the opposite.

while there are countless angles on the issue of guns & God, here’s what rises to the surface for me whenever i think about it:   i don’t think christians & guns should be so intimately connected. 

so much of the passion about guns seems to involve fear–fear of the other, fear of the government.  didn’t Jesus invite us over and over again to be not afraid?

it’s also wild to me, really, how passionate some christians are about certain topics that i find hard to see as Jesus’ top concerns.

it really makes me wonder about much more than guns.

do we want to be known as people who tirelessly fight to keep guns in their houses or would we rather be known as people who tirelessly help the homeless find housing?

do we want to be known as people who picket abortion clinics and yell online about it or people who care for the mothers who decide to raise their babies or place them with a family who can?

do we want to be known as people who take up arms & throw stones or people who heal wounds and stand between the stone-throwers and the ones about to be stoned?

do we want to be known as people who point out sin and spend countless hours & millions of dollars fighting against homosexuality or  people who freely, wildly, and passionately love people’s hearts no matter what.

do we want to be known as people who don’t value women properly and keep them stuck, oppressed, silenced or people who set women free to be all they were created to be?

do we want to be known as people who hold on to things tightly, with clenched fists and tight grips or people who hold things loosely, with open hands and light touches?

do we want to be known as people who bully or people who stand up for the one being bullied?

do we want to be known as people of fear or people of faith?

of course i do not think that any of these are either/or.  life is far more of a paradox.  and i’m certainly not saying that if we believe in guns that we aren’t also doing these things.  

but i use this strong language to make a point when it comes to this issue of guns and God.

do we really want to be known for this?

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other bloggers writing about this today (i’ll post more links as they come in):

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

33 Comments

  • i love those questions you’re putting on the table … and oh, to be those who make decisions out of love and confidence and not fear.

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  • Hey, guns and war keep the economy humming.

    Seriously, an old friend, a politician told me “Government and war are our two major industries in America.” I thought he was kidding, but I’ve decided he was serious. My observation has been that lots of religious folks crawled into bed a long time ago with both of those industries, and wouldn’t find the picture of Jesus with a gun at all disturbing.

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  • I realise this is a hot potatoe in the states. Not so much a big issue here in the UK. So I realise how brave it is of you Kathy to broach the subject and to give your views about it.

    I think the realdanger with guns in the states is that there is no authority ultimatel over seeing that. I’ll explain what I mean by that. When I wa sin the Air Force, I would use a weapon at times. But the weapoans were always kept in a place that was strongly guarded. There were strict rules about engagement and the use of a minimum amount of foce to achieve and objective. And strict miilitary discipline in the use of weapons. The served a purpose in protecting the country and providing a deterrant to an argessor. There was honour and sacrifice in serving and protecting others in this.

    When a gun is owned personally where is s the disicpine in it’s use, where is the responsibility to greater society? Where is the ethos of only using such force as a last result and using minimum force?

    I realise I am baised both with being ex Air force and fomr the UK, And that many people will want to argue strongly for me being wrong or not understanding the American Culture. And would want to argue for the UK culture being more violent than America and would want to say that guns have kept it that way. But I think Amerca can have some things to learn form the laws that were passed in the UK resticting gun ownership after the mass shootings at Hungerford and Dumblane.

    I am always uncomfortable when I am in the company of Amricans who talk of thier love of guns. I think they at times are necessary (eg the miltary) or like Kathy says I don’t have a problem with people using them for hunting. But it does scare me that people are so passionate about them. What is it behind that, is it fear? Is it wantint to be “the man” in owning a gun?

    I would be interestd in heargin thoughts fomr an American prespective even if they differe to my anf Kathy’s views.

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  • I would add one thing also with the thing about freedom for women. Yes, but not just women for me too. I really wish there was as much oth there for men with campaigns for freedom and equality as there is for women. Only when men value women and women value men in such way shall we find what benefits everyone. When men are demonsied then it doesn’t do anyone any good and there is a stong voice out there that would do so either in explicit or in implicit subtle ways. It is dangerous and damaging to the whole of society.

    I would love to be free to fight for women but time and time again I find I am often engaged in a battel for my own survival and validity as a man. This means that the energy and time I would have otherwise been using to fight for and be protective of women is taken up with standing my own ground as a man and for men in society. Now I know that many out there would want to see what I have writtend here as wrong, patriarchal, opressive and an examlpe of such opression. Or just whine and an unwillngness on my part to recognise the power and privelidge I have as a man in society. There is a stong voice in society that would do this. But i think that would be a mistake.

    I hear of many women in my experince wha are just plain tired. Tired of having to be like a man to get ahead, not wantint to be one of the guys etc. Feeling that the only wav of validatng themselves and finding equality is though approached strongly influenced by egalitarian and feminist idologies. And would strongly disagree with approaches that would advocate an equal and different or complimetanry approach, I think that is wrong.

    It is planlty wrong also to say that everyting a woman can do a man can do. Just as it is planly wrong to say that everythign a woman can do a man can do. The truth of what I am saying here is obvious.

    I say let’s stop fightint each other. Lets appeciate each other. Lets find where there ar ethings where mena and women can do just as well and appreciated what each other brings. And lets appreciate where there are differences adn the untiy we can have in the diversity, the richness that brings. Let’s as men fight for women. Let;s as wome fight for men. An please, I beg of you, lets STOP with the hatred of each other whether overetly or subtly through rhetoric.

    I really am sick and tired of it.

    Reply
  • Linda found the picture of Jesus with a rifle unsettling. In ‘The Shack’, Papa takes Mack’s handgun and holds it at arm’s length with two fingers, just like we might hold something unpleasant and stinky. That amused me greatly!

    I love your list of ‘Do we want’ sentences, Kathy. What do we want? The answer to that question really defines us in so many ways. You decided it was better to provoke thought than to argue your own view. That’s something else we might all learn from!

    Thanks for posting.

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    • i forgot about that part in the book…read that a long time ago when it first came out. we found this picture way back when at the start of the refuge, it was an advertisement for a men’s retreat. yes, a men’s retreat.

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  • Having been a victim of gun violence on no fewer than seven occasions (having a gun pointed at you is indeed an act of violence, whether or not the trigger is pulled; and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’ve NEVER been in that situation), I have a little different take than my very dear pacifist friends (for whom I have tremendous love and respect).

    First of all, I strongly oppose any governmental effort to control gun ownership. There are two reasons for this opposition. The first is that the efforts are fruitless, they will never achieve the stated goal. And secondly, they are inherently dishonest. No politician believes gun laws will reduce gun violence, they aren’t that naive. I believe there are reasons why the Constitution protects this right (rights are God-given, not legally derived), and it is because evil exists in the world and it has higher concentrations in government than in any other sector of society. I honestly believe (call me a conspiracy nut if you wish; but be sure to include the founding fathers in that list of nuts too) that tyrannical government is a reality in this world (ask Syrians, Egyptians, Iranians, etc.) and that even in America, we are seeing a stunning shift away from freedom (taken a plane trip lately?), and an equal consolidation of power in the federal government that was never intended and bitterly opposed by the founders of this great experiment in democracy.

    Secondly, I have the God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless, to render aid to those who need it. There are many ways to do this and many “fights” do not devolve to the point of violence, but some do. I have some pretty good training to be able to handle myself in a violent encounter, but without the tools to do so my training is useless. In defending the defenseless, it does me no good to be defenseless myself.

    And thirdly, we all too often forget that there is ample evidence in Scripture for justifying the proper and measured application of force. As just one example, in preparing for that fateful night in Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that the time had come for those who had no swords to sell their belongings and buy them. There are times where the measured application of force, even deadly force, is right, and good, and proper.

    I do not wish to be known for my belief in carrying a gun. The fact of the matter is, I doubt that is what people think about me. I hope, and I believe, that people see my heart of compassion, my desire to serve others, and my love for demonstrating the grace and mercy of Christ above all else. And I pray most fervently that I will never have to show my love for someone by the application of violent force against another. But I am prepared to do that if and when that sad day comes.

    Not everyone can hear these words. So be it. For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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    • I have to say the “for those who has ears to hear let them hear” echoing the words of Jesus is not something I take to add any authority to and argument that is being made. If someone is to talk like that I am less likely to listen to them. It seems to me that the inference is that they want others to belive that what they are saing is what Jesu is saying which leaves no room for other views. I don’t accept that. I am more likely to listen to someone who is open to the possibility that they might have something to learn fomr others in any given situation.

      If anyone doesn’t think there is anything to learn fomr the government’s intervention in the UK with resteictions of firearams then that is their opinion. I respect their freedom to have their opinion but it is just their opinion. Somethig only comes with conviction when it happens in the conscience and with that in mind I don’t have any conviction that owning a gun is necessary or that not owning a gun as is Kathy’s choice is always the right way to go. But that different choices have been made given that ther is the freedom to make such choice.

      I write these words with all due respect to other contributors to this thread.

      But yes Gordaon that is a valid point you made about Jesus and selling things to get swords. In that context then it seems that there was a need for them and there would be a valid argument for gun ownership in a simlar context.

      I am just not convinced that in countries like the UK and USA, there is a like for like comparison wiht what Jesus was saying. Lifting somethign straigh fomr scripture wihtout taking account of the context is dangerour and has been used to attempt to make things out to be OK that have ver much not been OK thourghout history.

      Those that fail to learn from the lesseona of history are doomed to repeat them.

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    • Yes Gordon, I do see your compassion, service, and heart for Christ above all else. It is understandable why you carry. I hope you can respect me for the choice not to do so. I err on the side of the encounter where Jesus put the soldier’s ear back on. I will not be naive, but neither will I live in fear. The serenity prayer is good for the large issues in this world, too.

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      • Yes!
        “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” Romans 12:17-19 NIV

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      • Fear is not my motivation, vigilance is. And of course, I always respect a persons belief in pacifism. Many of my dearest friends are pacifists. Like you!

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    • thank you so much for your response, gordon, i am grateful for your voice and heart and passion and love that we can all hold different views and find our common ground in what really matters.

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  • Kathy, I love how you point out how many issues are not black and white, even though the church often tries to make them so. Although I’m a vegetarian Quaker who strongly believes in the nonviolent path, I also do not think the government can pass legislation that will protect us from gun-toting “bad guys.” Criminals by definition are not law abiding. And as long as our own government war-mongers, how can we expect the citizens to be nonviolent? I do believe the church needs to step up and speak truth to power – that our culture of violence needs to be changed.

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    • Great comment Cherie. Do you have any idea about this non-violence might work in parctice? What is your stand on gun laws?

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      • I think a good first step would be to end the way many idolize the military. The idea that war solves problems is false and gives the youth the idea that might is right. Looking at history, war only breeds more war. Those who point out what happened with WWII fail to mention that it occurred as a result of WWI, and so forth.

        As Christians, we have to remember that Jesus rebuked Peter for using a sword (Matt. 26:52). Last year I spoke with Father John Dear and asked him, “How does one respond to churches and pastors who insist that war is sometimes necessary?” He said to “tell them they’re not following Jesus!” and that “in the history of the world, war has never worked.” Some may say that non-violence isn’t practical, but how practical were the teachings of Jesus? I know this had gone beyond the idea of “guns,” but we must follow the non-violent example of Jesus in our government, in our churches, in our communities, and in our homes.

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        • Thanks for sharing your views Cherie. I’m ex-miltary myself, so I gues I would come back with what you say about idolising the military and ask you if you think there is a place for honouring people like me who have sacrificed for the security and the freedoms that are enjoyed in countries like the UK and the USA. And if you would be fine with that, where you woudl draw the line between honouring and idolising.

          The second question I would ask would be would you advocate the non use of violence on all occasions given the example you gave of Jesus. We saw Gordon below talking about Jesus selling their belongings to buy swords. It woudl seem would it not therefore that there would be occasions where Jesus was advocating the use of a sword and sometimes not. Peter was a headstrong man. Could it be that Jesus was talkign specifically to Peter in this instance rather than making a generic commandment about the use of the sword? Worth thinking about.

          I think if I had a family and there was someone coming to physically attack them – I would use force in protection of my wife and children to prevent them being hurt. Or alternatively if I was say ever in a situation where it was a choice between my wife’s life and mine I would give up my life. I think both would be consistent with being a follower of Jesus. I don’t think I would have a lot of respect for a man that would in a non-voilent way just satnd by while his wife got beaten or see that as being Chirstl like for himto do so. I would see that as cowardice. But that’s just me.

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    • thanks cherie, yes, there are so many threads and core, core issues that are tangled up in all of this. thanks for taking time to share.

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  • It’s heartbreaking to me that those who claim to follow Christ are so often known as the ones arguing against the claims of love (for stranger, enemy, other). What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself – even when that neighbor holds a gun, wears a hoodie, looks at me in a threatening way?

    And I resonate with your thoughts about fear. It seems to shape so much of our conversation, from both sides of this question. I just recently came across a challenging sermon by Walter Brueggemann about the interplay of love and fear: http://www.nationalcathedral.org/worship/sermonTexts/wb090510.shtml

    What does it say about the state of the American church when fear (of the government, of change, of the future, of each other) dominates our conversation rather than love?

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  • “do we want to be known as people who point out sin and spend countless hours & millions of dollars fighting against homosexuality or people who freely, wildly, and passionately love people’s hearts no matter what.” ,<— Oh I can join in the conversation with this. I realize this is not the main point of your post, but I wanted to play too. I can't really go there, in the gun discussion, as it triggers too deeply into my story, pun intended.

    But, I can say that the above quote does resonate with me in lots of ways. I remember so many times feeling relationally conflicted in a yucky way in my evangelical days… Like that I was automatically supposed to condemn those not in line with my biblical views into the Truth. I felt like a lot of my relationships with "non-believers" were….kind of slimy and dishonest. Today, in a session, a client was talking about a story that had a gay couple in it. I thought for a brief moment how so much has shifted for the better through the years. In my beginning seminary days, my mind would have started to plot how to manipulate some verse or track to get an agenda across. Oh, how much more freedom exists with actually listening, and being known as a someone who can be told any story, about anything. At the end of my life, I would so rather be known as a safe person who fiercely loved, rather than one who knows her hermeneutics and is a judgy mcjudgerson.

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    • love this line! “At the end of my life, I would so rather be known as a safe person who fiercely loved, rather than one who knows her hermeneutics and is a judgy mcjudgerson.”

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  • Excellent post and you raise a very important question, in my opinion: How do our public stands on these issues affect non-Christians’ perception of us (and therefore of Christ)? Put differently, by our conduct are we drawing unbelievers to Christ, or are we driving them away?
    It seems that among American Christians (or at least those that get the most press) the issues that elicit the most passion are things like defense of the right to carry guns or denial of marriage to gay people. Really?
    When we act that way I imagine an unbeliever having trouble reconciling that with the character of the Jesus we claim to follow. I wonder whether we are advancing the Kingdom of God, or impeding it.
    As you say so well, whatever our opinions on things like gun control, is that really what we want to be known for?

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    • thanks so much for taking time to share, bill. yeah, that’s the hardest part for me, what we are known for. i’d love for the day to come when people are like “wow, those christians are really something else. look at the way they love the unlovely, sacrifice their heart and time and money and pride for the sake of others, how they advocate for the poor in more than just words, how they love so bravely.” i always say we should be known for being the wildest, craziest people in town because of the ways that we love freely, without fear. unfortunately, we’re known much more for other things!

      Reply

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