As a pastor and follower of Jesus Christ, I come back to the same key question every time a shooting makes front page headlines: Is there a way in a Reformed faith structure to conclude “NO” to handguns in the hands of a nation’s citizens? I mean, biblically/theologically speaking, is there way to say “NO MORE HANDGUNS”? Will you wonder with me?
You see, it is easy with our Reformed accent to validate the use of guns. That is, to generate rationale for why and how a gun could be used, and how it falls within every square inch of his domain and thus declaring it a gift of God’s but whose firepower can be used nonetheless in such a way that it fits in the realm of godly wisdom. In this way, the use of handguns for Christians becomes like anything else in our world – a valid option. And we lean towards permission granting about its availability. For me, that is an easy argument to construct. But is it the right one?
Is the opposite argument possible?
Wonder with me for a moment. Doesn’t the above framework assume way too much? It assumes that the people, systems and structures have a level of wisdom and capacity that allows them to make wise decisions while also avoiding the wrong ones. And this assumption allows us to be comfortable in such a permissive environment only when, by and large, we believe that the right decision will be made by individuals within the society. But is this a correct assumption? After all, we can all cite times when a person has made the wrong decision. Danforth, Fredericton, Columbine, Parkland . . ..
Beyond the self
Illustratively, I think the majority of us would agree that seven-year-olds should not have access to deadly weapons. And we would be correct, I believe, because a seven-year-old does not have the capacity to make all the right decisions to use the weapon wisely. So we refuse the child access. Her internal and external “systems” do not allow for the proper use of deadly weapons. In this case, the incapacity of the seven-year-old permits a parent or guardian to exercise a NO GUN rule.
Now come with me to the Bible so that I might return to the argument aforementioned. In so many passages (i.e. Deut 6:21 where the pronoun changes to “we”) it is clear that our first concern as Christians goes beyond the self and to a corporate we consideration. People are meant to make faith decisions with the group in mind. So, morally speaking, the consideration one might have for an individual as a moral agent must be matched with one’s same concern for a group as a moral agent. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then our same concerns for the seven-year-old should also be applied to the broader communities we belong to. “Should guns be allowed in our city?” “In our country?” “In our churches?”
And I believe that the only way we could answer YES to all of those community-oriented questions would be if we knew that it (the collective community) had the perfect “systems” and thus capacity to make all the right decisions to use weapons wisely (as above).
As in the case of the seven-year-old, I can see that there are too many broken systems that would prevent the weapon from being used wisely in the context of those communities. Gangs, black market realities, intent to harm, lack of regulatory control, evil intent of individuals – the list goes on. These broken systems/elements prevent me from imagining how deadly weapons would be used wisely in our culture.
In this case, I suspect a NO GUNS rule for an entire community might be a valid Christian choice.
I can’t say for certain, but given Jesus’ knowledge during his arrest, I wonder if he was thinking similarly to the argument above. Weapons were available; his capacity to call legions of angels was possible, but given the demonstration of his disciple, Peter, and applying the foresight as to whether or not the weapons would be used well, Jesus says “put those deadly things away.” In his community, at the most critical moment, they didn’t belong.
Given the faith logic above, is it any surprise that the only mention for the appropriate use of force (sword) in the Heidelberg Catechism is for the government (to prevent murder, Q & A 105).
So, I wonder, can we finally say as Reformed Christians that it might be best if all handguns are banned from all private citizens and within their communities?
I believe it follows from Reformed thought. And I would love the conversation to continue.