Pistols and the Prince of Peace

Happy New Year!

Well, I’m a few days late, but maybe I’m working on my type A personality as my NY Resolution, and I intentionally posted this late to get over my perfectionist tendencies. Or maybe I’m always late, and maybe I should just work on my time awareness this year.

Don’t ask my husband which is true.

On New Year’s Day, Bill and I made the 9 hour drive from my parents’ house in East Texas back to our home in Kansas, and I had a lot of time to think about the past year. A lot happened!

I took a gardening class from my amazing friends in Colby, where I learned how to make raised beds, rotate my crops better, and plan my square foot garden plots. I grew the best spinach I’ve ever tasted and killed every other seedling that sprouted.

I mentored four amazing eighth graders as they were confirmed into the United Methodist Church. I failed to ski down a blue slope successfully for the second year in a row, but I also accomplished two of my CrossFit goals in the first month of the year (over 200 lb. back squat and a strict handstand push-up)! Bill and I said our tearful goodbyes to Colby – our first home together, full of incredible people who supported us, loved us, and made us better people. And we said hello to Tonganoxie – another town full of just as incredible people, where we are making new friends, learning to lead a church, and adulting in our first house.

I struggled during the transition, harder than I did the first time we moved, and I realized how much I hate change and goodbyes. I questioned how God could use someone as messed up as I am, and I found – once again – the amazing grace that loves beyond my hurts and hangups.

I surprised my mom for her birthday by traveling to Texas to visit, with the help of my sister and dad. I missed the opportunity to say goodbye to my great-aunt before she passed away from pancreatic cancer. I cheered my husband on as he became fully ordained in the United Methodist Church, and I joined the staff at Tonganoxie UMC as the Director of Kids Ministry.

And I put more blonde in my hair. It’s the little things.

Facebook launched a “Year in Review” app that allowed people to look at their top posts or pictures or something like that, and that’s totally how I was able to recall what I did last year. Lots of people looked back at 2015 on social media.

Senator Chris Murphy also reflected on 2015, as he tweeted about every single mass shooting that happened last year.

All 372 of them.

It took him two hours to tweet it all.

And that’s just mass shootings – incidents where four or more are shot. In 2015, there were 52,627 reported gun-related incidents. 13, 346 fatalities – almost one thousand more than the previous year.

We are one week into the new year, and there have already been 278 gun-related deaths. 1,033 reported incidents. Fifteen children under the age of 12 have either died or been injured. Fifty-four teens. This doesn’t include suicide.

Since 2001, over 406,500 people in America have died from a gun-related incident. That’s the populations of Montgomery (Alabama), Norman (Oklahoma), and Green Bay (Wisconsin) combined! Just over 3,300 have died from domestic terrorist attacks in Americans since then – including 9/11 (source). I give you these statistics not to de-emphasize the problems we face with terrorism or to fear-monger, but to illustrate just how large of a problem we face with gun violence in America. We cannot continue to claim this as a non-issue. If that is your view, with all due respect, know that the facts do not stand in your corner.

It is under these circumstances that President Obama addressed the American people earlier this week, issuing 23 executive orders designed to reduce gun violence in America. Now, I actually outlined this post the day before he made his announcement, but I couldn’t not address this. So I had to rework my entire blog post. #ThanksObama.

In his speech, he highlighted some major emphases of his orders: closing up background check loopholes, particularly on the internet and at gun shows; paying special attention to mental health; and implementing existing technology to track lost/stolen guns and raise safety standards on locks and safes.

Before President Obama’s executive orders, I had recently spoken with a number of gun-owners who asserted the importance of closing up loopholes, addressing mental health, and creating a safer America, where mass shootings are not as common. This is something the American people want – on both sides! Yet after the executive order speech, I spoke with the same gun-owners, and they were against President Obama’s orders – which enact the very things we agreed the American people want.

Despite the fact that the majority of Americans support expanded background checks, an emphasis on mental health, and tracking gun sales, there is a huge disconnect along party lines. And I think I know why.

We’re all scared.

When we read about the most extreme views on the opposite side, of course we become afraid. Conservative media portray a caricature of progressives, and people believe it. Liberal media portray a caricature of conservatives, and people believe it. We believe the loudest Facebook posts rather than checking sources and actually reading/watching speeches. Conservatives believe Obama is trying to disarm the American people, and liberals believe all gun-owners want to bring back the Wild West.

Neither of these things is true!

President Obama is not trying to take away guns. He supports the Second Amendment and has said so on multiple occasions. I do not know of any liberal who truly calls for the seizure of all guns in America, but I know quite a few liberals who either own guns or loudly defend a person’s right to own them. Many progressives do, however, call for a much stricter vetting process that actually happens with every purchase of a gun, consideration of mental health, required training courses, and closing any gaps in the gun show loopholes. This doesn’t negate the Second Amendment.

Most conservatives support some of these things as well. Hunters, gun collectors, and those who desire to legally exercise their right to bear arms are extremely sensible and understand the importance of ensuring a safer society. Not all conservatives agree with Texas’ new law allowing open carry – many I know are gun owners, registered and trained, yet agree that open carry complicates this issue further. They want their rights secured, but they don’t want The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly scene recreations in the street!

The chasm between both views may not be as wide as we’ve been led to believe. I’m still convinced we could solve our problems with one big Nerf War, anyway.

But what does all this have to do with faith?

When we worship the God called the Prince of Peace, it raises questions about gun ownership, war, violence, and self defense.

Now, let’s just start with the recognition that there are Christians on both sides of this debate. There are Jesus-loving people who own guns and choose to exercise their second amendment rights, and there are Jesus-loving people who believe Christians should reject their legal right to bear arms. If you want to know whether or not a Christian should ever own a gun, you’re not going to get that answer here, but you could probably Google it – though flipping a coin might be more accurate.

What I am going to discuss is how Jesus handled conversations about weapons and self-defense while on earth.

First and foremost, it’s extremely important to note that guns did not exist in the first century, which is why I find this whole debate interesting. This wasn’t a thing:

jesus

In all the gospel accounts, Jesus only talks about swords a few times. In Matthew 10, he asserts that his message divides like a sword, setting family member against family member. Jesus was not actually carrying a literal sword at this point, but he was illustrating a point using hyperbole.

Now the only other conversation regarding the ownership and use of weapons is a scene that takes place during Holy Week, right after Jesus and his disciples had the Passover meal – the Last Supper. This scene shows up in Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:35-53; and John 18:1-14.

In all four accounts, Jesus and his disciples have just finished their meal, and a few of them go to the garden with Jesus to pray. Jesus has predicted his arrest and death to his disciples, and they just don’t get it. Peter professes his undying faith in Jesus, promising to follow him into the dark (yes, I just quoted Death Cab; you’re welcome).  The other disciples start quarreling over who’s going to be the greatest, and Jesus is probably face palming at this point.

He takes his closest buddies with him to pray, but while Jesus is experiencing the most anxiety he’s ever experienced, he notices his besties have fallen asleep. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

Then along comes Judas – one of the most fascinating disciples – and here’s the twist, he’s accepted payment to betray Jesus, who understands they’re here to arrest him. Then Peter – of course it’s Peter that does this – draws his sword from its sheath to defend his Lord. He Van Gogh’s a dude and cuts off his ear. And in that moment, Jesus says,

“No more of this!”
“Put your sword away.”
“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”

And then…some dude that was following Jesus wearing only a linen cloth was caught, and he ran away naked. I love that that detail is in scripture! #ScripturalStreaking #CanThisBeAThing?

Peter – the good guy – was defending an innocent man against the bad guys coming with swords and clubs, yet Jesus told him to stand down, not stand his ground.

Jesus had a lot to say about loving your enemy and turning the other cheek, but he never said anything about defending yourself, even when it’s understandable. He talked a lot about serving others and taking care of the poor, but never about securing your rights.

For Matthew, Mark, and John, that’s the whole story. One of his disciples cut some dude’s ear off while Jesus was being arrested, and Jesus stopped it. He then goes on to be tried, beaten, and eventually crucified. Never once does he defend himself.

But that’s not the whole story for Luke. See, in Luke’s account, Jesus actually told his disciples to have swords.

Wait, what?

So after the Last Supper, his disciples fight over who’s da best, Peter fanboys it up, and then Jesus has a little talk with his buddies. It goes like this,

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

Here’s one way I’ve seen this piece of scripture interpreted: Jesus commands his disciples to arm themselves with swords. Thus, we should arm ourselves with guns because Jesus commands it. The Second Amendment isn’t just a constitutional right, but a biblical mandate.

if-you-dont-vpxf6u

Can I offer an alternative, more nuanced interpretation?

Previously, Jesus had sent his disciples out into neighboring towns to heal the sick and perform miracles and spread the good news of Jesus. They went out with nothing because those to whom they ministered took care of them. People took them in, fed them, and met their basic needs; they didn’t need to take anything with them.

But Jesus is pointing out that things are different now. Jesus is saying that the tables have turned, and those who once cared for you, may turn their backs on you. Kind of how Jesus had just predicted Peter would do, right? Jesus knows about Judas, he knows Peter is going to deny him, he knows the other disciples will scatter when it’s time for Jesus to be crucified. The times, they are a-changin’, and it’s not gonna be as easy anymore.

They’ve changed so much that Jesus tells those who don’t have a sword to sell his own cloak to get one. Then he quotes some Old Testament scripture: “he was counted among the lawless.”

He’s quoting Isaiah 53:12:

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus is quoting a prophecy that foretells his innocent death. Jesus was counted among the lawless, as he was unjustly arrested, became a victim of police brutality, and eventually hung on a cross between two outlaws. It has nothing to do with sword ownership.

This isn’t the only time the gospels quote Isaiah 53. In fact, this piece of prophecy is big in Christianity. We hear it every Good Friday. Read it to see if it sounds familiar to you:

He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
    Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
    and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.


 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Does this sound like a man encouraging someone to defend himself with a sword?

After Jesus tells his disciples just how bad it’s going to get – so bad that those who once loved them would turn away from them, and they would even face death themselves – all twelve disciples show Jesus two swords.

Two. Swords.
For twelve people.
That’s a 1:6 ratio against a Roman garrison exponentially bigger than their numbers, on high alert because of the Passover festival, and recently reinforced on the same day Jesus entered town. Two?

And Jesus said that was enough. America, do we have enough yet?

 

 

PP and JJ - Guns and Self-Defense

 

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