(RNS) While politicians parse which kinds of weapons or how many bullets can legally be in a clip, it’s time for followers of Jesus to speak up.
I don’t mean worshipers of Jesus -- there are millions more of them than there are followers. I suspect many arguing for no limits on guns would claim to be “God fearing Christians” who worship Jesus in a divinely anointed America, the “shining city on the hill” as it has been described from John Winthrop to Ronald Reagan and beyond.
But for those who follow Jesus—actually taking his words to heart and do what he said—only one response seems possible. And it’s not gun control. It’s gun elimination.
Matthew 26:52 is the most obvious scripture verse: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Jesus teaches his followers to change the way they have been living. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45) You’ll find similar admonitions and in his actions throughout all four Gospels.
Yet America—this so-called Christian nation--has increasingly become a militaristic culture, worshiping the power of weapons over the power of peace, compassion and mercy.
We barely blink when we hear news of another drone attack thousands of miles away. Innocents who die in those attacks are written off as collateral damage. Loving our enemies?
In fact, we seek military solutions for many of our fears. Afraid of undocumented aliens? Empower local police to round them up. Afraid of more terrorist attacks? Give local police federal funds for more surveillance or build up SWAT teams and bomb squads.
Fear has fueled requests for increased military spending when the Pentagon has not even asked for it. Why, then, should it come as any surprise when the NRA says putting more guns in the hands of teachers, security guards and the rest of us is the answer to gun violence. An armed America is a safe America, the thinking goes.
If we’re going to be the Christian nation many gun worshipers claim us to be, then we have to get rid of our guns. That’s probably unrealistic given the idol worship of guns in America.
But we can put forward a plan that emphasizes training in conflict resolution in our schools, communities of faith and local service clubs. From the earliest ages, when children argue over who gets which sandbox toys, we can teach non-violent ways to be better human beings. We can give people the ability to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, whether with guns or fists.
That will have to be coupled with meaningful emphasis on mental health care that has never been embraced in a country that has ignored the mentally ill for too long.
A comic strip appeared not long after the death of the NRA’s patron saint, Charlton Heston. It quoted him: “From my cold dead hands,” the words he used in a speech at an NRA convention as he held a gun over his head. The cartoonist showed a sign greeting Heston at the pearly gates: “No guns allowed.”
If the followers of Jesus are committed to making the Kingdom of God a reality here on earth then we need to heed the words of our hero, the Prince of Peace, and consider how we move our country from a culture of violence to a culture of peace.
(Dan Webster, an Episcopal priest, is a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and a former leader of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. He lives in Baltimore, Md.)
KRE END WEBSTER