(RNS) — Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie posted to his Twitter what looked like a Christmas family photo, except each grinning person was inexplicably posing with a gun. Within days, his colleague Rep. Lauren Boebert responded with a similar photo. In both instances, the guns were front and center, while the Christmas tree in the background was partially cropped out of view.
It’s tempting to ignore these provocative photos as simply the bizarre behavior of a few attention-seeking politicians on social media. But the copycats have not been far behind; we are now seeing this behavior emulated by local elected officials (such as Maury County, Tennessee, Mayor Andy Ogles).
It’s troubling to see more and more gun-flaunters jump on this trend as families across America gather to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace — especially this year when gun deaths across the nation have hit a record high.
For Christians, Christmas is a time of remembering our savior’s birth. Of course, every family has its own unique, heartfelt traditions. Some of us sing carols or string popcorn around a tree. Other families have favorite treats — pumpkin pie or peppermint mocha. I used to decorate sugar cookies each Christmas with my grandma, and my wife’s family is really into gingerbread houses. Some of our traditions are a little goofy, like wearing ugly sweaters and collecting mistletoe from a tree.
But never would I have foreseen photos of Christmas-clad children holding assault rifles as an appropriate way of honoring Christ. We cannot be silent when something so contrary to the message of Christmas begins making the rounds, adding up to a real war on Christmas escalated one photograph at a time.
Are these politicians and those who follow suit aware that the photos stand in stark contrast to the Christ of Christmas, who commanded us to love our enemies and died forgiving those who were crucifying him? Are they aware posting such images might grieve those families that have lost a loved one to gun violence? More than 43,000 lives have been lost already this year, intimately represented by the many seats that will sit empty around the Christmas dinner table.
Jesus, the Son of God, embodied the power of nonviolence by coming to earth as an infant — as many families with newborns will discover this year, a baby has great power to change their world without the slightest bit of violence. And of course, Jesus would grow up to preach a message of nonviolence in the Sermon on the Mount. When soldiers come to arrest and execute Jesus, one of his closest friends defensively picks up a sword to protect him. Jesus’ response is stunning — he scolds his own disciple and heals the wounded persecutor. It was a tough, and very counterintuitive, lesson: “The one who picks up the sword dies by the sword. … There is another way.”
In the Christmas story, King Herod was so threatened by this baby that he recklessly resorted to violence in an attempt to preemptively kill Jesus. What spooked Herod was the possibility that baby Jesus could be a fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of a Prince of Peace toppling kingdoms that persist in violence.
Isaiah had many other visions, one of which has directly inspired my own work: “The people shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Through RAWtools, we have melted countless donated guns into useful garden tools, including hand plows and tilling forks. Each time we do so, we disarm hearts and forge peace through a simple question: What would happen if we committed to solving our problems without guns and violence?
RAWtools is headquartered in Colorado Springs, and this Advent season we just opened a new location in Philadelphia. If Massie, Boebert, Ogles or anyone else wants a true Christmas photo to share next year, I invite them and their families to join us in a new tradition of transforming their firearms into instruments of real peace (that make great gifts, by the way).
Together we can stop both a real war on Christmas and make a dent in the literal wars fueled by gun violence.
As an added bonus, I will gladly take the family photo for them — this time with plows and shovels in hand.
(Shane Claiborne is an activist, author and co-director of Red Letter Christians. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)