April, 2008, Barack Obama, angered many conservative midwesterners by saying
“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
At the time I was still processing what would later become a rejection of conservative Christianity, but at that particular moment I was still “clinging” to a fair amount of my conservative heritage. Like many conservative Christians, I was outraged by the comment. Since then, and many mass shootings since, I have become acutely aware of the truth in President Obama’s observation. American Christians have an unholy obsession with the second amendment. Owning a gun for the majority of Christians and conservatives in general, has shifted from a hunting hobby to a perceived need for “protection.” (1)
The merger of conservative Christianity and conservative American political ideology is so complete, it has become increasingly difficult to tell them apart. While my conservative friends and my nemeses on the blogs will be quick to point out that my Christian support of liberal causes is no different than their support of conservative ones, there is a difference, however. Conservatism and conservative Christianity preserves the status quo, it stifles change and resists reform. In short, conservative Christianity has joined the powers of Babylon. As Brian Zahnd has observed,
“America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.” (2)
On the other hand, liberalism is never satisfied with status quo, nor is it ever “at home” with the current political regime. Progressive Christianity is counter-cultural, regardless of the naysayers who accuse it of bowing to current cultural ideology. It is subversive to those movements which seek to bolster abusive power structures.
One such power structure is the NRA and the American gun lobby. The NRA has identified itself so successfully with the dogma that owning a gun is patriotic, that conservatives opine that any talk of restricting that ownership is tantamount to treason. Since patriotism has become so completely entangled with Christianity among conservatives, they follow blindly along with the narrative. This toxic blend of blind patriotism and gun ownership among Christians has created a dangerous climate in America, the ugly results of which we see on an almost daily basis.
Instead of seeking a reduction of the vast arsenal of guns in the hands of civilians, conservative Christians claim more guns will make us safer, despite the evidence to the contrary. For example the recent statement by Jerry Falwell, Jr. that students should be allowed to carry guns on the Liberty campus:
“…if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, …I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course, Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” (3)
Not only is this rhetoric contrary to the calling to be peacemakers in the Bible, but it is based on faulty evidence. The research relied on by the NRA is too small a sample and too old to be reliable:
“The rhetoric that credits guns with reducing violence draws largely on a 1995 analysis titled ‘Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun’ by Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University. Kleck estimated at 2.2 to 2.5 million the occasions when a gun might have been used in self-defence. That 2.5 million is the figure most often quoted by the National Rifle Association. It’s the data that forms the scientific bedrock for VCDL, and organizations like it, to claim that guns save lives. But are its data and conclusions reliable?” (4) the estimate was based on a telephone survey of less than 5000 people, 213 of which claimed they’d used a gun in self defense. Based on that small sample, Kleck estimated there were up to 2.5 million self defense cases a year involving firearms.
On the contrary, gun proliferation has been shown to INCREASE rather than decrease gun violence in most studies. The 2010 Violence Policy Center study showed that in 2010 for every defensive gun use there were 36 criminal uses. According to the long range study by the Boston University School of Public Health conducted between 1981 and 2010, the states with higher levels of gun ownership showed significantly higher numbers of gun related deaths. Researchers in an article for the American Journal of Public Health predicted that if Mississippi’s gun ownership rate went down from 76.8% to 57.7%, it’s gun related deaths would decline by 17%. (4)
What conservative Christians fail to to understand is the corruption behind the gun lobby and the NRA. There is a dark side to all the talk of patriotism and constitutional rights:
“That wholesome public relations veneer masks something deeply sinister and profoundly destructive. There is no other way to say this: The N.R.A. funds domestic terrorism.
A shadow government exists in the world of gun sales, and the people who write gun regulations are the very people who profit from gun sales. The N.R.A. would like to keep it that way.
Just this week, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on a measure that would loosen restrictions on gun silencers and armor-piercing bullets (the vote was indefinitely postponed after the Las Vegas massacre). It’s not hard to learn about how millions of N.R.A. dollars have spread throughout Congress to influence that vote.“ (5)
The church needs to stand up to those that facilitate violence, to speak with one voice against the organizations and businesses that seek profit over public safety. The church needs to separate itself from Babylon, as Brian Zahnd reminds us:
“From birth every American has been formed by the dominant script that Walter Brueggemann identifies as “technological therapeutic military consumerism.” But Christians are those who have embraced the subversive counter-script of the cross. It’s not the task of the church to “make America great again.” The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity countercultural again. Once we untether Jesus from the interests of empire, we begin to see just how countercultural and radical Jesus’ ideas actually are:
Enemies? Love them.
Violence? Renounce it.
Money? Share it.
Foreigners? Welcome them.
Sinners? Forgive them.
These are the kind of radical ideas that will always be opposed by the principalities and powers, but which the followers of Jesus are called to embrace, announce, and enact. The degree to which the church is faithful to Jesus and his radical ideas is the degree to which the church embodies a faith that is truly countercultural.” (6)