Sunday, July 22, 2012

To Live by the Sword…?

“Gun control” can be a very divisive topic. Just mention it in a group of 15 or more, and you’re likely to find passionate people of various perspectives. If someone says they favor gun control, most folks jump to the conclusion that one wants to make every kind of firearm illegal…and if someone says they are against gun control, folks imagine that one is fine if you want to park an M-40 tank in your drive and sell AK-47’s out of your trunk on weekends. Yes, the issue is usually one of extremes.

Opinions grow out of how one interprets or applies the second amendment of the US Constitution as found in the Bill of Rights. One problem is that there were at least two versions floated at the time the bill was ratified…Congress ratifying one version and States a slightly different one:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (Congress)

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. (States)

The difference is in the way the sentence is punctuated and how things are capitalized—small but perhaps significant differences. So, part of the problem grows out of how one interprets this amendment.

However, a deeper problem for those of us who profess the Christian faith begins our inadvertent tendency to confuse Constitution with Scripture. They are not one and the same (obviously). While the Constitution does and should guide our nation, the Scriptures should guide our personal lives if we claim to be Christians.

So, what does Scripture say about this issue? Well, Jesus speaks to it clearly in Matthew 26:32 where He says to his disciple, “…Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (NRSV). If Peter had had a Glock or an AR-15, I think Jesus would say something similar.

Jesus and His 1st Century followers lived in a violent age. Some historians estimate that the average life-span of a male in the Roman Empire at this time was around 26 years. They weren’t all dying of head-colds and athlete’s foot—this was a dangerous and deadly time to live. When Jesus related the parable of the Good Samaritan, the people didn’t respond, “Oh my!! That’s terrible!! Someone beaten and robbed on the Jericho road?!?” They KNEW that this was a common, occurrence…something that happened all the time. And, of course, Jesus missed his great opportunity here—He could have said, “So, since these things happen, I want all my followers to arm themselves…get knives, swords and all kinds of things to keep you safe.” Nope, He really missed the chance to arm His followers.

In fact, when we look at the story of the early Church, we find that they are constantly abused, arrested, beaten, killed…and they don’t fight back. In the Old Testament, we see wars a plenty, but we are New Testament people and followers of Jesus—not followers of Joshua or David. It’s not until Emperor Constantine marries the church to the state (a ‘shotgun wedding,’ no less) that we find Christians arming and literally fighting for the faith. Nowhere in the NT do we find Paul fighting back, pulling swords and practicing any kind of ‘stand your ground.’

Our US Constitution allows us as Americans to “bear arms” (I prefer to do so at the beach…by wearing a tank-top). Personally, I feel we may have been a little broad in our interpretation (Do I or my neighbors really need to be able to buy AR-15 assault rifles when there is not state of war in our land? Should anyone be able to purchase 6000 rounds of ammo on-line?) While I have ‘rights’ as a citizen of this land that I was born into by chance, as a conscientious, self-decided Christian I must decide--do I really want to “live by the sword”…and teach my children to do the same?

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