I grew up shooting guns. We went squirrel hunting, dove hunting, deer hunting, fishing and frog gigging. And my home state of Tennessee is the home of country music, which has given the world lyrics like this one:
“Our houses are protected by the good Lord and a gun. / And you might meet ‘em both if you show up here not welcome, son” (Josh Thompson’s “The Way Out of Here”).
Growing up in the South didn’t just teach me how to make squirrel gravy. I also learned about Jesus. And Jesus is the source of my dubious relationship with guns. I still go hunting and am at best a mediocre vegetarian.
But as much as I want to sometimes—I cannot reconcile violence with my faith in Jesus.
Believe it or not, the Jesus I worship did not carry a gun. He carried a cross.
You see, He did not tell us to kill our enemies. He told us to love them.
He said blessed are the peacemakers and the merciful. He told us we are not to return evil with evil but to wear evil down with love. Jesus modeled that enemy-love on the cross as he said “Father, forgive them”—crying out in mercy even for the terrorists nailing him onto the cross. I see in Jesus a God of scandalous grace, who loves evildoers so much he died for them—for us.
In addition to the Jesus I love, there are people I love—like the 19-year old who was killed on my front steps. I knew all the statistics.
In the U.S. we have less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost half the civilian-owned guns. Over 10,000 people die from gun-related homicides each year—and that number triples if you include self-inflicted gunshot wounds. According to The Washington Post, as of 2014, there are nearly 90 guns for every 100 people—we hold the world record (No. 2 is Yemen with 55 guns for every 100 people). There are more than 58,000 licensed gun dealers (and 37,000 grocery stores). Guns that can shoot 100 rounds a minute—and are only designed to kill—are still legal. And other than auto accidents, gun violence is the leading cause of death of people under 20.
But the statistics became a name and a face the day I heard the gunshots ring out at 1 a.m.
His name was Papito. I held his hand as he died.
It is Jesus who scolds His own disciple Peter who instinctively stands his ground when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. Peter defensively picked up a sword to protect Jesus. And, really, he stood up for Jesus. He had the ultimate case for self-defense.
But what does Jesus do? He scolds Peter, telling him to put His sword away. Only to be arrested and led to his own execution.
Early Christians understood that act as the final deathblow to weapons, saying when Jesus disarmed Peter He disarmed every Christian.
No longer could any Christian legitimately justify violence, even violence toward enemies. In the centuries after, Christians were known for their love and their willingness to die for Christ.
There is not one single Christian in the first 300 years of the faith who justifies violence or makes a case for self-defense. Just the opposite, the early Christians insisted that for Christ they could die, but they could not kill. We can die on behalf of others, but we cannot kill for them—for Christ has abolished the sword, once and for all.