Our national debate about guns and gun control revolves around the “rights” of the individual citizen according to how one interprets the second amendment. As citizens, Christians have every reason to weigh in on this debate.
However, “rights” language is not the Christian faith’s natural habitat. We cannot say all we might want to say or describe our way of living in this language. Many Christians will likely question the “right” of any private citizen to own an assault rifle or any other weapon whose sole purpose is maximal killing. Thus, it may be necessary for us to use this language in the public debate, but this hardly exhausts a Christian response to the gun culture in which we live.
Christian faith is animated and normed by the cross of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2 Paul pictures the Jesus in whose light and by whose resurrection life we live in a way that is rightly recognized as decisive and determinative for his followers. In this picture, it is precisely not the “rights” on which he, as “God” might have been expected to invoke, but rather his refusal precisely as “God” not invoke them and indeed to declare such practice antithetical to what being “God” means! In other words, Jesus chose, because he was God incarnate and this is the true way of being “God,” to live defenselessly in this world. He refused to assert his own right to existence or value it more than the lives of other people. He never countenanced taking another’s life or defending his own when it was threatened. Instead, he let go of that whole way of being, choosing instead to be obedient, “even to the point of death on a cross,” living in the power of the strange alchemy of divine love which overturns all our intimations of what is right and proper by rather suffering the “wrongs” of others and absorbing their hurt rather than attempting to defend against them by an assertion of “rights.”
Christians, therefore, those who belong to Christ, will also learn to choose by letting go of assertive, aggressive, defensive practices and ways of life in favor of this strange, counterintuitive alchemy of divine love. It is important to note that this way of living is not a strategy for surviving in a violent world. It may work out on occasion that practice of such love may turn an aggressor’s heart or intent from the harm he or she intended. But this clearly does not always happen – otherwise we would have no martyrs in the church! No, this way of life is a witness to the deepest truth about life as God intended it, the way of Jesus Christ not a survival strategy or the recommendation of a policy for how everyone should live. It is, as I said, a witness and an invitation to join the community who lives this way by trusting in the grace of the One who showed us that living not to lose or lives is antithetical to God’s way of living in a fallen and dangerous world, losing one’s life to save it.
It is, in my judgment, the communal demonstration on the part of Jesus’ people of such a way of life that has potential to impact and change the fabric of our culture. For this demonstration is gospel – the announcement that God has won the victory, defeated the power of death, and embraced the whole world in its destiny to live with him forever. And this gospel, as Paul puts it in Romans, is the gracious power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16ff.)! And only such a salvation that reorients us from seeking our “rights” but instead impels us to give ourselves to the “wrongs” that loving a fallen world will inevitably bring.
Such a way of life cannot be imposed or legislated. We should, of course, work for any legislation that seems wise and achievable towards the lessening of the presence and power of the gun culture that places us in such peril of events like the massacre in the theater in Aurora, CO and far too many other similar events for us to name or remember. This way of “rights,” however, is, at best, a holding action. The only change or preventative, if there be such at this point, is communities of those faithful to Jesus Christ becoming parables of new and life-giving ways to live. There may be no more important witness to the gospel we can offer at this time in our nation’s history. It is worth noting here that the Greek word that means “witness” also means “martyr”!