In the wake of the Highland Park shooting last Monday, I have felt it necessary to reflect on my spiritual roots. Normally when I say this, I am referring to those authors who have most impacted my personal theology, however this time my reflections were on those individuals who personally impacted my spiritual development in my childhood. I thought back to that conservative almost fundamentalist community of faith to which I belonged and asked myself how that community might have reflected on those events. The reality is they no doubt would have said, and probably are saying, that this recent shooting, like all others, reflects the deep problems our society has with Sin. They would have pointed to this individual’s need for God and how the continued string of mass shootings reveals that our society is corrupted by sin. And as I reflected on that answer, I do have to admit there is a great deal of truth in it, what we are witnessing is certainly a Sin problem.
This realization forced me to reflect even more on the issue at hand and how the heritage of my church came into being. I had to consider the rash of gun violence in our country in light of the fact that the problem is truly Sin. Considering that reality My thoughts went from how the church of my childhood would have seen the problem to how that same church would have seen a Sin issue when my grandfather was a boy. In other words, I asked myself how the theological ancestors of my home church would have thought to deal with the sins of their time. The theological heritage of that church comes directly from 19th century Revivalism, Holiness, and Fundamentalists traditions. This being the case, I considered what were the pressing sins that the conservative community of the 19th century faced and how did they oppose those sins. As I thought through the list what came to mind were things from my childhood like pornography, cigarettes, obscenity and violence in movies, and abortion; then further back I thought about gambling in all its forms including cards and horse racing, doing business on Sundays, prostitution, most notably alcohol, and even slavery. As I considered each of these, I recognized very quickly that the Christian community that I was a part of had one simple solution for dealing with each of these Sin problems– fight hard to have it legally restricted or better yet made illegal. There was no tolerance for these triggers to sin. I think the best analog to the current situation is alcohol. Many Christians recognized that not everyone who drank was prone to the sins associated with alcohol, but they felt that the temptations were so strong it was better to ban it from everyone than to allow the potential for those few to have a drink. Even though many recognized that banning alcohol was a futile endeavor, knowing full well that those who wanted to drink would still find their liquor, they felt that they could police the situation and make this country better without drink.
My question now is where are these conservatives now on this particular Sin issue that we call gun violence? Do they not have the courage of their ancestors to stand up against what they see as a Sin problem? Why is it that on one issue those who stand in this theological circle do not have the fortitude to protest and remove the temptation to so much sin? This is my legitimate question, because to me having grown up in these circles it seems very theologically inconsistent. As sad as it is I think the answer to my questions is, many of these Christians were very willing to outlaw the sins of others but are not so willing to outlaw what they find fun. I believe it was easy for them to say things like ban alcohol when they didn’t drink, or ban cigarettes when they didn’t smoke, but it is far more difficult to say ban guns when they like the power and protection that they feel from them.
I myself am not calling for a complete ban on firearms, though I believe we must do something to stem the tide of gun violence, and that includes recognizing there must be some further legal restrictions. But at the same time, I recognize a level of hypocrisy within a theological tradition that sought to ban temptations to Sin in so many other areas but willfully ignores this one in particular. I think recent calls for boycotts of companies like Disney reveal that the tactic of complete distance from any temptation to sin is still very much accepted within these communities. If that is the case then there is no reason why the tactic should be abandoned in this particular instance. If, as so many Christians say, the problem of gun violence in our society is in fact a sin problem then those same Christians should be leading the charge to remove the temptation of guns from those who are incapable of resisting the sin.
If I have not been clear enough already, I would like to reiterate I am not personally calling for a complete ban on firearms, I am calling for a certain group of Christians to stay theologically consistent in their approach to society. I say this because that same community repeatedly calls for Christians to remain doctrinal pure and are the loudest about proclaiming the need for righteousness. This community can no longer sit by and call out the sins of others while failing to see where their own political biases are creating temptation for individuals within society. If legal action works to curtail sin within our society, then we need to be about the business of looking for legal remedies to the sin of gun violence in America today. If Christians are not willing to take this stand and call for government to change lies to protect us from this sin then they need to divorce themselves from politics completely and to quit pretending the legal action mitigates sin. We cannot call anything a sin problem and then refused to take steps to eliminate that sin, and if we believe that legal restrictions work well in other areas then we must attempt to institute legal restrictions in this area as well.
I know the objection will be raised that we cannot do anything because owning firearms is a “right” guaranteed by the constitution. But the constitution is not our moral authority and those same Christians in every other area would argue that moral authority trumps the constitution. If this is the case then we cannot allow such an objection to stand, our moral authority surpasses any perceived legal right, and we must work to overcome legal barriers to see Sin abolished. This mindset is nothing new it is what allowed those Christians concerned with slavery to overlook its constitutionality and push for morality and justice. the rights of slaveholders were enshrined in the constitution to an even greater degree than those of citizens to own firearms and yet Christian saw it as a moral obligation to overcome the injustice inherent in the law and push for adjust outcome. I bring up such realities only to point out that when Christians work towards a goal nothing stands in their way. What is lacking in the current debate around firearms is the desire on the part of Christians to see the sin eradicated. Can we please stop saying gun violence is a sin issue unless we are prepared to truly take on all aspects of that issue.
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