I’m hesitant to write this.
After my last Cooperative Baptist Fellowship blog piece titled “Does This Have to Be America?,” I received some criticism for my apparent lack of “speaking truth to power,” and the feeling that I represented the views of the “elite.”
My hesitation has nothing to do with this criticism. I am more convinced than ever that we need comprehensive, common-sense gun reform in the United States. Lives, quite frankly, depend on it.
My hesitation is that the American fascination with guns is downright idolatrous; confronting that means confronting our very understanding of salvation.
The Israelites were commanded in Exodus 20:4 to “not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
Yet the Israelites fashion for themselves a golden calf to worship. The inherent evil of idols is apparent throughout the Old Testament narrative and even in the New Testament.
You see, we’ve assigned power to the simple possession of a firearm. The simple act of owning a gun can protect us from those who are out to hurt us, swindle us and kill us.
Owning a gun can save us from the despair of those who might be different from us. Guns will save us from killers, drug dealers, thieves, terrorists and all others who might want to infringe upon the simple lives that we live.
And, therein, lies the idolatry: thinking that guns are the only thing that will protect us.
Guns are nigh untouchable in our public civil discourse. The gun lobby expends more money than you or I could possibly imagine to guarantee the right to any gun imaginable. Our worship of the gun is remarkably clear.
In February 2018, a church in Pennsylvania offered a blessing of firearms in close proximity to a local elementary school. The elementary school had to relocate children for the day.
Guns, in that case, were more important than the safety of children. But who is really surprised?
On July 28, 2019, three people were killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, when a shooter opened fire with an assault-type rifle. A dozen more were injured in the tragic shooting.
Yet, our apparent faith in the gun ended only in death. A gun couldn’t and didn’t save Stephen Romero, Trevor Irby or Keyla Salazar.
On Aug. 3, 2019, 20 people were killed amid a back-to-school sale at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The victims ranged in age from 2 to 82. A young mother died protecting her 2-month-old son.
Arturo Benavides, Jordan Anchondo, Javier Amir Rodriguez and Elsa Mendoza Marquez couldn’t and weren’t saved by a gun. (Not all the victims have been named; these victims were confirmed by their family members.)
Then, some 15 hours later, nine people were senselessly killed with 27 more injured in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio.
A gun couldn’t and didn’t save Monica Brickhouse, Nicholas Cumer, Lois Oglesby and Saeed Salah. (These are just a few of the victims; you can see the names of all nine at the above link.)
This is not to mention a shooting at Old Timers Day in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn on July 27. Or the shooting at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi, on July 30. A gun couldn’t and didn’t save folks there.
In Matthew 26, one of Jesus’ companions sought to protect him from betrayal by drawing a sword and striking the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
But, Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)
Even Jesus knew the futility of violence. He placed no trust in the sword to redeem God’s creation. The way of God’s kingdom is wholly unique. Because of the reign of Christ, spirals of violence are no more in God’s kingdom.
As Christians, we can and should say aloud “no more” to gun violence. As Christians, we can and should advocate for comprehensive, common-sense gun reform.
As Christians, we boldly proclaim not the power of the gun to save – but the power of our God to save. As Christians, our thoughts and prayers should spur us to action to fight against the scourge of gun violence.
I leave you with a short prayer:
God of Peace and Justice,
Remind us of your commandment to not make for ourselves an idol.
Remind us to beat our modern swords into plows.
Convict us of our idolatry that places the gun above Your name, God.
Create in us a spirit of the Second Great Commandment, not the Second Amendment.
Enable us to be peacemakers in Your Kingdom.
John Mark Boes serves as the Partnerships and Advocacy Specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and is a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University.