The Arkansas House passed a bill earlier this week that would lift a ban on guns being carried into houses of worship. The measure is now heading to the Arkansas Senate for a vote.
Growing up in rural Arkansas, I have come to accept the plethora of guns in the state. My dad and my brother are hunters, and I have many friends who are hunters. I don’t own a gun myself, but I do respect the right others have to own guns (although I do think we ought to have strict gun laws). But despite how one feels about individuals owning guns, the bill that is now moving through the lawmaking body of Arkansas raises significant theological problems.
Several years ago, there was a trend among young Christians to ask, What would Jesus do? This question, shortened to WWJD, became a slogan that represented a way of asking about how we should behave in response to Jesus’ behavior. This is good theology, for the question centers on Jesus as the example we are to follow. So, here is another question related to what the lawmakers in Arkansas are considering: Would Jesus carry a gun to church?
I think most of us would certainly answer no to this question. But the issue over guns in church raises a larger question about our infatuation with violence that is directly contrary to Jesus’ message and life of non-violence.
There are two significant stories from the life of Jesus that I believe speak to this issue. Both stories derive from the arrest and trial of Jesus, a point at which, if he were to take up the weapon of violence, he certainly would have done so.
In Mark’s telling of the arrest of Jesus, those who come to seize him carry clubs and swords. Jesus’ question about their armaments is very telling and theologically rich for those of us who desire to utilize weapons for our own security and protection. He asks, Have you come out with swords and clubs? (Mark 14:48).
The implication of Jesus’ question to them is that he needs not the weapons of violence, for his protection and security is found with God. In other words, though he could have gathered a small army of rebels to fight, and indeed even a legion of angels, he rejected not only the use violence, but also the system that promotes violence.
This idea is made even clearer when Jesus is brought before Pilate, particularly in how the Gospel of John tells the story. In response to Pilate’s questioning about his being a king, Jesus responds, My kingdom is not from this world (John 18:36). While we take this to mean that Jesus was informing Pilate that his kingdom is from heaven, which is true, it more likely means that his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world — kingdoms like Rome that hold imperial power through violence. Indeed, Jesus goes on to imply that if his kingdom were like Rome, then his followers would be fighting for him.
Both of these stories reflect Jesus’ radical ideas about the virtue of non-violence that epitomized his central message. At his arrest and his trial, events that would have triggered a violent reaction from most of us, Jesus rejected the use of weapons and he rejected the system of violence that characterized the society in which he lived. Instead, he placed his full trust in God’s loving care, despite the fact that he would be crucified in an act of state-sponsored violence.
And this should cause us to rethink how we live in a world where violence is accepted as necessary. If we claim to be Christian, then this means we should at least seek to follow Christ. And, in following Jesus, we should at least pay close attention to what was central to his life and teachings: non-violence. As followers of Christ, we must reject our attraction to violence, even when we think it will provide us security.
It seems likely that the bill being considered will pass. More than just bad policy, this decision is a hasty and tragic response to our need to feel safe everywhere we go. If the bill passes, however, I would hope that faithful Christians and faithful churches would reject the need to arm themselves, reject the attempt to create false security, and most importantly, reject violence and the system that promotes it as necessary.
C. Drew Smith is the Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.