Against the advice of several US-resident-but-foreign-born friends of mine, I recently ventured to post a few thoughts about the gun debate in the USA. I did not expect what came back at me. I’ve learned a lot.
Now, I’m usually up for a good discussion. Even impassioned debate. I usually welcome people having a different opinion than mine, but sadly some of the responses have been brutish. Sometimes personal and combative. From Christians especially. I have been quite shocked and taken aback by the level of fiery emotion and willingness to lash out. I think the response indicates something far more concerning than whether or not people can legally own certain types of guns.
Two quick preliminary points:
1) This blogpost is not supposed to be a continuation of the gun debate. I’m trying to make a bigger comment.
2) This blogpost is written with followers of Jesus as the intended audience. If that’s not you, please feel free to read on, but expect some terms of expression that might seem strange to you.
I am not against the second amendment – American citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms – per se. But I struggle to see “Jesus” when Christians are far more upset when their second amendment rights are scrutinized than they are about anything else. It’s my experience that many Christians seem more passionate about defending their own “rights” than defending the “rights” of others. In particular, I am thinking of the “rights” of the defenseless children and the materially poor in this world.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I am trying to make a contradictory statement to American Christian pro-gun folk or not. Maybe the position of Christian gun-rights activist and what I am about to say can be integrated somehow. But at the moment, I just can’t see it. I guess I’m a fundamentalist and an idealist. But to say, “I follow Jesus, and I will fight to defend my personal rights,” is contradictory to me. Those two sentence halves do not belong together. To fight for my individual rights (the “right” to bear arms being one), or to claim any personal privilege as a “God-given right” (as has been stated to me about gun ownership) shows a fundamental misplacement of the grace of God. To take that position while remaining largely inactive in caring for the defenseless – even more so.
The overwhelming, core message of Christ Jesus – it seems to me – is that I must surrender my “rights” in an earthly sense. I must be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), carry my own Cross (Matthew 16:24), be crucified with Christ and no longer alive to this world (Galatians 2:20), placing my faith for my protection and provision in Christ alone (Matthew 6:25-27). Instead, the focus of my earthly existence – the earthly purpose of the follower of Jesus – is to care for the orphans, widows (James 1:27) and other “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). To bring justice for the oppressed (Isaiah 58: 6-7) while disregarding my own earthly desires for personal safety and comfort – my “self”. Jesus tells me that, if I expend my energy holding onto my own “rights” in this life, I will lose my “right” to life (Matthew 16:25). Eternal life – true life – is a free gift of God’s grace, “achieved” or, more accurately, evidenced when I give away my “right” to an earthly life of my choosing. I must surrender my “rights” by submitting to the only truly righteous life – Christ Jesus in and through me.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:3
Can you imagine a lamb on an Old Testament sacrificial altar bleating about its rights and how this isn’t fair? It’s a ridiculous picture of course. It’s not fair to the lamb, but it is right. The lamb dies anyway. It’s from this thought that we get the, “like a lamb to the slaughter,” phrase. The lamb does not complain. Does not fight back.
That’s how Jesus went to the Cross – the unjustly accused lamb to the slaughter. Humanity – you and I – had no right to crucify Jesus as we did. He did not deserve a brutal, agonizing death on the Cross. You and I can rejoice that He did not stand up for His rights, but instead was led – not just like a lamb – but as THE Lamb to the slaughter. His rights as the Son of God were denied to Him at the Cross so they could be applied to you and me! By grace we can inherit His rights. His righteousness.
Here’s the kicker: If I am going to allow my life to resonate with Jesus as Lord – if I have received His righteousness – I must love as He loves, follow where He goes and surrender my earthly “rights” like he did. The Cross is not just what Christ did for me, it is also what is required of me! My “self”, my selfishness, my “rights” are the required sacrifice.
Not that I am a model for selfless living at all. No, not yet. I guess I defend my rights in less obvious ways, even though I don’t believe I should. I am a work in progress, but I have had a glimpse of the final, perfect design and that leads me onto the narrow road I am determined to follow. Less of me and more of Jesus! (John 3:30)
So, knowing Jesus – even a little – why would I fight for my “rights”? In the end, earthly “rights” are just some humans’ version of justice. But I am a sinner. The end result of justice for me is damnation! I don’t want justice! By “rights” I am a goner! Why settle for justice when grace is offered? Grace is better than justice. Apart from God’s grace, I deserve hell. That would be justice. I try to remind myself of that fact every time I think I have been treated unfairly or that my “rights” have been disregarded. I’ll fight for justice – for the “rights” of those who are “poor in the eyes of the world” (James 2:5) – but I ought not fight for my own.
Yes, the American government may – some time in the distant future – become oppressive and tyrannical. You may, one day, feel the need to reach for the gun in your closet. If you do, I hope it’s God’s gracious Holy Spirit leading you and not you leading you. You see, there is a greater and current threat than the US government, or even an intruder in your home. A tyranny that is closer, more dangerous and largely undetected. The most dangerous and most present tyranny is in our own hearts! Tyranny lives in me and in you. Having an assault rifle in your closet arms the present tyranny! The same tyranny of “self” that works to oppress the defenseless people we are called to defend. The same defenseless people who, it seems, many are loathed to defend because doing so intrudes upon their own “rights”, privileges and comforts.
It seems to me that the same Christians who are most passionate about defending their second amendment “rights” are also fearful of the government restricting their freedom to worship as they choose. To that I say, yes, my “right” to free religious expression could, one day, be restricted or taken away by a government actively oppressing the Christian religion. Some (usually people who have never lived outside their home country) would argue that this is already happening in the USA. But that will have no bearing on true faith in Christ. We should not think that “defending the faith” and “defending my right to outwardly express my faith the way I want” are the same thing. The truth of Jesus the Christ is not compromised by earthly laws. Laws may restrict how I can freely demonstrate that I follow Jesus, but will never change that I follow Jesus.
I hope it does not come to this, but perhaps legal restrictions would sort the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps, like the apostle Paul and some of my missionary friend in Turkey, I’d have to go to jail for proclaiming Christ crucified. Perhaps oppressed people of faith would be more faithful. Only God knows, but it is conceivable to me that the blending of personal “rights” with (only the compatible) aspects of Jesus’s teachings has allowed a comfortable, luke-warmness to permeate – maybe even dominate – the Christian Church in America.
Guns are a difficult issue for sure – especially in the US. I do my best to understand the issue of constitutional “rights” for my American brothers and sisters. As an Australian, it’s tough though. I don’t really have a good frame of reference (but I did write a blogpost about trying to wear those shoes if you’re interested: http://grantnorsworthy.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/swimming-in-the-ocean-outlawed-in-australia/#comments). I’m unable to fully empathize with the contrary position to my own on this issue, but I stand by what I have said here. I sincerely hope I have not caused offense, unless it is God’s Spirit that is causing the offense.
Grace (that’s better than justice) and peace (that’s better than safety or comfort) to you and your family.