A Few Thoughts on Guns & The Armor of Light

I originally wrote this post in February, 2013, when my friends at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism invited me to join the Faiths Calling initiative to help stop rampant gun violence. In the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook, they were seeking laws that could make our nation safer. Sadly, such laws are yet to be passed.  I’ve revised the blog for a new purpose: to support the important documentary, The Armor of Light, showing tonight on PBS at 8/7c. I’ve met the filmmaker, Abigail Disney, and Rev. Rob Schenck whose story is told in the film. Together, they're committed to creating a new conversation about guns in America. It’s an important film for all followers of Jesus to watch and consider.

Several years ago, when my then 27-year-old son was preparing to sail a 42-foot sailboat around the world, concerned friends and family members asked the inevitable question: will he keep a gun on board?  It’s not uncommon for ocean-crossing sailors to carry guns as a defense against pirates, but there’s an ongoing debate. 

Some people consider it unthinkable to head for the high seas without a gun; others say the pirates will always have bigger guns, so it’s safest for small-time boaters to just raise their hands in surrender.  My son and his sailing companion intentionally charted a course that bypassed the most pirate-infested waters and chose not to take a gun, as I hoped they would. Yes, I was very concerned for my son’s safety.  But I hate guns.  Even my grandsons know that when they’re at my house, the pretend guns they fashion from tree branches and broom handles can only shoot hugs and kisses.  Or peace and love.  Yeah, I know, I’m extreme.

But I hate guns.  I didn’t used to.  Once I actually shot skeet off the back of a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, and I was pretty good.  But during the last two decades I’ve spent a lot of time in war zones: Bosnia, Croatia, Rwanda, Congo, the Middle East.  And now I hate guns.

Maybe I’m irrational; or maybe I’ve just seen too much pain and death. 

There are people I know and love who keep guns in their homes for self-defense.  Some of them are extremely opposed to any form of the gun controls.  They are good people.  Loving people.  God-fearing people.  They will probably wish I weren’t writing this blog.

Undoubtedly, some people from the very diverse congregation at my church will also wish I weren’t writing this.  After all, a survey revealed that 57 percent of white evangelicals live in homes where someone owns a gun. (That number has probably increased in the 2 years since I found that statistic.)

Even after 20 first graders died at the hands of a madman with an assault rifle, 59 percent of white evangelicals continued to oppose tighter restrictions on gun laws.

After each new episode of gun tragedy, those opposing restrictions seem to yell louder.

I know some people are really concerned about Second Amendment rights and about the slippery slope of government control.  I know those same people often remind us that guns don’t kill people; it takes a person to pull that deadly trigger.

I also know Chicago’s tough gun laws haven’t prevented violent people from sneaking guns into Chicago and killing 40 people in the last month alone (and 2016 death stats are worse than ever). I know that, ultimately, only a spiritual transformation, not stricter laws, can root out the evil violence in the human heart.

But still. I think stricter gun control makes sense.  And I think Congress must do something to better protect our children.

But even more than that, I think that we who claim to be Christians need to look at this issue from a uniquely Christian perspective, one of scriptural integrity and ethical reflection.

Where does this issue fall within the framework of Christian discipleship? What is the will of God when it comes to our personal disposition toward our neighbors?

When, how, and against whom may a Christian use lethal force? Are there non-lethal ways to protect ourselves and others; and is it better for Christians to choose non-lethal means over lethal means?

Abigail Disney, who directed this film, and Rev. Rob Schenck, whose story she tells, come from opposite sides of almost every political issue. But as they shaped an honest, authentic conversation around this issue, they discovered something unexpected in each other: a friend.

Together, they hope this film can be used to create thousands of conversations like that, thousands of alternatives to the circular conversations that lead our country to more and more guns and less and less safety. The Armor of Light offers a thoughtful beginning point for a new conversation.

Lucy McBath, also featured in this film, grieves the death of her teenage son in a senseless shooting. But she’s found purpose in tragedy through The Armor of Light. “It is our charge as Christians,” she says, “to love, care for, and serve our fellow man. I truly believe that this film is part of the move of God upon His people.”

Tonight’s showing on PBS at 8/7c will be followed by a Town Hall meeting of Christian leaders. Find out how to host a screening of the film here.

Or sign on to a statement of pastoral concern here.