So, where are the voices of Christian pastors speaking out against gun violence? Do you know of any? If you do, great. If you don’t, why aren’t you asking the same question? I mean, how can a person say they are a follower of Jesus Christ and think violence is a good answer to anything?
Yes, I know that there are violent people in the world. Yes, I know we need police forces to protect our citizens, and the military to protect us from those who wish to harm us. That is not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is the fact that the only difference between the amount of gun violence in America and gun violence anywhere else within industrialized nations (which isn’t even close to the gun violence in America) is that we own exponentially more guns.
And since most Americans who identify a faith preference identify themselves as Christians I am puzzled that we seem to believe that the way to solve gun violence is to get more guns. How in the world did we get there?
Actually, the belief in violence as a means to redemption is a myth that has been around 5,000 years. “What is this myth of redemptive violence?” you ask. It is the belief that violence is the only way to achieve peace and security. For example, the motto of the Roman Empire was “Peace Through Victory”. Which worked really well if you were Roman. Not so well if you were the ones conquered by the Romans.
The 20th Century has been called the bloodiest in human history. We had a “War to End All Wars.” Which was followed a mere 20 years later by World War II. As a nation we’ve been at war for the last decade and a half. And no end in sight.
Our answer to violence is more violence.
The myth goes like this. It’s the outline of every Popeye cartoon or every Western. The “bad guy” seems to be in control until a “good guy” kills him. (Except in Popeye’s case Bluto is never totally killed. He is always back in the next cartoon. And why doesn’t Popeye ever figure out that if he eats the spinach before he fights Bluto he will do much better!?)
Many Christians take that myth of redemptive violence and apply it to the death of Jesus, a violent death that redeems the world. Jesus takes on the punishment of sin we deserve in order to satisfy a just and judgmental God. Violence becomes redemptive.
It’s a myth.
On the other hand, what if Scripture is saying that 1) The sin we need to be freed from is idolatry; 2) Jesus practiced non-violent resistance as he confronted the powers of the world that depended on the idolatry of violence in order to reveal it’s lie; and 3) Did all of this deliberately, was never a victim, and in doing so launched a revolution in how we are supposed to live and act.
Then maybe his command to love one another and to love even our enemy becomes the same command. After all, if we love our enemy, then we no longer have an enemy. Then maybe Christians would speak out against gun violence.
There are reasonable, effective ways guns can be owned in America that protect 2nd Amendment Rights. Most other industrialized countries do that. And they don’t have a 2nd Amendment. Why can’t we even try to make changes? The NRA? Money? Lobbying? “Playing to the base?”
Our answer needs to be different this time.
Or, we can just keep practicing the idolatry of guns and the myth of redemptive violence.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.