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Guns in the Bible

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Everyone is talking about guns. One can hardly find an op-ed or news story today that doesn't somehow touch on the national debate. Christians are talking about guns too, and for that reason I think it would be helpful to point out one thing:

Sometimes the Bible offers us black and white options on an issue where we'd like some gray. Sometimes it offers gray where we would like black and white. But in the case of gun use and gun control, it offers us no color at all. It knows nothing of the technology in question, nor of the model of society in which private citizens might or might not be able to own such technology. And whatever we decide personally regarding the debate, there's simply no "Christian position" on it.

"Wait," someone will want to say. "There's a clear theme in scripture which makes my view the obvious favorite." If the person is more NRA-inclined, they will point to mankind's God-given charge to subdue the earth and rule over "every living creature that moves on the ground." And they would be right to say that that sounds conclusive. If they are less NRA-inclined, they will point to our corrupted nature and God's desire that we "beat [our] swords into plowshares and... learn war no more." And they would be right to say that that sounds conclusive. Yet the more one understands the actual topic of the debate, the less definitive either seems in addressing it.

The issue up for debate is simply whether a private citizen is safer (from all kinds of things) when people have more access to guns or safer when people have less access to guns. And whatever ramifications the debate may have for liberty, constitutional precedent, or the fate of the United States, the Bible simply isn't prepared to weigh in on what makes for the safest possible domestic experience.

I live in Europe, so more often than not the religious connection comes up in any conversation I hear about guns. Americans are more religious than Europeans and -- strange as it seems to the Europeans -- we have more weapons. In the news here, people sometimes even talk about violence "reaching American levels." They see that we look at firearms from a different perspective, and when searching for an explanation for that difference, the religious answer seems as good as any. They reason, that is, what so many people in the States seem to reason: that there is a default Christian position on firearms.

I'm neither a historian nor an anthropologist, but in order to further untangle the gun control debate from the realm of inherently Christian convictions, I think this topic ought to be addressed too. Is there a story behind the story of America's relationship to weapons, something that explains the difference between popular opinion in the U.S. and popular opinion here in Europe? I think so. But it's not a religious story; it's a cultural story -- you might even say a geographical story.

The U.S. is a frontier nation. Every nation has small towns, but in a unique sense our history has been filled with the story of people "heading out" somewhere new to stake a claim there all by themselves. In contrast to the tight little towns and villages I see on train rides through Germany, I simply find the U.S. more spread out. And historically speaking that meant that, for many people, the closest police station wasn't especially close. The right to bear arms went hand in hand, therefore, with the right to set out on one's own, to places where the rule of law played little part in everyday safety.

Now, we could debate whether police cars are now fast enough to make up for our frontier tendencies, whether guns should still serve as a protection against tyranny, and to what extent the logic of the Bill of Rights is timeless. But do you see what we're doing in each of those instances? We're talking about things that have nothing to do with the "sweep of salvation history" or the story of God's people.

The Bible often calls Christians to stand up for things, or stand against things, regardless of the way the cultural tides are flowing. Christians should try to influence society and our code of laws for the better on many issues, so this is in no means intended as a "hands off of political engagement" piece. But on this topic, whether we happen to be pro or contra current gun laws, we should avoid the confusion of making our viewpoint "the Christian viewpoint." We're free to support their open sale, complete ban, or anything in between with no need to feel guilty that we are somehow betraying biblical convictions.