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Bad Government, Bad Religion and Tony Perkins

05/06/2013 01:48 pm ET | Updated Jul 06, 2013
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Recently, someone shared with me a fundraising letter in which Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council claimed, "not only did Jesus tolerate weapons, he instructed His disciples to buy them!" Don't believe me? Follow the link and read it for yourself. He cites Luke 22:36 as his evidence.

Given the devastating consequences of the tragic gun violence we have faced in recent decades, Perkins should be ashamed of himself. He owes an apology to the parents in Newtown grieving over the children they lost, to the thousands of families who have lost loved ones to gun violence since Newtown and to the American people as a whole. Frankly, in my opinion, he also owes an apology to Jesus, whose words he ripped from their context in an effort to use them to benefit his own organization's agenda. This is a new low in political argument, persuasive writing, manipulating Christianity and distorting the nature of Jesus.

Perkins' manipulation of Holy Scripture -- and, in my opinion, the blasphemous manner in which he attempts to make Jesus a supporter of violence -- is an all-time low. I have been a pastor for 50 years and I hold a doctoral degree in theology, so I like to think I know a thing or two about the Bible. Perkins is engaging in "proof-texting" a practice in which a quote from the Bible is lifted out of its context and used in isolation from its setting in the Bible to make a point that has nothing to do with its meaning in its original setting. Not only is this approach a shoddy method of biblical interpretation, but Perkins' attempt lacks even the support of other proof-texts. I am sure he would have quoted other statements from Jesus snatched out of context if he could have found them. But the weight of truth is against his out-of-place argument.

Set Perkins' singular passage over against the whole sweep of Jesus' ministry and teachings and see what happens. On the few occasions when Jesus talked about war, weapons or conflict, he rejected weapons of violence: "Blessed are the peacemakers," he said in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9). "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52), Jesus commanded his impulsive disciple as Jesus rebuked him for using a weapon against a soldier. Jesus was a clear advocate for a life of peace. "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also," Jesus told his followers.

Does that sound like a religious leader wanting guns in all schools and blocking policies that would prevent more gun violence?

Tony, is this the Jesus about whom you were writing -- the Jesus whose followers refused to be a part of armed militaries for almost 300 years?

Yes, I also have lifted verses out of context. But there is a difference between what I have done and what Perkins did. My quotes are consistent with all of the teachings of Jesus and the breadth of the message of the Christian Scriptures. Perkins lifted one verse out of context to serve his purposes, but that one verse contradicts the whole of Jesus' teaching and ministry and the message of the rest of the New Testament. A theology built on self-serving proof-texts is inevitably questionable because it is more about the interpreter than it is about the Bible.

In addition to a flawed theological argument, Perkins' also claims that "The government can't make us safer until it recognizes that the problem isn't the instruments of violence -- but the environment of it." What outlandishly ludicrous logic. He is correct about a poisoned environment. Our mail and media are filthy with the lethal poison of condemnatory, inflammatory rhetoric that contributes to extremism, presumptive judgments, evil acts and incendiary hate. Some days people can hardly catch their breaths because of nasty onslaughts against those among us who do not embrace a particular religion, narrow sectarian values, and partisan politics. But it is the appallingly easy access to the "instruments" that lead to such violence. A confluence of many and varied factors lead sick, psychopathic people to commit such crimes and we may never be able to stop all of them from happening -- but if we make it harder for such people to access "the instruments of violence" we stand a far greater chance of doing so.

Look, I understand the need to write fundraising letters. I do that as well for the organization I lead, Interfaith Alliance. But no one should try to make Jesus their mascot -- it is not becoming to you or to him -- let alone so drastically abuse His teachings in the process. A fundraising letter to support a proliferation of weapons and brand those who support measures to prevent gun violence as anti-family is not a place to try and make Jesus look like an endorser of the Family Research Council's work. It is politically flawed, factually inaccurate and spiritually offensive for anyone who treasures the Bible and finds in it the directions of the Prince of Peace.

To even hint, much less declare, as Perkins has done, that those children in Newtown or those theatergoers in Colorado or Gabby Giffords in Arizona were shot down by the environment is at best hallucinatory and at worst an offensive error. They were shot by guns, guns which had they not been available to the sick people who used them would not have fired the damaging rounds of bullets into innocent children, guns which had they been stripped of high capacity magazines would not have been able to inflict such a high number of deaths. Is what seems to be a self-righteous fight for a bigger cartridge worth the life of one child?

Others have acted similarly, elevating fundraising to an end that is so important that it justifies any means, though it never does. Tony, you can do better than this!

I hope.