12/20/2012 11:43 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Jesus Hates Guns. So What?

In a prior post, I argued that what the Bible teaches about same-sex sexual relations is virtually irrelevant to our current debates over homosexuality and same-sex marriage. But this argument cuts both ways. In the wake of Sandy Hook, I find myself asking, "How can Christians possibly believe that gun rights are what Jesus taught and modeled for us?" And sadly, the answer I get is that the Bible is equally irrelevant to our current debates about guns. American Christians who support guns and gun rights are one more prime example of the ways in which the Bible can be made to say anything a reader wants it to say.

It's pretty easy for gun-clinging Christians to explain away Jesus himself on this issue. All his famous lines about "turn the other cheek," "love your enemies" or "whoever uses the sword will die by the sword" were meant metaphorically, not literally; and oh yeah, that whole thing where he and all of his original disciples died as martyrs rather than take up arms against Israel's insanely violent Roman occupiers -- that was then, this is now. These teachings were meant for an ideal world, certainly not for the real world we all live in, where the Boogey Man is armed to the teeth. Plus, Jesus was GOD, so, even if a few oddball monks or Amish people actually do live as pacifists, certainly we everyday folks can't be expected to imitate him. Never mind Christ himself; Christianity's long and venerable just war tradition (to be distinguished not only from pacifism but also from preemptive war) has always allowed for defensive killing.

What is perhaps more surprising is the way Second Amendment worship seems openly to defy the teachings of the apostle Paul, whose epistles are probably even more important than the Gospels for self-proclaimed Bible-believers (especially when it comes to sexual ethics). Most controversial is Paul's insistence that "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God" (Romans 13:1). If this was true for Caesar or George W. Bush, it is presumably no less true of Barack Obama. And even Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above" (John 19:11). Why, then, do American Christians feel the need to "bear arms" against the Big Bad Government, when at least some parts of the Bible could be interpreted to indicate that real Christians are those who submit themselves, physically if not spiritually (think: nonviolent resistance), to whatever powers come their way?

The point here, I suppose, is that the Bible -- however much we claim to live by it -- is rarely the defining narrative in our lives. If we are being honest with ourselves, we must admit that our national histories, our ethnic histories, our religious histories, our family histories, our personal histories, all take precedence. They are the lenses through which we read Scripture, the experiences by which we make sense of it. Is it any surprise that we find exactly what we want in its pages?

Perhaps more pointedly, I ask my Christian and Jewish readers: When is the last time YOU read the Bible and it convinced you that YOU were wrong about something?