Guns in the Kingdom of God: An Eschatological Appeal to End Gun Proliferation

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The 1993 movie Tombstone tells the legendary story of Wyatt Earp and his brothers who settle in Tombstone, Arizona during the silver rush of the late 1880s. The Earps move out west to lay claim to their share of the fortune being hauled in by others. But they find themselves entangled with a band of murderous misfits and thieves known as “the cowboys.”

Wyatt’s brother, Virgil, becomes the town marshal of Tombstone. In the movie, he grows tired of the cowboys’ reckless disrespect of the townspeople, as well as their propensity to pull their guns at a moment’s notice, allowing bullets to fly indiscriminately through the open air on the town streets.

In a crucial scene in the movie, Virgil tacks up a sign in front of a noisy and rowdy crowd. The sign is a public notice announcing a newly enacted city ordinance. It reads:

It is hereby declared UNLAWFUL for any person to carry DEADLY WEAPONS, concealed or otherwise…within the limits of the City of Tombstone.

The crowd is none pleased. They shout their angry objections and Virgil raises his hands to quiet them down. In a gruff voice he says to the crowd, “Now wait, nobody says you can’t own a gun. Nobody’s even saying you can’t carry a gun. All we’re saying is you can’t carry one in town. Now that’s not so much to ask, is it?

The crowd didn’t like the new gun law. Crowds never like to be told what to do with their guns. They certainly won’t be told to leave their guns at home.

The Great Gun Debate

After the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, America did what America always does.

Some lamented.

Some were outraged.

Thoughts and prayers were offered.

Discussions about gun laws broke out in living rooms and on social media. Do we need tighter restrictions on the sale of guns? Do we need to enforce the current gun laws we have with better efficiency? Do we need to ban certain kinds of guns? Do we need more guns? Do teachers need to be armed?

These debates about guns and the laws preventing their misuse continue to rage among adults while students have begun to organize protests and walkouts in an attempt to give voice to their concerns and sense of loss. Culturally, we don’t seem to be any closer to a united decision on the problem— even after seventeen deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school, six deaths at the Rancho Tehama Reserve, ten deaths at Umpqua Community College, five deaths at Marysville Pilchuck High School, six deaths in the Santa Monica shooting, and 28 deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School. [1]

So how should Christians think theologically and Christianly about these highly complex and endemically polarizing issues of guns, their use, and their restrictions? I’d like to offer at least three convictions that can guide our conversation.

Here are three theological convictions to guide our conversation about guns and gun restrictions. Click To Tweet

1. Gun Ownership Isn’t A Christian Value

While the Apostle Paul encourages us to strive to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV), on the issue of guns, Christians in general—and Evangelicals in particular—seem to be divided. We do not agree on how to bring an end to violence in our schools and communities. We do not even agree on whether or not followers of Jesus should own guns and use them in defense of the innocent.

But on one issue we should be united (even though we are not): Gun ownership is not a Christian value.

Christians may or may not choose to own a gun, but owning a gun or a weapon of any kind isn’t a right given to us in the kingdom of God. We are, in the words of Sean Palmer, an unarmed empire, armed only with vulnerability.

On one issue we should be united: Gun ownership is not a Christian value. Christians may or may not choose to own a gun, but owning a gun or a weapon of any kind isn’t a right given to us in the kingdom of God. Click To Tweet

On February 22, 2018 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre said the Second Amendment was granted to us by God. He said, “There is no greater personal individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms, the right to protect yourself, and the right to survive. It’s not bestowed by man, but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.” [2]

Ed Stetzer took to Twitter to respond.

Ed is right.

While the right to bear arms is an American right, it isn’t a right given to us by God.

There are numerous passages to which one can point to back up this claim, but there is also one passage often (mis)used to defend the idea that Jesus advocated for the use of weapons: Luke 22. Jesus did tell his disciples, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36 ESV). However, these instructions do not imply that Jesus desired for every follower of his to carry a weapon.

After receiving the command to buy a sword the disciples responded, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And Jesus said, “It is enough” (Luke 22:38 ESV). In this specific case, there were two swords for the thirteen of them. Any attempt to use Jesus’ words here to insist upon a divinely-granted “second amendment right,” as Nijay Gupta has argued, is both anachronistic and a poor interpretation of the text.  

Jesus did not give his followers carte blanche to multiply weapons among themselves. In light of the various zealot movements of his day, Jesus is actually reducing weapons with the words “It (two swords) is enough.”

2. Christian Gun Owners Are Not the Enemy

Nevertheless, modern-day followers of Jesus may have a clear conscience allowing them to own guns, obtain conceal and carry permits, and even belong to the NRA.

These Christians are not the enemy.

To demonize pro-gun Christians and place the blame for escalating gun violence at their doorstep is neither helpful nor Christlike.

However it is important to note that while the NRA historically supported gun regulation, they have, in recent days, become “America’s leading pro-gun advocacy group,” lobbying strongly against gun restrictions. [3] But while some Christians who love Jesus and seek first God’s kingdom and justice are members of the NRA, the NRA is not a Christian organization. Very often the NRA participates in the antagonistic culture wars that Jesus has come to save us from.

Christians may disagree on whether affiliation with the NRA is helpful or harmful, but we can agree that the purposes of the NRA are not tied to the kingdom mission of Jesus or the church.

3. Our Hope in the Age to Come Informs How We Live Today

So, as followers of Jesus, should we advocate for stricter regulations regarding guns in the United States?

While I wish we could be of the same heart and mind on this issue, my experience has been that the issue of gun laws brings up strong emotive differences of opinion.

Some people fear new gun restrictions will only lead to the abolition of all guns. While there will come a time in the age to come when Jesus will ask for our guns—all of them—I find this argument to be reactive and paranoid. Others claim tighter restrictions, such as an assault weapons ban or other prohibitions, will not help because criminals bent on violence will simply find some other means to do harm.

But as Christians, we resist pragmatic expectations when making moral decisions. What “works” in the short run is not always what is most consistent with the ethics of Jesus Christ.

Conversely, just because something doesn’t produce instantaneous results, this doesn’t mean it is not the way of Jesus. Very often the kingdom of God grows slowly like a seed in the ground. More often, the question to ask is not, “Will this plan of action work?” but rather, “Does this plan of action belong in the age to come?”

The question to ask is not 'Will this plan of action work?' but rather, 'Does this plan of action belong in the age to come?' Click To Tweet

A Christian desire for stricter guns laws is less rooted in the pragmatic outcome of such laws and more rooted in an eschatological vision of the kingdom of God—where swords are beaten into plowshares.

As Isaiah wrote:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

A Christian desire for stricter guns laws is less rooted in the pragmatic outcome of such laws and more rooted in an eschatological vision of the kingdom of God where swords are beaten into plowshares. Click To Tweet

Stricter gun laws may not, in fact, be a guarantee to reduce the number of fatalities in America. New laws will not create a quick and easy fix. The enforcement of current laws needs to be addressed, as well as the mental health issues related to many of these mass shootings.

But new gun laws are a step in the direction of Isaiah’s picture of life under the rule of the Messiah, King Jesus, whereby we can be a part of creating a culture where irresponsible gun use is unacceptable.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, we are living in the present evil age as people of the age to come. In this present dark age where evil abounds, some guns may be necessary; but we are children of the light. We have come to the house of the Lord where we are learning his ways, and we walk in his path—which is always the way of peace.

We should be compelled, not so much by our civic rights or by our pragmatism, but by a vision of the mountain of the Lord where we do not harm or destroy. One day, all guns will be turned into garden tools—instruments of war will be turned into implements of agriculture.

That day is not yet here, but maybe we can lean into this vision. Let’s advocate for those things which will decrease the spread of guns until the day comes when we have no more guns to take to town.

Let's advocate for those things which will decrease the spread of guns until the day comes when we have no more guns to take to town. Click To Tweet


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