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Challenging conversations

Dear readers: If upon the conclusion of this column you believe I’m advocating for the confiscation of all guns, you have misread my words. Friends and relatives of mine who hunt know my level of respect for thoughtful gun ownership. This article is about the danger of letting the gun become a cul- tural idol. Most gun owners in America believe public safety and personal freedom aren’t exclusive or contradictory ideas, but complementary ones. So read on with sensitivity. I hope these paragraphs stimulate good conversations for you.


ormer Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords had a one-word response to the December 2012 killings of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in

Newtown, Conn.: “Enough!” This column is my own quiet “Enough!” to the silence

about gun violence that blankets too much of the Christian community. I don’t happen to be running for public office. The National Rifle Association’s lobbying clout is not my argument here. I simply want to help navigate the challenging conversations that can surround our attempt to talk about gun violence from a faith perspective. So far in these sentences I’ve resisted using the word insan-

ity to reference the proliferation of guns and the achingly familiar car- nage on our nation’s streets. But in full disclosure, I live and work in a state where the law allows legally or com- pletely blind people to acquire per- mits to carry guns in public. I’m struck by the oddity with which

By Peter W. Marty Nineteenth in a series Guns in a culture of idolatry

To stand with those who die by violence is to stand with nonviolence champion Jesus Said one Arizona state senator

after Giffords was shot: “When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim.” Or, we could add, everybody is going to be a victim. This latter idea may be what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he preached just four days before his assassination: “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between vio- lence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” Opposing gun violence isn’t primarily a political issue, at

least not for believing people. For Christians (and others), it’s a deeply religious issue. The value, worth and dignity of every human being is unmistakably precious. Faith asks us to stand for this preciousness, and alongside everyone who dies by violent means. To stand with such ones is to stand with that champion of nonviolence named Jesus. Among many Americans, the gun now claims nearly

21st century people often seek to express their emotions through a gun. Once upon a time, people elected to express most emotions through things like poetry, conversation, dance, argument or a therapist. But through a gun? Yes, and these emotions are often completely unconnected with hatred. Said one of three teenagers charged with killing a college athlete jogging inno- cently on the streets of Oklahoma: “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.” Conventional wisdom has long argued that “only violence

can control violence.” If you don’t want the bad guys to be able to do harm, you need to put more guns in the hands of the good guys. Arm the citizenry to defend itself against itself. The answer to guns is— what else?—more guns.

If Martin Luther’s definition of a god has any enduring truth to it—“A god is that to which we look for all comfort and take refuge in every time of need”— the gun has risen to achieve godlike prominence.

divine status. Our fascination with its powers has turned it into a small “g” god. If Martin Luther’s definition of a god has any enduring truth to it—“A god is that to which we look for all comfort and take refuge in every time of need”—the gun has risen to achieve godlike prominence. More than a tool of self-defense,

the gun has become an object of rever- ence. We bow in devotion at its altar. As Charlton Heston, one-time NRA

president, put it: “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blued steel.” You don’t question a god that requires human sacrifice and

guarantees your security and safety. You revere this god even when it can’t sustain such guarantees. You enshrine its divin- ity in an impenetrable temple called “my rights.” Jesus had a word for this and every

other idolatry: “No one can serve two masters.” Following Jesus can be our inspiration for repenting of our national temptation to view guns as sacred. 

Author bio: Marty is a speaker, author and ELCA pastor who writes monthly for The Lutheran.

November 2014 3

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