January 26, 2013

PCUSA Proposes Stricter Gun Control as a Gospel Imperative

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By Jeff Gissing (@jeffgissing and jeffgissing.com)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a strong history of advocacy in favor of restrictions on gun ownership. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has raised the profile of gun control and, once more, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has sought to engage it. In 2010 the General Assembly approved the report, “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call.” Marketed as a new approach to the issue, it purportedly focuses on “preventing illegal guns from getting into the wrong hands.” This is a generous statement.

Its restrictions are broader than advertised. Reasonable Christians may disagree on how to restrict gun violence, which is a worthwhile goal. And since it doesn’t relate to an essential tenet of doctrine, prudence would suggest restraint unless a clear and compelling case can be made. The report fails to do this. What’s more problematic, however, are its theological foundations.

The denomination, we read, is deeply troubled our “a culture of death” and our “tragic devaluing of life.” Interestingly, the church has failed to connect this to abortion. In the case of guns, it seems, the individual is chided for owning something that may only potentially cause harm to another while, in the case of abortion, the right of the individual to do something which can do nothing other than cause the death of another, is lauded.

An Undefined Gospel

“Gun Violence, Gospel Values” roots its purpose in the gospel. Yet never is the word defined. “We need to be willing to ask ourselves,” we are told, “whether we should voluntarily limit our ownership of guns so that we may be more faithful stewards of the gospel?” This is a fair question, but is vapid in the absence of any clear notion of the gospel.

The little we can gather suggests that the gospel is connected to a rejection of idolatry. The Second Amendment, we read, has created an idolatry of guns. Perhaps. What is clear, however, is that the report closely associates the gospel with non-violence. It is a “Reformed theology of…non-violence.” Given recent decisions by the denomination’s refusing to define “essential tenets of the Reformed faith” for those vowing to uphold them, perhaps our priorities are askance. Theology here is clearly subservient to a political agenda. Regardless of our agreement or disagreement with the agenda, this is problematic.

It also rings hollow when the report cites Calvin in arguing for a gun-less society. Calvin does order society along biblical principles. Yet the report quotes him, “…We are required faithfully to do what in us lies to defend the life of our neighbor, to promote whatever tends to his tranquility, to be vigilant in warding off harm, and when danger comes to assist in removing it.” Defense of persons is perhaps first the duty of the civil authority, but it is not exclusively so. Presumably Calvin found it acceptable to defend the life of another by the use of force. The best efforts of the PC(USA) not withstanding, Calvin was no pacifist.

What Calvin was clear on, and yet eludes the writers of this report, is the nature of the gospel. In reading this, one gets the sense that the gospel is a political reality. The Gospel certainly has political ramifications but is not, in itself, a political message or reality.

The Utopian Error

The PC(USA) has clearly stated its desire to create a “peaceable kingdom—a society where God’s justice reigns” through the witness of the church. This Social Gospel provides a religious underpinning for centrality of government in the creation of a good society.

Surely we can agree that gun violence is bad and that the church ought to instruct its members to obey the Sixth Commandment. The report, however, goes further to note “the church’s primary calling is to help people prepare for the possibility of a real spiritual awakening that can instigate a social movement.” Is this so?

Only since the early twentieth century has the mainline church embedded “the promotion of social righteousness” into its mission. Surely it is a part of that mission. However one increasingly gets the impression that rather than being one of six great ends of the church, it stands alone. This report claims as much, “It is in the context of the community, especially the community of faith, that the full value of human life is honored and celebrated. We therefore constantly seek to remove double standards and differing expectations between God’s intention for those inside and outside the church.” (emphasis added)

What is unique here is the denomination’s commingling of the ministerial and declarative authority of the church with the coercive power of the state. Applied to any other issue—take abortion, for example—such an allegiance would be decried. When it comes to guns, quite the opposite.

A Mission Confused

While all Christians agree that God’s Law prohibits murder. Not all agree on how this relates to owning and using firearms. Further, it insists on prescribing policy solutions and urges church members to become activists for them. These include the instruction to the Office of Public Witness to lobby for the following:

    • Limiting personal gun purchases to one per month
    • Requiring licensing, registration, and waiting period
    • Closing the “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks for all gun buyers
    • Banning semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing ammunition and .50 caliber sniper rifles
    • Raising the age for handgun purchase to twenty-one
    • Eliminating the Tiahrt Amendment
    • Requiring judges and law enforcement to remove guns from situations of domestic violence

Conclusion

Here the church has moved from the sphere of theological reflection and scriptural exposition into the realm of public policy advocacy. It has done so on the basis of a recent innovation in theology that posits the church as tasked with bringing the eschatological kingdom of God to reality here and now.

While the church does have a duty to connect the gospel to life, its first duty is to understand and teach this gospel. This duty does not extend to lobbying the government on issues that cannot be clearly linked with the essence of the Christian message. It is not the purpose of the church to move beyond the faithful proclamation of the Gospel and its application to all of life into the realm of playing public policy advocacy. Some of the suggestions found in this report may be prudent, but it is not the church’s business to make them.

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  • http://jjarchives.wordpress.com lwk2431

    You wrote:

    “Surely we can agree that gun violence is bad and that the church ought to instruct its members to obey the Sixth Commandment.”

    You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13, NIV

    The KJV version renders it as “Thou shalt not kill,” but modern scholarship has corrected that by changing “kill” to “murder.” You will also find “murder” used in the Jewish translations in English.

    The Israelites were not ordered “not to kill,” that makes no sense. You have to only read the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were not pacifists, and often with God’s apparent approval. David slew a giant with a sling shot with God’s blessing and approval.

    No, the law allowed an Israelite to kill under certain circumstances, for example, if someone broke into their house at night.

    So yes, we should obey the Sixth Commandment, but first we need to understand it.

    And you wrote:

    “Only since the early twentieth century has the mainline church embedded “the promotion of social righteousness” into its mission.”

    Do you think there might be some relationship to declining membership?

    lwk

    Assault Rifles
    http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/assault-rifles/

  • J S Lang

    An “idolatry” of guns? Why stop there? The average American has a closetful of clothes, so why not preach on the “idolatry” of cotton and polyester? Biblically, I bet I could make a better case for spending less time and money on our personal appearance than I could for owning one or two guns to use for a family’s self-defense.

  • http://contextintn.wordpress.com/ dover1952

    Gotcha. All have sinned. Get right with Jesus through repentance/acceptance of grace so God will not kick the crap out of you (because he loves you). Then get busy telling everyone there is a way they too can avoid getting kicked. That is quite a gospel you have there, except that it requires ignoring 99 percent of the rest of the Bible as if none of it really matters—which is the great failing and will be the ultimate demise of Christian fundamentalism and conservatie evangelicalism. That one percent is fine—but you ought not to let the other 99 percent to go undone as if Jesus “didn’t really mean all that mooshy stuff.”

    But hey guys—on guns. I have been watching the debate very closely on all sides and have a proposal that I have not seen anyone mention—not at all. I think it might be acceptable to the NRA because it preserves the right to bear arms (even the real assault weapons that are now banned). Democrats and Republicans could probably agree on it because it emphasizes personal responsibility and would save many lives. Best of all, it would not cost an arm and a leg for a big, new, expensive federal program. Thou shalt not laws hardly ever cost an arm and a leg. It depends on motivation through fear—but so do laws against murder and the death penalty.

    If I had a dime for every story I have ever read about a toddler pulling daddy’s handgun down from a table next to the bed and accidentally killing herself, I could afford movie popcorn. You will also note that the Newtown guns were actually owned by momma—not the creep that did the shooting. Granted—real tough guy criminals like gang lords will always find a way to get a gun—no matter what we do. However, the mentally ill and non-gun-saavy kids seem to be a huge chunk of the problem with guns and death lately. We could save a lot of lives simply by addressing the issue solely in response to them.

    Everyone appreciates a responsible gun owner. I know that I do. The problem is that a great many people are just not responsible gun owners. They are lax, casual, mindless, goofus gun owners. My own father-in-law was one showing off his new hunting rifle in the back bedroom, completely unmindful of the fact that members of his family were in other rooms in the house. The rifle accidentally discharged and sent a bullet through three interior house walls and out of the pine paneling around the fireplace—where people usually were siting or standing and talking. Luckily, no one was in the bullets path that day, but on normal weekend days, those rooms would have been filled with people.

    My brother-in-law shot off his own kneecap with a hunting rifle while in a semi-lying position. He was bracing the barrel on his knee while aiming through the lensed scope—and did not notice that the end of the barrel had slipped down to behind his knee. Kaboom!!!! Off went the kneecap.

    While going out on hunting trips or talking with people holding loaded guns, I have noticed one thing. The barrels of the guns are always casually and carelessly pointed straight at me and waving around in front of me—and no—the safeties are not on. I slowly move to the side to get out of their path, and the guns move again slwoly back to me while the people casually talk and cackle with no idea in the world about the possibility of an accidental discharge into their daughters stomach. This is the reality here in Tennessee in the realm of my own personal experience. In a recent movie, Mark Wahlberg referred to Tennessee as the “State of Shootin’ Stuff.” I hear a lot about responsible gun owners, but I think part of the problem is that we have no consistent definition of what precisley constitutes and defines the term “responsible gun owner.” The memebrs of my family are not. They treat loaded guns as if they are a cell phone, cigarette, or a can of Coca-Cola. The word “safety” is nowhere to be found in their noggins—best I can tell.

    So here is my proposal:

    1) All gun owners shall be required to ensure that the guns they own or have in their possession are so secured on their person, under their direct eye-line watch, or by whatever other effective means (e.g., combination lock in a gun safe with the combination known only to the specific adult gun owner) that no child or other person may gain access to their guns. If any gun owner fails to exercise due diligence in this regard, and one or more of his guns results in the accidental death of a child or is used in the commission of a crime, the gun owner shall be subject to imprisonment for not less than 25 years and with no chance of parole.

    2) Any person who accidentally shoots and/or kills another person through unsafe handling or mishandling of a gun shall be subject to imprisonment for not less than 25 years and with no chance of parole.

    It is true. Guns do not kill people. People kill people—more often than not by just doing stupid stuff when they should be more mindful and better watchful with what they are doing. Conservatives all across America are always hoisting up the flag of “personal responsibility.” Great!!! Be personally responsible. If you are serious about that responsibility, put it in the law and make the penalty so grave that no gun owner would dare treat his guns in a lax or unsafe manner. If the coprolite-headed mom in Newtown had secured her guns better from her mentally ill son (and she should have known that he was a dangerous nutcase) she might be alive today and so would those kids.

    Put this into effect and you can own a Javelin missile launcher at your house for all I I care. Want your own “really for real and fully automatic AK-47″ from North Korea? Fine by me as long as the above laws are in place and you are taking them seriously.

    • Jeremy Baines

      Since there are so many instances of a toddlers accidentally killing themselves or others with daddy’s gun, please cite some of those for us – as in “hard data,” news websites that you can provide links to.

      Your suggestions for taking away people’s Constitutional rights are silly. A gun locked up under a combination lock is the same as no gun at all. When a burglar comes in the house, telling him to wait while you try to remember the combination isn’t going to work out too well. My father owned several guns, all loaded, never locked away. Amazingly, my siblings and I weren’t stupid enough to treat the guns as toys to play with. Here’s some info that will shock you: you can own guns and still love your children.

      Nothing personal, but having two very dramatic gun misfire anecdotes in your own family is a bit hard to swallow. Even if they were true, don’t assume that all gun owners are that careless. And, btw, if you think that every time you see a gun it is pointed directly at you, that would fit the definition of “paranoia.” At gun shows hundreds of people walk around carrying loaded guns. Ever hear of any accidental shootings at those? Given the bias of the media, violence at a gun show would definitely make the news.

      I understand that you live in Tennessee and have this compulsion to distance yourself from other Southerners by taking the liberal side in politics and depicting Southerners as violent cretins. Message received. However, social policy shouldn’t be rooted in some insecure person’s fear of being thought Politically Incorrect. Not everyone shares your distaste for gun ownership, so be LIBERAL enough to allow other people their rights. And if your home ever gets burglarized, well, lucky you, you won’t have to remember the combination to the lock to the gun cabinet. If you survive the ordeal, you can tell us about how you valiantly put “turn the other cheek” into practice, allowing a criminal to go free and commit more crimes.

    • John S.

      Well, by that standard, we should apply the law to all products that can, and do, accidently cause death; motor vehicles, medications (the leading cause of accidental deaths-http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db81.pdf), cleaning materials, bath tubs, etc.

      This is still an attempt to control guns, not to protect people.

    • http://jjarchives.wordpress.com lwk2431

      You wrote:

      “If I had a dime for every story I have ever read about a toddler pulling daddy’s handgun down from a table next to the bed and accidentally killing herself, I could afford movie popcorn.”

      The old and well worn adage of the news business is, “if it bleeds, it leads.” So the incidence of news stories about toddlers dying in a gun accident only tells you the news really likes those stories. You might think of the news media as vampires, they live blood, especially young blood.

      For toddlers 0-4 years in age in 2000:

      All Automobile 900
      Drowning 450
      Fires, burns 400
      Suffocation by ingested object 100
      Firearms 20

      Maybe you ought to think about banning a lot things before guns, including Toy Meal toys?

      http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcgvacci.html

      Also, if you will research the subject you will find that accidents going downwards with gun ownership going upwards has been a trend for sometime (but don’t expect the media to tell you that).

      You wrote:

      “All gun owners shall be required to [secure their] guns”

      If you don’t then in most states you can face severe penalties in both criminal and civil courts.

      “Any person who accidentally shoots and/or kills another person through unsafe handling or mishandling of a gun shall be subject to imprisonment for not less than 25 years and with no chance of parole.”

      So, for example, if a police person accidentally shoots a bystander in a confrontation with a criminal he or she is treated very differently than your average person in the same situation. Just took a concealed carry course in Texas and the law there is very specific about criminal responsibility for accidentally shooting a bystander.

      You talk like people just normally get off the hook for accidental shootings. Maybe in the past, but I don’t think that is true today.

      In regards to Newtown, the police as far as I know have not released information about how the mom secured her weapons. Did she have a gun safe? Was it locked? Did her son – a bright kid so they say – just figure out where she hid the key? We don’t know a lot about that, or what psychotropic drugs he might have been prescribed.

      You want to know something? We don’t have gun problem in the U.S.

      We have a drug problem.

      In the inner cities thousands of young kids (mostly black and hispanic) are murdering each other in gangs and in selling street drugs.

      In the suburbs we have tons of kids being prescribed dangerous psychotropic drugs that may have some responsibility for these school murders.

      If we were to work to really solve the illegal drug trade and clamp down on the legal prescription drugs to young boys the gun problem would probably go away.

      lwk

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  • jfg

    What’s disturbing to me is the way the old mainline Protestant denominations have moved in lock step, almost as if on command, on the gun-control issue. I attended service at an American Baptist church this morning where a long ecumenical prayer for an “end to gun violence” was read aloud. The clear inference, later stated by the pastor (whom I greatly respect) was that a change in gun laws was an essential part of the “answer”. He did at least make clear that it was not the major part – that must depend on God’s grace entering the human heart. But one does get the disturbing impression that when Obama says “frog” the National Council of Churches denominations all jump.

    • J S Lang

      Christ instituted the church to change the world one soul at a time. The mainline churches have put aside that mandate and focused on changing society through legislation. If the churches focused on the original mandate, there would be less violence. You don’t hear of too many teenagers leaving a Bible study group and then shooting up a school.

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  • Donnie

    I’ve noticed the “idolatry” buzz word going around more and more. Funny how the religious left can’t come up with anything original. They just crib the same talking notes from each other.

    It’s especially ironic when the UMW and GBCS are idolizing abortion and using church member tithes to do so.

  • J.A. Mears

    As a member of the PC(USA), I was alarmed to see this headline. I need to clarify that this is a proposal, not fact, and that it is by the extreme fringe that — yes — continues to propose such nonsense and seemingly wear down the body until it finally goes along with the craziness or gets fed up and leaves for more conservative waters. As a conservative that is trying to remain faithful to the body to which I have made vows, I ask for prayers, and I remind readers that the loud crazy left is not the only part of the body which is the PC(USA) — or, dare I say, the mainline church of America today.

  • http://RealClearReligion Airborne All The Way

    Hi,

    I find it interesting that so much can be written without ever consulting the Scriptures.

    Luke 22:35-38 (NIV)
    35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

    “Nothing,” they answered.

    36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

    38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

    “That’s enough!” he replied.

    Thus, Jesus told his Apostles that they would need to defend themselves. In other parables he relates that a man can be prepared for a robber and defend his home. In my opinion, this commentary was more to sell a magazine than to explore an issue. A much better discussion is found in Polticis According to the Bible by Professor Grudem.

  • http://www.themadparson.com Todd Hester

    The PCUSA position on guns represents the same muddled progressive thinking that Karl Barth left and Dietrich Bonhoeffer decried.

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