“All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
I prefer to write these columns about our scriptures for the day. But that doesn’t seem possible this week. As we peacefully worshipped God at St. Dunstan’s last Sunday at 11 a.m., an armed man entered another church full of people trying to do the same thing, and slaughtered 26 people and injured many more.
Christians rightly ask what we can do to prevent more of this carnage. Each case is different, but there is a common thread of readily-available firearms meant only for the fast slaughter of human beings. Politicians may try to deny that guns are the problem, but I insist they are part of the problem – a big part. This is demonstrated by the fact that societies with fewer guns have far fewer such incidents.
Jesus was really clear about violence being a dead-end (pun intended). If we choose to live by violence, we can expect to die by violence too. Jesus was in mortal danger when he told his disciples to put down their weapons (Matthew 25:50-56). It was a moment when violence might have seen most justified – self-defense! Yet Jesus refuses that path: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
I personally have never wanted to have or carry a firearm. My father, who captained an artillery unit in World War II, wanted no part of guns in later life. My friends who have guns to hunt have no desire to have rapid-fire assault weapons. So why should they be so available? Why do people want them?
My best guess is that it is a desire to control others, to have power over other people, to feel powerful when the world can make us feel impotent. Desiring that kind of power over others is a form of pride, I believe – the opposite of the humility taught and modeled by Jesus.
Human civilization has developed with many protections of our individual rights – Americans have our Bill of Rights to prevent undue loss of personal freedoms, privacy, and safety. We have consigned to the state the power, when warranted, to take property, deny liberty through incarceration, or take human life (through war or capital punishment…that’s another issue…). The state is designed to provide due process before these rights are abrogated (although that process is certainly imperfect). For one human being to arrogate the power physically to harm or kill another human being strikes me as prideful and alarming for all.
I realize how contentious the gun safety issue is in our country. Our bishop has made it one of the main issues she speaks about. It’s past time to join that conversation and look honestly at America’s strange relationship with guns. JBM