Ed Gaskin

God, Guns, Mass Shootings and Evangelicals

Image from Redeeming God,  If your Gospel isn’t leading you to live peacefully with others, you’ve got the wrong gospel
Photo from Redeeming God, If your Gospel isn’t leading you to live peacefully with others, you’ve got the wrong gospel

“Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 18:21

When I think of the number of people who die from gun violence and our country’s unwillingness to do something about it, I am reminded of this verse. Molek was a foreign deity who was at times illegitimately given a place in Israel’s worship because some apostate kings incorporated the practices of multiple faiths into early Judaism. The laws given to Moses by God expressly forbade the Jews to follow the religious practices of the Egyptians or the Canaanites, especially human sacrifice. Yet in the United States, far too many people worship an interpretation of the Second Amendment that would guarantee unrestricted gun ownership. It is a false god, an idol, that requires human sacrifice, the very thing God has instructed us not to do.

Firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children and teens

Many white Christian Nationalists believe that the Second Amendment was divinely inspired and that Second Amendment absolutism — the unrestricted right of individuals to keep and bear arms — is part of God’s covenant with America. The National Rifle Association has successfully turned a civic debate into a religious one by claiming a “God-given right” to own guns. As a statement of faith, it is not subject to logic and reason.

Bible Belt Christians, among other fundamentalist Christians, tie gun ownership to their identity. They’ve been raised with a gun culture alongside their Christianity, and they equate personal freedom with religious liberty. Christian Nationalists believe being Christian also means being white and owning guns. In their eyes, the Bible and the Second Amendment were both divinely inspired. This toxic brew of American gun culture and Christian Nationalism has led to the idolatry of gun worship, which requires human sacrifices that some are all too willing to make.

Some Christians believe their position is supported by both theology and the Bible. The theological argument reasons that in a fallen, sinful world, we need guns to protect ourselves and our families from evildoers. For Biblical backup, they point to verses supporting self-defense as well as to Luke 22:36-38, where Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword if they don’t have one:

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.”

Are evangelical Christians the problem? White evangelicals seem to have made America’s gun culture integral to their faith, unlike Christians in the rest of the world.

Political scientist Ryan Burge analyzed data from the 2020 Cooperative Election Study and found that two-thirds of white evangelicals own guns, as compared to one-quarter of mainline Protestants and Latter-day Saints, 17% of nonwhite evangelicals and atheists, 11% of Jews, and 9% of Muslims.

According to 2017 Pew Research Center data analyzed for Christianity Today:

  • 41% of white evangelicals own a gun, while only 30% of all Americans do.
  • 65% of white evangelicals who own a handgun carry it with them and view it as a safety precaution, as compared to 57% of gun owners overall.
  • 46% of white evangelicals believe most places should allow citizens to carry guns, compared to 35% of all gun owners.
  • A plurality of white evangelicals are satisfied with current gun policies.
  • Only 29% of Black Protestants own guns, even though two-thirds of them identify as evangelical.

Christians should rethink their unconditional love for unrestricted gun ownership. I would love to see Lay It Down succeed in its two-year national campaign urging American Christians to lay down 1 million firearms.

Frequently after a mass shooting, we lament that Democrats and Republicans can’t come together to pass stronger gun safety legislation. Unfortunately, the two groups have very different ideologies, making it impossible to reach agreement. Republicans are only interested in reducing gun violence if the legislation doesn’t restrict anyone’s ability to buy a gun on demand.

Here are a few examples of proposed laws and the arguments Republicans make against each:

  • People on the Terrorist Screening Center’s no-fly list should not be able to buy guns. Those opposed argue that some people have been put on the list by mistake, and therefore the law might infringe someone’s Second Amendment rights.
  • People charged with domestic violence should not be able to own guns. The opposition argues that people are often falsely accused, so the accused should have their day in court before any action is taken against them in terms of gun restrictions, even if they have already been violent or made death threats.
  • People seeking mental health treatment should not be allowed to own guns. The argument against this states that people who seek treatment have demonstrated that they are taking responsibility, and if we restrict them from gun ownership, it will deter others who need help from getting it. Additionally, the argument goes, we don’t know why people are getting help, and it might not have anything to do with their ability to responsibly own a gun. Finally, the argument notes, mental health counselors already have a responsibility to inform authorities if someone is a danger to themselves or others.
  • Assault weapons should be banned because there is no civil use for them.Opponents argue that some people enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from firing an assault weapon. Republican Senator John Thune says assault weapons are useful for ranchers who need to shoot prairie dogs.

A 1769 legal doctrine states, “the law holds that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” When it comes to gun safety, those supporting Second Amendment absolutism believe something similar: It is better that 10 innocent people die each day than that one American be denied the right to buy a gun. Until we recognize that worship of Second Amendment absolutism is equivalent to a demand for human sacrifice, we will not advance the gun safety debate. While there may be a Biblical basis for self-defense, there is no such basis to oppose the types of restrictions listed in the previous examples.

The Bible prohibits human sacrifices, yet our country continues to sacrifice human life to the gun idol. I don’t see how leading the world in mass shootings is consistent with a pro-life stance or sets a positive Christian example. I believe the assimilation of gun culture into white evangelical Christianity is not at all Biblical. Christians should be willing to accept some gun restrictions, even if they disagree with them, so that others may live. If the Biblical basis for gun rights is self-defense, must that right include the ability to own an assault rifle? Evangelical Christians must go from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

About the Author
Ed Gaskin attends Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Roxbury, Mass. He has co-taught a course with professor Dean Borman called, “Christianity and the Problem of Racism” to Evangelicals (think Trump followers) for over 25 years. Ed has an M. Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and graduated as a Martin Trust Fellow from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He has published several books on a range of topics and was a co-organizer of the first faith-based initiative on reducing gang violence at the National Press Club in Washington DC. In addition to leading a non-profit in one of the poorest communities in Boston, and serving on several non-profit advisory boards, Ed’s current focus is reducing the incidence of diet-related disease by developing food with little salt, fat or sugar and none of the top eight allergens. He does this as the founder of Sunday Celebrations, a consumer-packaged goods business that makes “Good for You” gourmet food.
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