Gun control becomes a faith debate in wake of Colorado shootings

Strong arguments are made on both sides of gun control debate

Published: Monday, July 23 2012 8:22 p.m. MDT

Strong arguments are made on both sides of the question, with some saying gun control is in harmony with Christian teachings, while others say violence is beyond our ability to control and the nature of a society that has abandoned God.

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In the wake of last week's tragic shooting deaths of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater by a lone gunman, the Internet has become populated with opinions on whether gun control is just a political issue or a religious one as well.

Strong arguments are made on both sides of the question, with some saying gun control is in harmony with Christian teachings, while others say violence is beyond our ability to control and the nature of a society that has abandoned God.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest, wrote in the American Magazine that gun control falls into the same category as abortion, euthanasia or the death penalty.

"All of these issues, at their heart, are about the sanctity of all human life, no matter who that person is, no matter at what stage of life that person is passing through, and no matter whether or not we think that the person is 'deserving' of life," Martin wrote.

He dismisses the argument, “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” as unconvincing, arguing that humans also make a choice to procure an abortion and carry out the death penalty. "The question is not so much how lives are ended, but how to make it more difficult to end lives."

In the Washington Post, Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and past president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, questioned what Americans trust in most to solve their problems: guns or God.

"Religion is about what you trust in an ultimate sense, and I believe staggering from gun massacre to gun massacre without changing gun laws reveals many Americans put their ultimate trust in weapons, not God," she wrote.

But Christians fear the political fallout of taking a stand for gun control, argues Christian writer Ellen Painter Dollar.

She contends the Bible can be murky on abortion and sexuality, "yet Christians consistently speak on these issues with certainty and passion. In contrast, Jesus was crystal clear on the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to violence, on whether arming ourselves with fists or swords or guns is the way to protect ourselves from fists and swords and guns."

Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, an evangelical publication, offered a countering opinion that "we are kidding ourselves if we think we have within our national grasp an educational or psychological or political solution to evil.

"There is no solution or explanation for evil. Evil is fundamentally irrational; it simply cannot be grasped by means of our intellectual categories. Evil is the very denial of rationality, because it is a rebellion against the Logos, the very principle of the good, the true, and the beautiful who created and sustains the universe."

Prominent Christians like Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee extended the blame for the shooting rampage beyond the shooter, James Holmes, to a sinful society.

“We don’t have a crime problem, or a gun problem, or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem,” Huckabee said. “And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools and communities, the military and public conversations, you know, we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.”

David Gibson at the Religion News Service synthesized the debate to "represent a classic theological divide: There are those who argue that human beings should not try to supplant God’s role with their own efforts to redeem the world, and others who argue that believers have a duty to protect the God-given gift of life and human dignity."

He said the dispute also illuminates the current realities of America’s political and religious life — there is little support for increased gun control despite the shootings in places of worship as well as movie theaters.

"No surprise then that in his remarks on the Colorado shooting, President Obama — who might be seen as a champion of the “religious left” — has resisted calls to mention gun control and instead counseled the nation to realize that 'such evil is senseless.’ ”

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