After the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting, someone asked me, “Is it time for the Christian Reformed Church to have an official position on gun control?” After researching, reflecting, and praying about that question, I think what we need instead is an official position on gun culture. By gun culture, I am not thinking of hunting culture or other appropriate gun ownership and uses.
Even though people also need to wrestle with the hard questions on gun violence, I think it is more urgent for the church to decide whether the North American gun culture is compatible with or opposed to our calling as Christ-followers. That is a spiritual question the church is equipped to answer—and should answer. Only when our moral compass is properly calibrated by that answer can we navigate policy debates about gun control as Christ-followers rather than as political partisans.
I am in favor of an overture to form a study committee to outline and explore gun culture—with “culture” defined as a social group’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors—from a biblical and Reformed perspective. I hope, however, that such a study would avoid politically partisan positions and talking points.
I certainly hope such a study would explore whether the gun culture in North America harbors any idols that Christians must reject. It should analyze the ethical effects on society and on Christians. And it should answer, in light of Jesus’ teachings and example, our confessions, church history, and Reformed thought, the question of whether Reformed Christians should transform or reject this gun culture.
Here are some examples of gun culture. When National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre argues that the constitutional right to bear arms “is not bestowed by man, but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright,” it sounds like a belief. When Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., encourages students to carry guns in order to teach terrorists or shooters “a lesson” if they ever show up on campus, it shows an attitude and behavior. I hope the study committee can help us definitively answer John Piper’s question: “The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, ‘I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me’?” And how does this gun culture align with the fruit of the Spirit, which includes love, peace, patience, and gentleness? (Gal. 5:22-23).
Do our Reformed confessions shed light on this? Or lessons from the early church? And have we properly understood Christian just war theory, in both its principles for just causes for violence and just means of carrying out violence? Can we apply its principles for relations among nations to interpersonal self-defense? What can we learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe, many of whom are willing to suffer and risk their lives for love of God and neighbor?
These are spiritual questions for which the Christian Reformed Church should give guidance to its members. I fear that such an overture may face resistance. But if we cannot even explore these questions, then we have clearly been infected by idolatry.