Faith and Gun Culture

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[Questions about gun culture] are spiritual questions for which the Christian Reformed Church should give guidance to its members.

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.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

You can follow him @shiaochong (Twitter) and @3dchristianity (Facebook).  

See comments (9)


If the editor wants an honest and open conversation about “gun culture”, he might start by not poisoning the well.  In his concluding paragraph, Chong poisons the well by fearing the likelihood of “resistance” to his ideas and positioning such resistance as indicative of idolatry.  In this way, any differing perspective can immediately and comfortably be dismissed as the fruit of idolatry.  I would suggest that deciphering idolatry in our own hearts is difficult enough, much less parsing the idolatry in the heart of our neighbor.

If Chong wants to avoid partisanship (which he professes is his desire), he might start with more specificity of what he wants theologically explored, as opposed to appealing to the partisan touchstone phrase "gun culture".  Framing the conversation that he wants in these terms is an explicitly partisan approach from the getgo.  Does Chong want us to study and consider pacifism?  Is this just about condemning a few careless or overzealous comments from celebrities? 

Chong says that he is not talking about "hunting culture or other appropriate gun ownership and uses."  That's all well and fine, but isn't the crux of the matter exactly what is "appropriate gun ownership and uses"?  Unless Chong is positing that use of firearms for defense of innocent human life is inappropriate, I'm not sure what uses of firearms he might be thinking of as not appropriate, besides violence against innocents.  Do we need a study to tell us that the use of firearms to unlawfully take or threaten life is wrong?  What are the categories of innapropriate use that Chong wants us to consider as part of "gun culture" that he wants studied?  If we already know those uses to be innapropriate, why would we need to study them?

Self defense is not predicated primarly (or at all some would argue) on just war theory, but on the sanctity and value of the life of an image bearer.  17th century reformed theologian Francis Turretin said it this way: "Second, defensive homicide is not forbidden when anyone, for the purpose of defending his own life against a violent and unjust aggressor (keeping within the limits of lawful protection), kills another. To be considered as lawful protection, it is necessary: (1) that the aggressor unjustly assails and falls upon us; (2) that the defender be placed beyond all blame, while every other way of escaping morally by speaking or flying or yielding is shut against him; (3) that the defense be made during the very attack and not after it is over; (4) that nothing is done by him either under the impulse of anger or with the feeling and desire of revenge, but with the sole intention of defending himself. The reason is clear. Although it is not lawful to return like for like and to avenge oneself, still to repel force by force and to defend oneself belongs to natural and perpetual right (especially where the aggression is simply violent and destitute of all public authority) even unto the slaying of the aggressor (although not intended by itself, but inasmuch as we cannot otherwise defend our lives and free ourselves from his unjust oppression). Nor do civil laws alone approve this, as is evident from the Codex to the Cornelian law and to the Aquilian law: “All laws and all rights allow the repelling of force by force” (cf. Corpus Iuris Civilis, I: Digesta 48.8 [“Ad legem Corneliam de sicariis”] [ed. P. Krueger, 1955], pp. 852–53 and ibid., 9.2.45 [“Ad legem Aquiliam”], p. 162). But God himself is found to have intimated this clearly in the law where a case of private defense is set forth from which a judgment can be formed concerning the practice of that law: “If a thief be found breaking up” (in the very act) “and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him” (Ex. 22:2). If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him if doubtless the slayer could discover that he had come only for the purpose of stealing and not of killing."

The Westminster Larger Catechism states it like this:

135A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defence thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labour, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behaviour; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succouring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent.

I'm not sure what particulars Chong thinks should be studied that have not been wrestled with throughout the history of the church. 

In criticizing Wayne LaPierre, the author show a basic misunderstanding of where our rights as US citizen are derived. Our rights come from our Creator, not men (or government), and the Founding Fathers understood this, as can be seen from their writings. The Constitution (as well as the Second Amendment) was ratified to secure our natural rights, and government was instituted to secure these rights.

The Wayne LaPierre and John Piper links are not functional.

Here is a thoughtful response to John Piper's questions:

The links have been fixed. Thank you for pointing them out to us.

I credit Chong for bringing up the topic for discussion.  Thank you!

The editorial, however, seems to propose a study committee to investigate and discuss the topic of gun culture...and then strongly implies the conclusions that the proposed study committee should reach.  Cart before the horse?

Eric Van Dyken's questions are much more useful.  Are we considering pacifism?  If we're trying to avoid partisan talking points, should we even use the term "gun culture," as that term is loaded and partisan in itself?  Is Chong really just proposing a committee to dertermine what types of guns are appropriate, who should be allowed to own them, and what they should be used for?  Are we looking for an official CRC condemnation of celebrities outside the CRC who inarticulately advocate for gun rights?

It is with great sadness I read the above editorial about a "gun culture" and the need for our churh/denomination to address it. If the church is not going to honestly deal with the issues of individual sin and broken community and failed government structures that create the enviroment of these tragedieshow can we possibly be the salt and light that the Gospel requires of us. By failing to reach out enough to people in trouble, by allowing government to be our hired compassion givers rather than doing it ourselves,by failing to recognize and oppose policies and politics that group , separate, and diminish people that are in these groups, by failing to end the genocide of abortion, we in the church have plenty to be blamed for, and to correct. Gun control law isn't one of them.     herb schreur

I hearily commend Editor Chong for "Faith and Gun Culture" and strongly support the proposal to form a study committee.  No other issue seems to have the potential of this one for societal and political divisiveness, and we'd better be theologically very clear-minded about it.

David W. Dykhouse
Franklin Lakes, N.J.

There is a saying (at least among lawyers): "you can't possibly find the right answers if you aren't asking the right questions."

In the case of this article, I'm not sure at all what the question even is that the author proposes be submitted to a study committee.  Put another way, were I on a committee tasked with studying "gun culture," I wouldn't know what it was that I was supposed to study or opine about.

How bright is 6?  Yes, not an understandable question and if it were given to a study committee, I'm sure some on the committee would offer an answer, but only after deciding what the question was, and that wouldn't be the question given them.

Perhaps the question posed by this author (and recommended to a study committee) isn't actually a question but rather an assertion (that is, a "rhetoric question"), even if the assertion is also difficult to precisely understand?

Faith and gun culture? Indeed, the time has come for the church to speak up to the inherent conflict between the Christian faith and gun culture. I am dismayed and frankly shocked by evangelical Christians who accept interpretations of the US constitution’s second amendment endowing gun rights with the potential (and realities) to destroy human life. At the same time, ironically, many fiercely protest abortion laws. If that is appropriate then we cannot stop there. Is right to life limited to before and up to birth? Since the Christian faith is wholly inclusive, are we not called to endorse and celebrate each and every life created by God from before birth to death? This is where the discussion gets very problematic, complex and uncomfortable. What does “right to life” mean in the Christian faith? Can we be pro-life and simultaneously actively endorse gun culture? How do actively trust God? What is the impact of Jesus’ charges to take in, stand up, and defend and protect those unable to do so for themselves? Does the US constitutions’ second amendment take precedence over God’s word? If not, how do we actively protest the oversights and exclusions that happen after birth? I want to know. I suggest re-examining the pro-life issue in the context and structures of the gun culture and biblical Christianity. Thank you, Shaio Chong, for the courage to extend this call to action by the CRC.