Saturday, February 9, 2013

Guns and the Gospel

The Pasadena Palm Sunday Peace Parade is organizing a gun buyback back campaign and is reaching out to the religious community to encourage them to contribute to a gun buyback fund that will “turn swords into plowshares.” (See  and

To us, it seems pretty obvious that Jesus, aka “the Prince of Peace,” wouldn’t be a big supporter of the Second Amendment nor would he favor the arms trade, drones, and other forms of violence. Yet not all Christians see guns as a problem, or as un-Christian. A recent Arkansas law (the so-called “Church Protection Act”) allows people to pack concealed pistols in churches. ( ) Some preachers are such ardent pro-gun advocates they preach this message from the pulpit. A gun-loving pastor in even asked his congregation to bring guns to church to celebrate July 4th. ( Christians have borne arms, served in the military, and on the police force. So what does the Gospel tell us about the right to bear arms?

Just prior to his entry into Jerusalem, a city Jesus knew would be hostile to his prophetic message, he surprises his disciples by telling them they must arm themselves, in apparent contradiction to what he said in the sermon on the mount: “Love your enemies.”

35 [Jesus] asked them [the eleven apostles], "When I sent you out without a purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"
They said, "No, not a thing."
36 He said to them, "But now the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled."
38 They [the disciples] said, "See, Lord, here are two swords."
"It is enough," he replied. (Luke 22:35-38, NRSV).

In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples to take up swords not to defend themselves (two swords would hardly have sufficed against the Roman legions), but to fulfill a scriptural prophesy. The Messiah would be counted among the lawless, and what do the lawless do? They carry swords.

Later the moment of testing comes in the garden of Gethsemane. In the dead of night Jesus is confronted with armed opponents, and Peter does what comes naturally: he uses his sword in self-defense, cutting off the ear of his assailant. Instead of praising Peter, Jesus reaches down and heals the wounded man. Then he utters his most famous condemnation of violence: “Those that live by the sword perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

This message transformed the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers. In the darkness of night Peter “stood his ground” and did what seemed perfectly natural, legal and even commendable: he defended his leader using a lethal weapon. But Jesus demonstrated a better way: non-violent resistance and healing. Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life rather than harm another.

Most of Jesus’ disciples followed this example, and all of the apostles were persecuted and killed. None resisted violently. They set an example of nonviolence that has been followed by peace-loving Christians ever since, from St Martin (the Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and refused to bear arms) to Martin Luther King.

 When Dr. King said “America was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” he was talking about the arms trade.  Today the United States sells over 70% of the armaments in the world and spends more on war than nearly all the rest of the world put together. Some of the arms we sell end up in the hands of our enemies, just as some legally purchased guns eventually end up in the hands of criminals. Many of the unpopular regimes we support with our weapons have populations that hate us for this reason. Most people resent the drones that fly over their homes and terrorize them, and some turn to terrorism in response. The international arms trade enriches the elites but doesn’t make average Americans any safer. Americans own more weapons than citizens in any other wealthy nations, yet we are the least safe.

Perhaps it is time to take seriously, and update, Jesus’ message. “Those who make a living from firearms will perish from firearms.” This is literally true. 30,000 Americans die each year due to firearms, twenty times more than in other rich countries. Our addiction to guns is literally killing us. It is time for us to follow the example and words of Jesus, and heal those who are deaf and blind to these realities.


  1. I've had the same thought Friend on the revision of Jesus' teaching about swords. I've thought about making a t-shirt with this on the back, and on the front it would say "I'm unarmed and not at all dangerous."

  2. Your interpretation of the passage on the sword makes sense to me. Thank you for sharing it, Friend.
    -Chris Wynn

  3. I don't understand your leap in logic from Jesus' comment that 2/12 being armed was 'enough', to saying that 2 swords was not enough to take on the Roman legions. Surely the point is that A) not all are called to be armed and fight to protect others and B) 2/12, or 17%, is a reasonable proportion of armorage. Thus follows the more logical queries, to wit, what if 17% of the adults at Aurora were armed instead of being targets in a gun free zone? What if 17% of the adults at VA Tech were armed instead of being targets in a gun free zone? I am haunted by these interrogatives. Having preached non-violence all my life, when I saw the pictures and stories of the theatre victims I wondered if God would really call me to sit there and do nothing while others are being killed. Going back to the literal source of the discussion, it would be much more difficult for any dominating political force to be effective if 17% of the adult subjects were armed. What do you reckon?

  4. I understand your concern that we not "do nothing" when faced with violence. Neither Jesus nor Gandhi nor any other advocate of nonviolence calls for passivity. They call instead for "nonviolent resistance" to evil. There is a rich literature, with many examples, of how one can counteract violence nonviolently and successfully. If you like, I can provide examples. Studies show that arming people seldom helps in situations where they are threatened by armed terrorists. Again, I can provide you with a video that shows this very convincingly. There are many cases of unarmed, nonviolent protesters resisting armed tyrants--take, for example, the women of Liberia who help oust the warloard Charles Taylor. But the message of Jesus goes beyond effectiveness. He says his disciples, "Those that live by the sword die by the sword." Jesus utterly renounces violence, even in self-defense. We may not agree with Jesus on this point, but he is very clear and I don't know how we can honestly say we are followers of Jesus and also of Mars (the God of War).