MY PASTOR HAS GUTS. Some would say more guts than brains.
But those are generally folks who haven’t been agreeing with him during this controversial series of sermons called “Facing Issues that Divide – Building Bridges and Tearing Down Walls.”
He tackled four topics that pretty well split the congregation in half.
- Immigrants in the Bible
- Christian response to Islamic extremism
- Christianity and healthcare
- Christianity and guns
I wrote a couple of blog articles about the immigration topic:
I hope the pastor fared better than I did. I got my rear end handed back to me.
Basically I asked just one question: “What’s the Christian principle at work that says it’s okay to tell the six million Middle Eastern refugees ‘No, you are not welcome here’?”
For that, people who call themselves Christians called me everything but. I’m a hypocrite. I’m a traitor. I’m a corpse – I had to report that Christian to the FBI.
People get really upset when you don’t agree with them on certain topics. I mean REALLY upset.
The whole point of my pastor’s sermon series was to try to find some common ground. I’m not sure the pastor accomplished that. But he at least got people talking about the topics.
The gun control matter is especially pertinent to our congregation.
On the one hand we live in the state of Kansas, which allows any angry ex, former felon, or immigrated terrorist to go online and buy a gun from an individual selling it on one of the many websites. I believe that says something about the people in a state who would allow their representatives to get by with permitting loopholes like that. I’m not sure what it says. Perhaps that they’re afraid. Perhaps brainwashed by misinformation. Perhaps not paying attention.
On the other hand, a grandfather and his 14-year-old grandson from our own congregation were shot dead in the head (grandfather with a shotgun) while they sat in a car at the Jewish Community Center two years ago. The killer, Glenn Miller, a former leader of a white supremacist group, wrongly took them for Jews. They were there for an audition; the grandson was competing in a singing contest. I wrote about that when it happened: Hitler came to my Passover meal.
Miller was a felon. By law, he was not allowed to buy a gun. He found someone willing to buy one for him. The man who did that bought the shotgun at Walmart, signed federal forms saying he was buying the gun for himself. Then he sold it to Miller, who used it a few days later to kill the grandpa and his grandson, along with a Christian woman he thought was a Jew. He wanted to kill Jews, but he killed nothing but Christians.
His aim was as misdirected as his prejudice. Miller was convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection.
The man who sold him the gun worked out a plea bargain. Our pastor showed a video clip of his interview with Tony Corporon, son of the murdered grandfather. Tony told everyone what the plea bargain was: Two years of probation and $100 fine.
When he said that, I heard the congregation gasp – which is saying a lot since this is Kansas.
The point the pastor was trying to make is that both sides should be able to agree that there is room to do much more than simply enforce the laws on the books. There is room to strengthen those laws. This was an example that our congregation can certainly relate to.
I think some people feel that topics like this don’t belong in church or in a blog article by someone who covers the Bible beat.
The pastor defended his right to make gun control the topic of one of his sermons by pointing to Bible passages such as the one about Jesus telling one of his disciples, “Put away your sword… Those who use the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Passages like that are certainly appropriate. But I wonder if there’s a broader principle that we can apply not only to the topic of gun control, but to other controversial topics as well, such as immigration, helping fugitives, providing healthcare, and helping provide college education to people who could not otherwise afford it.
We look out for the little guy. The weak. The unprotected. The folks most at risk. It’s what God’s people do.
In Bible times, the people most at risk were orphans, widows, and strangers in the land. Those are the ones the Bible tells us over and over that we’re supposed to help and never mistreat: “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way….You must not exploit a widow or an orphan” (Exodus 22:21-22).
Today, there are lots of people in other categories who are most at risk. Among them, folks who find themselves at the wrong end of a gun.
I feel at risk in the state of Kansas, where just about anyone can be carrying a gun – without training or without even a permit as of July 1, 2015.
People enraged on the road now have more than a horn they can push. They have a trigger they can pull. And they do. Last summer a bicyclist, Jonathan Newcomb, got 59 months in prison for shooting out the left eye of a driver who made him mad. He was ordered to pay $19,600 in restitution, but only $1400 went to the victim. The rest went to the Kansas Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which helps pay families for unexpected costs resulting from violent crime – but apparently not so much the victim of this particular crime.
I don’t even feel safe walking my dog in the woods, knowing I can come across someone who is having a bad day and is carrying a gun. I actually have the habit of taking my hands out of my pockets when I approach someone who is walking toward me. I want them to know I don’t have a gun that I’m reaching for.
The idea that allowing everyone to have guns will make you feel safer – well, it doesn’t work for me. I feel safer when the only ones permitted to carry guns are the people identified in the Second Amendment as the “well regulated Militia,” which it seems to me is the military, the police, and the National Guard. Certainly not groups like those guys in Oregon.
Others interpret the Second Amendment differently than I do. But then I don’t even see the need for the Second Amendment now that we no longer live in the 1700s era of muskets, musket balls, and a ragtag army that no one could fully depend on. We have an armed, well-regulated, dependable militia, made up of the likes of us to defend the likes of us. It doesn’t seem safe to have people on bicycles packing guns. But that’s just me. However, I do ride bicycles. And I do carry a penknife.
As Christians, we might feel as though we have a right to hunt. And perhaps that’s true. But even more so, as the Bible teaches it, we have a right to protect people who far too often in this country find themselves at the wrong end of a gun. And we probably shouldn’t try to do it by providing them with guns of their own. Refer back to the quote from Jesus.
We might give some thought to finding another way.
Maybe that’s the first step we need to take in bridging the gap between the two sides of this particular issue – to acknowledge that there is a gap that people are falling into and getting shot as they drop.
For more about guns
- Q&A: Christians, guns & self-defense
- Christian checklist for after a mass shooting
- Where is God when bullets fly?
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Man oh man, Steve. If you think your blog on immigration generated a lot of hate mail, you’d better brace yourself now. Short of abortion, I don’t think there’s any more polarizing issue in America.
I admire you for speaking your heart. But I don’t envy you for the response you’re going to get.
God bless, my friend.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Steve. We got words. We might as well use them, I guess.
I wonder how much of the polarization is because of well-funded propaganda by folks who profit in great measure by the making and selling of guns. They keep preaching that it’s us against the government without seeming to understand that we are the government. Votes pick the representation.
The proper safe use of guns will never be a problem. Like so many things its a behavior, or people issue to me, not a gun issue. You sound a little paranoid. How can gun laws ever hinder the law breaker, they have no regard for the law.
Stephen M. Miller
Hi, Wally. Gun-control laws in other countries certainly seem to help keep gun violence down. For gun violence, the USA is in a category all by itself. “Paranoid” is a word a lot of people would use to describe not those who advocate better gun control, but to describe people who feel that everyone and his brother needs to be armed to protect themselves against criminals. One suggested law: require background checks on people buying even from private citizens. For another, if a person is on the no-fly list, don’t let them buy a gun until they can talk themselves off that would-be terrorist list. Kansas, which has put concealed guns in the hands of people without training or even a permit, is a less-safe place than it was before that reckless law was passed last summer. When someone gets angry, they now have a gun to express their anger. What a foolish law, and what foolish people who passed it. Someone needs to hit a reset button.