A Theology of Guns


Whether you love guns or hate them, I’m about to disappoint you. Guns are my assigned topic this week, but I can’t take a righteous stand for or against.

To the best of my recollection, I’ve held a gun twice. The first was a rifle for target practice somewhere in the woods of Pennsylvania. The second was a .357 Magnum I wore as part of a Halloween costume at a disco nightclub in south Texas. You read correctly. It was a long time ago, but it was bizarre even then.

I’ve never owned a gun or wanted to, and the never wanted to part is what prevents me from taking a stand. To explain, here is a passage from another recent post:

… if you’re looking around for sins to preach against, and the one you pick isn’t one you personally grapple with, then you are cheating. That’s just a clever way of not addressing your own moral failings. There’s a word for that, and it’s not Christian, it’s hypocrite.

In other words, I have plenty of sins, from cookies to carbon footprint to crankiness, but I’ve never been attached to guns, so I won’t claim unearned moral high ground to say you shouldn’t be either. I hope you’ll pay it forward.

Back to guns: According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the 2013 global average homicide rate was 6.2 per 100,000 population, and 41 percent of those homicides were committed with firearms. In the United States, more homicides were committed with firearms – 60 percent – but the overall homicide rate was slightly below average at 4.7 per 100,000. Our suicide rate – at 12.1 per 100,000 – is just above the global average of 11.4. As with homicides, firearm is the most common method of suicide in the United States. (In most countries it’s hanging).

So yes, Americans kill more with guns. But that doesn’t mean we kill more in total. Do we kill too much? Of course. Those are not numbers to be proud of. But it’s more complicated than too many guns, and hating people because of their feelings for or against guns won’t solve anything.

Buddha said, “Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease.”

Consider, though, that unless you’re going hunting, strapping on a gun before you leave home would seem to require a certain mindset: not necessarily malicious intent, but on some level, you must be thinking there are enemies out there, and you may run into trouble and need to shoot someone.

Jesus discouraged that: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Between that statement, the episode in which Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and the recollection that the only weapon he carried was the cross he died on, it sounds like Jesus would encourage us to take a bullet rather than fire one.


  1. Deborah, like our classmates, I genuinely appreciate your willingness to admit your ambiguity on the issue of guns while still providing a thoughtful, succinct analysis of the issue. Your final thought regarding where Jesus might stand on the issue was the conclusion that I, too, came to. I know thoughtful gun owners and gun “nuts,” yet I cannot reconcile the idolatry of the second amendment in this country (particularly by the Christian Right) with Jesus’s own words and actions.


  2. Wow. I thank you for this. Your honest ambivalence and self-disclosure is a delight, and reminding your readers of your comment about hypocrisy is a powerful entry point for participating in a complicated conversation. You honor the complicated nature of the issue, you honor your faith posture and your social location in relationship to guns. You honor the reality that you can’t speak into the issue as one for whom it is a stronger “pull.” You also honor and lift up a path of peace, of nonviolence, of choosing hope over fear. This post will stick with me, and I intend to share it on my social media pages.


  3. Hi Deborah
    Another thoughtful commentary. I agree with you as I too am ambiguous. I do own a gun. My father owned a gun when I was growing up because he feared white christians wearing white sheets might come crashing through our front door to hurt his family. I own a gun because I live in the city and I fear a thief or the police might come through my door to harm me or my family. And as my father taught me how to shoot when I was young, I too have taught my children gun safety and how to shoot. But pain and death sadden me and the loss of any life would cause deep pain in my spirit. Sadly the world I live in does not demonstrate any safety or protection for those who look like me. I am on my own in America. And so, the reality of the world I live in requires me to establish my own safety parameters. Bu I still believe that God loves me just as I am! And while our realities may often separate us, they can also be used to bring us together, through understanding and JC’s example of love. That is the challenge. Very thought-provoking post. Thanks.


  4. Yet another thoughtful post which made me think. I’ve never been surrounded by guns but I did own one for a short time. A friend of mine borrowed it and the results were almost tragic. I’ve never owned one since.

    I think my biggest issue with guns is when they fall in the hands of children or someone who shouldn’t own one. The fact that it is so difficult to have a rational conversation about guns is scary in and of itself. And yet I am trying to understand the threat posed to gun owners by adopting rational gun control laws. I’m not interested in taking anyone’s guns away but I do think too many people have them that shouldn’t and that there are too many loopholes that make it easy.


  5. Thank you for this well-considered post. I too have ambivalent feelings on this topic. I do not hunt or live in an unsafe neighborhood, so I’ve never had cause to even hold a gun. But I preach and teach in a rural village where guns are simply a given, ‘handed down’ from father to son. They are simply part of the culture. This viewpoint continues to inform my own stance, making it far more nuanced than it would otherwise be.

    When I researched the topic, I did find a high statistical correlation between gun ownership and the likelihood of being wounded or killed by one. As far as I can tell, that is a solid correlation that I believe people should consider.

    That said, if your hobby is fishing you need a rod and reel. If you hunt, you need a bow or a gun. If you live in a neighborhood that is terribly unsafe, you might need a gun for personal protection. But I simply can’t imagine any use or need for an assault rifle, except in warfare. So that’s where I draw the line.
    That, and the sanctuary of my own church. No guns in church. That’s why it’s called “sanctuary.” That too is a part of our culture. I guess if it comes to that, you’re right – I’d rather take a bullet in a place of sanctuary than fire one – but that’s me. Others make different choices.

    I talked to a friend who is not a hunter or in need of a gun for protection, but who took a gun safety class to see “what the fuss was about.” One of the things that was stressed there, was that if you own a gun for personal protection, you need to constantly practice using it on a firing range. Otherwise, you risk wounding yourself or introducing more harm than good in a potentially dangerous situation. It’s not like riding a bike – you do forget things. It’s more like flying an airplane – once certified, you need to constantly keep your skills up. The permit does not confer skills.

    That fact, as well as stories from people who have actually killed a home intruder and lived with the terrible consequences, persuaded me that for most people it’s just not safe to have a gun tucked away in a drawer “just in case.”

    So I agree with you – there are many ambiguities.

    Jesus’ words address a culture very different in that way than our own, but they still stand as a marker on the road we, as Christians, are all traveling together. Some of us will open-carry, some of us will concealed-carry, and some of us will intentionally walk in vulnerability. But we should at least be able to talk about why we do what we do!

    Thanks for a most thought-provoking post. So glad you refrained from demonizing! Very refreshing.


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