What I am about to say isn’t a political statement about gun control. It’s not an endorsement or a condemnation of any policy being put forth by legislators. (Though, like practically everyone else, I have very strong opinions about it.)
This is my personal explanation and reply to those who have been telling me to “arm myself”.
The first exhortation to do so came several months ago when I confided to a colleague the heartache I felt when, in the midst of some pretty heated conflict in my worshiping community, my dog suddenly died of antifreeze poisoning. I have no doubt in my mind that the antifreeze poisoning was purely accidental–Omar was the type of dog that would sample anything he thought might be tasty, even if it was smeared all over the street. But my colleague was concerned for me and, with a serious expression on her face, said: You need to get your concealed carry permit.
Then came the white-supremacy linked church shooting in North Carolina. And with it came the exhortation to arm myself. This time so that I could protect my flock.
And most recently, the spate of terrorist attacks around the world and in Colorado and California have lead several of my friends and family members to give me the same advice: Arm yourself.
My short answer to that is: Heck no!
My long answer:
First, I need to clarify (though most of my readers already know this) that I am a Full Elder in The United Methodist Church. To those who aren’t familiar with the denominational lingo, I am an ordained minister–a devout Christian who has answered a calling from God to serve God’s people through a special path in life dedicated to Word (preaching and teaching scripture), Sacrament (Holy Communion and Baptism), Order (administration and preparing the church for mission) and Service (caring for the flock and leading people to Christ).
This was not an overnight decision. I struggled with my calling into the ministry for years–and even after accepting it I spent years discerning and preparing for it. The United Methodist Church is notorious among seminarians for its long process–taking a decade or more to reach the end goal. But when you’ve set aside that much of your life to prepare, discern, and be trained for a life in the ministry, following God is not something we take lightly.
It’s important to note that Jesus lived in a time just as (maybe even more) tumultuous than ours. Terrorism was something his people dealt with, too. Maybe he didn’t have to fear home made pipe bombs and planes being flown into buildings or assault rifles–but the violence was real in his day. And the Roman empire didn’t take kindly to the insurrections and rebellions… many innocent Jews died horrible deaths for no other reason than they were sort of associated with a known rebel.
But Jesus didn’t arm himself.
He even famously told Peter, who did draw a sword at one point, that “those who live by the sword die by the sword.”
Jesus’ dedication to peace was a major component to the meaning of his sacrifice for us. If there was ever a person who reserved the right to judge whether another human should live or die, it was Jesus… and yet he didn’t strike anyone down. He didn’t lift a weapon. He didn’t arm himself for earthly war.
And that is the example I am to follow.
If I were to respond to the harsh reality of this world by changing my values or forgetting the example that Christ set, the one I strive to live into everyday, then the terrorists have already won.
Because that’s what terrorists want–they want to change the world by force into their image and they want us to surrender the things that matter to us and make us who we are.
If fear drove me to arm myself and to forget that I have been called to a life in imitation of a peaceful man then I have already surrendered to those earthly forces and evils.
Now, I am the first to admit that I don’t want to die. I am thirty-eight years old… still pretty young. Way to young to be dying. And, if I’m honest, I’m a tad bit afraid of dying. Especially at the hands of a terrorist. I don’t ever want to know what it feels like to have bullets tearing through my flesh. I don’t want to know what it feels like to have shrapnel slam into my body.
But my faith in Christ tells me that there is nothing in this world or the next to fear–that the penalty for my sins has already been forgiven and that I can rest assured that I will be able to stand before God. Thanks to Jesus and his endless grace, I already have life eternal.
So, yeah–dying a painful death is sort of scary, and I don’t want it… but I know that no matter what may come I have the comfort of eternity in God’s presence and that gives me peace of mind. It gives me strength. And it gives me hope.
Knowing that I have eternal life brings me back full circle to this life and what may come in this world. Maybe–just maybe–the senseless violence that exploded at the finish line in Boston, that stormed a women’s health clinic in Colorado, that burst into an employee award celebration in California will touch my life.
I can live in fear of that possibility. I can sacrifice the peace I’ve received by God. I can shrug off the assurance I have of eternal life thanks to Jesus, and I can arm myself to protect this flesh and blood.
Maybe in the heat of the moment this woman who was never able to squeeze the trigger when her father took her squirrel hunting will be able to take another human life in order to preserve her own… but I’d rather take my chances and cling to my values.
And if it ever comes down to it–I am daily preparing myself through prayer, through scripture, through worship and devotion to die as a martyr to peace rather than live a slave to fear.