I watched the news sadly earlier this month, as did so many others, as we once again saw the images of young people running from the scene and weeping families after yet another mass shooting. As the usual political debate ensued, I could not help but see a failure of the American church to act as the counter-cultural agent it is meant to be.
In the case of this shooting, the battle lines have long been drawn, and the arguments from either side have become standard talking points.
On one side, gun control laws are offered as the solution to keeping weapons out of the hands of those who would commit these horrendous crimes, often against children and those with no ability to protect themselves. Surely human lives are more important than the right to own something so dangerous as a gun? They point to the fact that the guns often allow a lone individual to go from harming a few people to quickly injuring or killing dozens.
On the other side, gun rights advocates point to the 2nd amendment as a fundamental constitutional right and the vast majority of gun owners who do not commit such crimes or harm anyone. They will also suggest that the true failure here is with how we address mental health, and that almost all of these cases involve guns that would have been obtained even under the strictest proposed gun control laws. They will finally point out that criminals care no more about gun laws than any other laws, and to the impractical nature of taking every gun out there.
I mention all these arguments not to engage in that debate, but because examined in a broader context they expose one challenge of political responses to our problems: hypocrisy. If you took the same underlying themes of these arguments but applied them to different issues—drugs or abortion, for example—you’d find that many people using the exact same arguments they discredit when talking about gun control.
Our belief in the power of our rational thinking often allows us to decide our answers first and come up with the justifications later, while fully maintaining that it’s the other way around. No one is immune to it, but we fear that to honestly and openly admit it might undermine our own certainty and authority.
I think that God’s answer to this dilemma is largely found in humility. We were made with reason and intellect to use to the best of our ability. Christians should be using their brains to try to propose solutions and build a better world—but we should do it with the humility to know that our reason is not perfect.
The greater danger I see for Christians in these policy debates is that we can miss the bigger picture and fail to address the great cultural failures.
Examine the statistics and one thing is strikingly clear: The United States is and has been a violent country. The level of violent crime in America is astounding relative to similarly developed nations; nations with rule of law; nations with our level of wealth and prosperity.
At every level and part of our culture, we are far too often a ‘shoot first’ country. From the treatment of Native Americans to the abuses of slavery and Jim Crow, our nation has a sad history of institutional violence that we see daily played out at a personal level with each police shooting, each mass killing, and in many other ways. We see it in the cavalier discussion of ‘fetal tissue’ in recent Planned Parenthood videos.
Even the best of laws will not change hearts—only the gospel can do that. Hearts are changed person by person, when God’s people are acting as the salt and light of his word with their neighbors, friends, and even their enemies.