Guns and the American Church

Tim Wright sends me an interesting story of a Baptist church in Oklahoma City that promised to give away a $800 semi-automatic assault rifle to a lucky teenager who attended their youth event. Really. I can think of ways to grow a youth group that are far better and will probably not backfire.

Gun-1I never did understand Americans’ fascination with guns. As a kid growing up in New Zealand, I was told on good authority (my friend Paul) that all Americans were going to hell because they were violent and carried guns. All except one Christian who came to speak at a NZ youth camp and apparently was going to heaven. Funny how the only American he thought wasn’t going to hell was the same one he had met.

My theology changed as I got older and met more Americans who did not fit the description. Heck – I even married one and lived in USA for ten years. Our kids are all American. And I can say on good authority that there is more than one American who is not going to hell. But the gun thing still amuses me. Its a religious debate, actually. I was reading a book on the Scottish civil war and the dissenting Presbyterians in Scotland, whom were forbidden to have guns at their outdoor religious services which was a bummer because some of them were getting shot at by British soldiers under orders by the ecclesiastical hierarchies down south.

My daughter asked me about guns yesterday. And no, I have never owned one and don’t plan to. So I really don’t want to start a debate here, and neither do I want to start a list of blog comments about redneck youth groups and the GUN-RACKS in their buses. Plenty of righteous people have a rifle under their bed and plenty more don’t. But I do think its interesting to look at the history of why the early emerging church in USA in the 1600’s saw fit to include the right to bear arms as part of their ecclesiology.

Good resource for those who look on with bewilderment at American Christians and their beloved weapons is a PDF called “The Scottish and English Religious Roots of the American Right to Arms: Buchanan, Rutherford, Locke, Sidney, and the Duty to Overthrow Tyranny” by David B. Kopel


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Interesting PDF dude- and yeah i do “bear arms” – you can ask D about it… Actually when Phil and i were doing the 21 hour haul from NC to Austin, i had all the musical instruments as well as guns, 51 inch broad sword that phil gave me as a 1st Valentine’s Day, being married, present! – and a few other “protective gear”- in my car and…
    Phil had to put all the chemicals in our house, like cleaning products, oil, paint, ect. in his truck cuz the moving company that had all our furniture didn’t allow us to put that stuff in the “big moving truck” So, we jokingly referred to our truck and my car as the combo “chemical weapons” – tad funny prophetically as well.
    I’m not a huge gun advocate or anything, i just feel right about having them- if ever needing to deal with tyranny…. had a few huge prophetic dreams about 10 years ago about where some things are headed-
    Had to laugh on the “red neck” thing, cuz when i was growing up in NJ guns were always around, though not on a rack in the back of a pickup truck, and quite hush hushed- so when i moved to NC and now in Texas…. there is a striking difference with attitudes.
    as long as they are treated with respect IE: “treat all guns as if they are loaded!” i’m fine with them, and think they are needed .. more as a warning against tyranny.
    anyway, blessings dear…
    PS ya gotta see our house … huge fellowship area, derek is already dreaming about some things and we were joking the other night that if you saw it – you would already be assessing “how many people could crash there at one time”- so if your ears were burning on Sunday, we were talking about ya!
    xo cat

  • andrew says:

    thanks Cathryn. i look forward to seeing your house next time i am in Austin. I will be careful to knock before entering in case you think I am a burglar and go postal on me with your stash of ammo.

  • Kyle says:

    I was shocked recently when I read that a former church that I attended when I lived in the States (West Texas) was having a Daddy/Son day at the shooting range. A friend of mine (very happily) attended and posted pictures on his blog showing dads and sons shooting all types of guns at targets…some shaped like humans!

  • HA! Derek has a key. No worries- plus my dog Selah is a good alarm system! Oh that Gospel Road show thingy with Doug and Tony will be in town on Monday… so yeah, i gotta see this!
    xo cat

  • Rick says:

    Interesting article and I think pretty insightful. What most non-Americans don’t understand about Americans is that we have a deep historic apprehension about any centralized government. Governments by nature seek to concentrate and consolidate power and rights to themselves which can, and often has, let to tyranny. As stated, “Ensuring that government did not have all the weapons was one way in which a well-ordered society would preserve a proper balance of power.”
    Our governmental system is based on “checks and balances.” A well armed citizenry is one of those “checks and balances” (and deterrent). The ballot box and active involvement in the legislative process is the first and best way to ensure a fair and just government, but as stated in our Declarations of Independence, we have a right and duty to alter, abolish, or “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for [our] future security.”
    Now, should a Jesus follower rise up in armed revolt to protect their religious freedom? I think not.

  • becky says:

    Let’s also not forget that the second amendment was put into place at a time when the British military could enter anyone’s house whenever they pleased so people living in the colonies felt they had to ensure that their rights to form a militia against such tyrannical tactics. Yes, we have some issues involving police brutality and homeland security especially post 9/11. But given we have a military and police set up to protect us, perhaps we should visit the second amendment to see what portions are still applicable in the 21st century.
    Also, back then semi and fully automatic weaponry wasn’t used – I haven’t checked the gun laws in all states but I am aware that in most (if not all) instances, it is illegal to hunt with these weapons. So there is no reason to own said weapons. But try to reduce the sales of these highly dangerous guns (think how fewer people would be killed at Columbine and other massacres if a they were using say a single-shot shotgun) and the NRA lobbyists manage to squash the legislation.

  • reneegrace says:

    having married into an Alaskan family, I too look on in bewilderment sometimes! 🙂 One of the highlights of our last camping trip was shooting with the boys… my little ones! Though it didn’t bother me until my father-in-law wanted to buy my 6yr old son his own little rifle. yeah. I said no. I hope he at least starts with a pellet gun.

  • Happiness is a warm gun…said the Beatles. I grew up in the American South where guns are plentiful and I even survived being shot by a shotgun in a hunting mishap when I was 15. We Americans grow up in a gun culture which is often surreal (see Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine”) and hard to understand for non-U.S. citizens. I have taught all three of my sons gun safety and we love to target shoot. Call it a male bonding experience but there’s something wonderful about shooting a 2-liter plastic bottle full of water with a high-caliber rifle.

  • Growing up in western Canada, we had guns around, generally .22’s which were used for shooting pop cans. Later I came to enjoy shooting skeet (clay pigeons). We inherited the past time as on the farm, you had a .22 to shoot rodents like porcupines, skunks, badgers, and of course gophers. While some hunted for food, the gun was a tool.
    I don’t own a gun but my son and I have slingshots which are used at the lake to shoot stones in the water and at the dump to “hunt” any pop cans or paint cans that we see. It is the same kind of thing I did with my grandfathers but with a little less velocity.
    While I am not into the gun culture at all, where I come from it is a part of the family history, not self-defense.
    Of course that being said, I totally agree with your point about the rifle being given away to a kid. That seems a little irresponsible to say the least and gives far different impression than I would like to ever give about a church.

  • I’ve never thought about how the rest of the world looks upon our gun culture. Interesting comments. For better or for worse, they are part of the American experience, particularly if you live in the south. The second amendment has insured that there have always been lots of guns in this country, so to try to remove them is an impossible task.
    Where I live it is 45 minutes or more for the police to come if there is an incident, so every person in my neighborhood is armed. I don’t know anyone around me that does not own a gun. We do not have issues, which I believe is a function of this and the fact that we are a community and watch out for each other. More than once I’ve gone to a neighbor’s house with another neighbor to check on things when something didn’t seem right or they were out of town.

  • Dan McManus says:

    Becky’s naivety regarding guns and the second amendment is unfortunately, all too common. However, there is some valid research that has been done regarding various crime statistics and their relationship to guns that is available. The most familiar is a book by John Lott called, “More Gun, Less Crime.” Mr. Lott is a university professor and a statistician, who did the research, and printed his findings. Also of interest is the fact that, when other countries like Australia, Canada, and the UK totally banned guns, their violent crime rate went up dramatically. I wonder why that is? Perhaps its true what they say, that criminals prefer a “gun-free” environment; truly, they become the only ones with a gun. And did you notice what stopped the sick young man in Colorado from murdering many more people at the New Life Church last year? It was a private civilian with a concealed carry permit. And would anyone be surprised to know that gun control in this country began right after the civil war, as a way for whites to prevent blacks from owning guns…Not your government’s finest hour.
    Since it is unrealistic to think that just dialing 911 solves the problem (the police arrive to report the crime, almost always too late to prevent it), when did self-defense become unchristian? Or the defense of one’s neighbor? As Christians, we are supposed to believe in evil; why is it so hard to believe that it may be up to us to stop it? In Irvine CA., a schizophrenic goes off his medication, walks into a grocery store on a Sunday morning with a samurai sword hidden in his trench coat, pulls it out and starts hacking away at whoever he finds. The police are called, and 7 minutes later they arrive. (Do you know how much damage can be done with a samurai sword in 7 minutes?) The police shoot and kill the man. How much better it would have been is one or more of the shoppers had on them a simi-automatic pistol and had killed him 6.5 minutes sooner. It would have been the Christian thing to do. (“Shooting to wound” is a fantasy that only the uninitiated believe in…the police know it doesn’t work). And no, it’s not illegal to hunt with simi-automatic’s been done for years. And automatic weapons have been illegal for years. And the “gun free” campus of West Virginia was a perfect target for that nut to massacre those teachers and students because no one had a weapon with which to stop him. However, had that happened in Israel, he would have been killed almost immediately; why? Because Israel has one of the most heavily armed citizenry in the world, and they carry their guns with them at all times. And the murder rate in Israel is 1-20th the murder rate of Washington DC, a dramatically-smaller population. (DC has had the most restrictive gun control in the nation for 30 years, and in 29 of those 30 years, the murder rate has grown). The estimates are that between 800,000-2,300,000 crimes are prevented each year because someone had a gun; usually all that was necessary was to display it, and the criminal went elsewhere. Guns are not the problem; evil is. What stops evil? Whatever tool it takes. Guns in the hands of good people do save lives. Our Founding Fathers got it right; they understood human nature, as well as the nature of centralized government. Sheep, Christian or otherwise, still get preyed on by wolves. Always have, always will. Seems to me that the Christian thing to do is to say, “not on my watch…” and be prepared to back it up.

  • david says:

    “What stops evil? Whatever tool it takes.”
    That doesn’t sound like a message endorsed by the gospel writers. I mean, that was Peter’s intention, but Jesus was having none of it. Surely, Peter was not prohibited from wearing his sword. We should all keep our weapons as long as we feel we need them. But, ultimately, Jesus solution was not “whatever it takes” but deeply sacrificial love that says it is alright to die for your faith, but it is never alright to kill for it.

  • Dan says:

    I would content that “whatever it takes to stop evil” is exactly the gospel message. After all, Jesus said that he came to destroy the works of the enemy, and he in fact laid down his life to do just that, but no one took it from him. Peter’s problem was his confusion about what was taking place in the Garden that night. Jesus didn’t have a problem with Peter’s response, just his timing. Even more, the Father provided the perfect example of extreme sacrifice when he sent his son to die for this world; talk about “whatever it takes!” Sometimes the laying down of one’s life is the loving sacrifice required, but let me ask; is it alright to have your life taken, just because you happen to get in someone’s way, or because someone in the grip of evil chooses you as his/her next victim? Or let me say it another way; what if you had the opportunity to stop a rape/murder/violence from taking place, would “whatever it takes” be prohibited by the gospel writers then? Or is that only if it doesn’t make us uncomfortable or ask too much of us? Should the woman who shot and killed the would-be mass murderer who attacked the parishioners at New Life Church not have done so? Were her measures, and the tool she used, too extreem? Was she unloving? So why doesn’t “whatever it takes to destroy the works of the enemy” translate into the use of force to defend life? Or do we just stand by and watch because we are confused about God’s will? Where do you draw the line with “whatever it takes?”
    In 1964, Kitty Genevees was slowly knifed to death for over ½ hour behind her apartment complex while 38 people witnessed her murder. Not one of them so much as called the police. Not one of them challenged the murderer, confronted him, or forced him to stop. Where is the love of God in that? What would the Christian thing have been to do? And what if you asked the crazed manaic nicely to please stop and he refused? I submit that “any tool it takes” to stop evil is the appropriate righteous response, and if you don’t think so, you don’t know evil, nor do you hate it sufficiently. This argument isn’t about sacrificial dying out of love, or for one’s faith. It’s about being prepared to do whatever is necessary to destroy the works of the enemy, whenever and however it confronts you. A wise man once said, “an unarmed man can only flee from evil, and one does not vanquish evil by fleeing from it.” Our commission, as followers of Christ, is clearly to vanquish evil, and I would suggest, with whatever tool it takes

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