Saturday, June 27, 2009

Guns and Jesus

According to the New York Times, the pastor of a church in Louisville, Kentucky, has asked his congregation to bring their guns to church as an "open carry celebration" of "our rights as Americans!”

The pastor, Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church, is quoted as saying that "I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist."

Whether followers of the teachings of Jesus must be pacifists is a good question, but is not the question I want to address today. The question that concerns me today is whether a true Christian should allow his love of his guns to interfere or compete with his love for God, or his love for his fellow man.

The second of the 10 Commandments is that "You shall not makes for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (Exodus 20:4-5)

The principle that we should not be attached to physical objects or other worldly things also appears frequently in the teachings of Jesus. Consider these few examples from the "Sermon on the Mount" as reported in the gospel of Matthew: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (6:19), "You cannot serve God and wealth" (6:24), and "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear" (6:25). And also consider Jesus's advice to the young man in Matt. 19:16-22, which was that he should "sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." The young man "went away grieving, for he had many possessions."

I believe that God wants us to enjoy our lives, and enjoy the physical world, including our possessions. But our possessions must be tools to an end, and not an end in themselves. We use a tool as long as it serves us, and lay it aside when it does not. Our possessions should be tools we use to enjoy our lives, but should not control our lives.

So someone who enjoys wordworking can take some pleasure in owning good woodworking tools, and someone who enjoys target shooting can take some pleasure in owning a good gun. But only some pleasure. If we take too much pleasure from our tools and cannot put them aside, or if we worry about our tools, then we are addicted to the tools or are worshipping the tools.

Even if we are not commanded to shun tools of violence, we are nevertheless commanded to be indifferent to them, and to treat them as any other tool. We should not celebrate a "bring your gun to church day" any more than we should celebrate a "bring your chisel to church day" or even a "bring your iPod to church day."

But Pastor Pagano is not indifferent to guns, but (according to the Times) "passionate." He responds to critics of guns in churches with passion, describing the issue as "a crusade."

And so my concern about Pastor Pagano is not that he owns guns or enjoys shooting guns, but that he loves his guns, and that his love for his guns is distracting him from more important matters of faith. My concern is not about pacifism, but idolatry.

No comments: