Calvin College Chimes

Letter to the Editor: Gun control

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I would like to respond to respond to an opinion piece published last week, “Response to the Florida Shooting.” Here are some questions and thoughts.

Mr. Veenstra, could you please explain your theology of the gun? You didn’t say it in your piece, but it seems clear that the Jesus of your imagination would not, on principle, be opposed to the gun. You argued for a change in the “hearts and minds of America” as the solution to the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. You backed this up by claiming that the main thrust of Jesus’ mission as it is presented in the gospels was bringing about this type of heart-change. Based on this model, you called your readers to “get out there and make disciples…so that hearts might turn to Christ so they will hesitate the next time they reach for a gun.”

Honestly, I am just plain confused by your hypothetical heart-change convert. In the most successful scenario you can imagine for a Christian response to gun violence, one who has undergone the Christ-sanctioned heart-change you describe (and prescribe) still reaches for the gun (that they still own for what reason, exactly?) but is sullied by some WWJD moment? Really? Is that the best possible witness of the Christian imagination? I hope not.

Let’s think this through. The everlasting creator God of the cosmos — who is said to have assumed a human existence as Jesus of Nazareth, who was subsequently murdered by his creatures/fellow human beings — would advocate a “thoughts and prayers” response to the murder of 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla.? The God of life, who is said to have defeated death in the person of Jesus Christ, would now recommend a sanitized, passive response to that great enemy?

Death is contrary to God, as it is the final corruption and destruction of life. Christ, as told in the gospels, grieved and raged against death. It seems abundantly clear that Jesus of Nazareth stood in staunch opposition to death. He is not said to have only prayed for the distorted, death-oriented systems operating around him. He is not reported to have just gone out to make disciples in order that they might have a change of heart. In the gospels, the anti-death belief of Jesus is illustrated in actions, all of which are oriented toward flourishing. He flips the tables of the temple-swindlers, restores those exiled by their communities, invites the reviled to his table and raises his pal Lazarus from the dead. The Jesus depicted in the gospels is a man who inverts, or “first-to-lasts,” the pro-death, anti-flourishing structures operating around him. Mr. Veenstra, do you really want to claim Jesus of Nazareth as the ideal of your heart-change model of response to the epidemic of mass shootings in America? I’m not sure that you do.

It seems to me that Jesus’ whole project in the gospels is a mission against death and its correlates — violence, oppression, hatred — which limit or eliminate the flourishing of life. The gun, on the other hand, is a machine of death. Although some may enjoy the gun recreationally, its intended purpose, as far as I can see, is to extinguish the flourishing of life. The gun is used to kill animals for various reasons. The gun is used in combat. The gun is carried secretly by those who feel that their hypothetical safety justifies the recourse of killing another person whom they deem a threat. The gun is carried into schools, movie theaters and churches, where it is used to commit the mass murders of innocent persons that have become commonplace news in America. It seems nonsensical to deny that the gun is a death-machine. Even if the gun itself is not the entire issue, as you argue, it is symptomatic and unprecedentedly amenable to the infectious disease of death.

My question, Mr. Veenstra: Why not go beyond prayer and vague efforts of discipleship? Why not pointedly decry, or at least be willing to talk about, this machine of death known as the gun, given the profound anti-death witness of Jesus in the gospels? Since the argument you presented was theological, I again ask the question with which I began this response: What is your theology of the gun, since your theology is not anti-gun, and thus not resolutely anti-death?

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