Standardizing the Narrative of Violence

liberty-university-gun-range. There's no violence here, I can assure you.
Real Liberty students, real guns! What could be better?

So Liberty University will let students pack heat on campus. As ‘The Blaze’ reports:

“As Liberty built more residence halls, our residents were having to park further from their rooms,” David Corry, Liberty’s general counsel, told Yahoo, adding that students said they “would feel safer if they didn’t have to leave their weapons locked in their glove compartments when walking from their cars to the residence halls, especially at night.”

It makes perfect sense that fundie students should pack heat, especially if they feel less than safe in the dark. The Washington Post adds:

Falwell said that one of the reasons for the university’s aggressive posture on carrying firearms is so that the campus will be prepared in the event of an “active shooter” scenario.

Thinking This Through

A shot rings out and twenty people simultaneously draw a sidearm, how do you know who was the original shooter? Maybe the first shooter a good guy who meant to stop someone [s]he thought was a real mass shooter. It seems to me that the split-second outcome such situations depends on whatever heat-packing person in the vicinity is least stable.

However ‘safe’ this makes some feel, I’d not want my daughter or son there. Still, Falwell reports strong support for LU’s Second Amendment direction. If this seems weird, remember that this is Liberty University.

Colloquial Translations

Others have their thoughts on allowing guns on campus and in residents. this also. These may or may not reflect student attitudes:

liberty-university-dead-end-shooting-range

liberty-university-locked-and-loaded-shooting-range

liberty-university-place-your-bet-shooting-range

Liberty’s Counter-Kingdom Perspective

Mr. Falwell may see himself as an informed expert on Islamic terrorism and how to end it, but not everyone wants to return to the Wild West. And I for one certainly do not want overlaid on the Gospel the sick narratives shapong the direction of LU. Some of us fail to see how the weaponization of society in any way resembles the teachings of Amos and Micah. Some don’t even see how the elevation of Emperor-elect Caligula in any way enhances the Glory/Presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

All around us, weaponry/conflict/militarism/redemptive_violence are normalized and standardized as the central narrative of the life, heart and soul of American civil religion. This all looks much more like conformity to the Rev 13 beastly powers and principalities of this age, than it does the kingdom of God in Christ. I question the wisdom of Liberty’s decision as a means of keeping the campus community safe. And given the poverty that can be found in the region, this seems a poor use of money.

The Heart of It

But my real problem with the Liberty decision is that it offers no challenge to what I see as the rise of beastly powers, and no challenge to overlaying a very backward, reactionary and divisive social-economic political agenda on top of the Gospel message. This obscures the Glory of Christ. What I see is rank conformity to the powers of this age even as the beast/Christ brand is sold as faithful Christian practice under the banner of fundamentalism.

In the apocalypse of Jesus Christ, Saint John the Theologian places the Spirit’s Seal [which is baptism – Ep 1:13, 4:30] and the Mark of the Beast in parody. So it is one or the other. To concur with the existing earthly order of demonic powers bears that mark on the forehead. To labor for the existing earthly order of demonic powers bears that mark on the hand.

Separation that Isn’t Separation

From where I sit, what is often passed off as fundamental faithfulness means paying lip-service to evangelical christology while the incarnation negligibly shapes Christian faith or practice. This is not fidelity to Christ; it is a Gnosticized and therefore blasphemous [per]version of it.

Liberty and the broader culture of which it is a part are tied far too closely to the principalities and powers of this age to make a credible profession of faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ however their ‘orthodox’ their paraded christology and soteriology otherwise claim to be.

Taking Aim at Gun Culture

Ready … Aim …

My Google search for Christians and Gun Violence got some 1,130,000 ‘hits’ [no pun intended] in .38 seconds [still no pun intended].

Relevant Magazine writer Dargan Thompson said that Christians need to bite the bullet and discuss guns. She could have said, ‘THEIR guns.’ Each Advent, we proclaim Jesus as Prince of Peace. Yet rhetoric and behavior belie another truth about Christians and gun culture. In the US, guns are themselves a religion, and evangelical Christians are their prophets.

Guns Я Us

Like guns, perspectives on them and their control are plentiful.

Sharon Hodde Miller [presumably] says that all Christians can back better gun control. Russell Moore is suspicious of gun control. Equip.org offers two views and lets you decide. After the perfunctory hand-wringing, Got Questions courageously declares this to be a personal, not a moral issue and lets you decide. And Pastor Whitney’s Institute on the Constitution? With courses relating God and government, Christianity and Constitution plus cordial relations with the Liberty Council, you can likely guess. If not, masochists can gratify their darkest desires with Mr. Bullets Я Beautiful.

Finding our Voice

While mass shootings gain attention and motivate activists, far more gun related deaths happen in other circumstances. Fox News assembled these gun related deaths for a single day. Eugene Sutton and Ian Douglas put this in perspective across time.

Every 7-8 years, one million Americans are killed or injured by firearms in a country that has nearly more guns than people.

Thompson is correct. Discussion is needed. It is also happening. It will continue to happen because it must. One venue for this conversation is the Armor of Light documentary on the subject featuring Rev. Rob Schenck.

Schenck says:

‘Many pastors share with me privately that they are very concerned with the number of people who are not just procuring firearms for defensive purposes, some are bringing them to church.’

He says that:

‘Most pastors have said to me, “I just don’t touch it. It’s too volatile. It ends up dividing the church.”’

And he says:

I had a growing concern as I watched folks in my own evangelical community demonstrating a kind of escalating fear about a lot of things—government, terrorism, fear of home invasions, of being robbed or murdered.

Noel Murray also interacted with Rev. Schenck and writes:

‘Schenck finds his fellow evangelicals parroting the idea that firearms “protect the innocent.” Even harder for Schenck, the goalposts keep moving for gun enthusiasts, from mere “self-defense” to active vigilantism.’

Thompson also interviews Abigail Disney for her role in this production. Disney believes that it is among white, evangelical, conservative Christians where:

‘…the disconnect is … largest between language about the sanctity of human life and the embrace of this culture. It’s not just the gun, it’s a language and a set of values around the gun. I call it yippie-ki-yay culture—this sort of looking forward to the conflict, not exhausting all the other possibilities first, and a blitheness and a disregard for the taking of human life.’

I can’t say whether this passes the formal definition, but perhaps yippie-ki-yay culture, looks a little like this:

Christian Gun Owner Facebook

Facing our Steel Dragons

If there’s one thing we grip as firmly as our guns, it’s the narratives that rationalize them. Of course for many, guns are their own rationalization. And as safety and justice arguments easily replace trust in God with a sidearm, today’s video is on target to regard the hold guns have over us as idolatrous. It isn’t that we keep guns as much as our guns that ‘keep’ us.

Chad Hall is Director of Coaching with Western Seminary faculty. As a much needed corrective to Mr. Whitney’s Institute on the Constitution [IOTC], Hall says that American values such as patriotism, nationalism and war [etc.] are not necessarily Christian values, and that the assertion to the contrary quickly devalues religion. Hall sees that often, there is nothing uniquely Christian about the way gun debates are framed.

We have to ask, What does God think of all this? And how should a Christian approach this issue in a faithful and thoughtful way?

Hall notes that God’s kingdom brings the world under Christ’s authority not from a gun barrel, but on a cross. Perhaps in somewhat that spirit, Brian Kammerzelt’s 4 things Christians Need to Remember about Gun Control is no polemical piece but a simple reminder of four things:

  • Love God
  • Seek first the kingdom
  • Love others
  • Love your enemy

A Christian Response

Liturgy is a powerful and essential part of Christian worship and witness. And as some see it, narratives of patriotism, nationalism, chauvinism, individualism, etc. are liturgical counter-inventions that contest God’s kingdom. From this perspective, all life is a litany practiced toward God or idols. Surely then, church can incarnate in appropriate ways a kingdom of God perspective in reply to this and other crises of our time.

This interfaith liturgy alone gives fundamentalists their desired rationale to boycott such events and to host anti-gun restriction events in their own political temples. But those who prefer witness minus anal retentiveness might be open to attending events.

Several other starting points for potentially useful resources include:

It’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ on gun culture. As analyses and rebuttals on mass shootings multiply, it behooves Christians to know where lies their faith allegiance lies in these things. It is not only the power of guns but the sway of this culture which indicates that we are discussing one of the ‘powers of this age.’ Nor should we forget the staggering amount of money that changes hands as guns are sold and bought each year.

The sheer number of gun-related deaths, the dominance of cultural fear, the evolving cultural narratives surrounding guns, and their power to silence proclamation in the church — these require that Christians take their stand beneath the sign of the cross, and face our steel dragons.