This afternoon, a student walked into the Stevens Institute of Business and Arts on Washington Avenue, shot the financial aid director in the chest with a handgun and then went to a stairwell and shot himself.
This happened three blocks from Christ Church Cathedral, where last month in the wake of the Newtown shootings, we gathered to pray for an end to gun violence in our own city and across the nation.
In the intervening time, we have heard rhetoric on all sides of the gun debate, most of which are competing arguments about efficacy and individual rights.
Will gun control make a difference?
Does owning a gun make one safer or less safe?
What about my right to own a gun?
These are all good and important questions. Questions an informed public should wrestle with. Questions leaders sworn to uphold the Constitution and those knowledgeable about crime and social science should respectfully debate.
But as Christians, these are not the most important questions for us. As Christians, we are bound to ask another question … the question Jesus asks:
What honors God?
When the Pharisees castigate Jesus for his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath, he gives the example of David eating the bread of the Presence in 1 Samuel 21. Why? He knows the real issue isn’t obeying the law for the law’s sake. He knows the most important thing is the reason the law exists in the first place.
He knows the real question is … what honors God?
My friend the Rev. Kathleen Wilder gifted me with a phrase several years ago. She talks about together us building “a city that makes glad God’s heart.” Building that city is the task of the faithful of every stripe. But we build it not by asking the questions that legislators and social scientists ask. We build it by asking the question of Christ.
We build it by asking: “What honors God?”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called not to look out for our own safety. We are called not to be concerned with our own rights being infringed upon. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be concerned with building cities that make glad God’s heart.
We are called to be concerned with what honors God.
And so faced with the questions about guns in our society, as Christians, we are invited to stake our claims based on a different criteria.
Regardless of whether trying to halt the proliferation of weapons on our streets will be effective or not, as a Christian I need to ask: “Will it honor God?”
Regardless of whether owning a gun for the purpose of shooting another human being even in self-defense is a practical way of keeping me and my family safer, as a Christian, I need to ask “Will it honor God?”
Regardless of whether owning a gun is my right under the Constitution, as a Christian, I need to ask “Will it honor God?”
It's a daunting question. It's one that we need to ask with great humility. But it's one we need to ask realizing that we have some pretty good and clear clues about its answer.
So what do we know from Jesus about what honors God?
What we know from Jesus about what honors God is love for God and one another.
What we know from Jesus about what honors God is receiving blows but not striking them.
What we know from Jesus about what honors God is being willing to risk everything – even our own lives – for the sake of the kind of love Jesus showed in going to the cross.
I am not arguing that the laws of our nation be subject to Holy Scripture. I am saying that if you, like me, call yourself a Christian, then for us as we form our opinions, all other questions must take a back seat to the question of “What honors God?”
I am saying that if you, like me, are trying to follow Jesus, we need to be more concerned with listening for Jesus’ voice than with whatever our preconceived agenda about guns is.
I am saying that if you, like me, are trying to love as Jesus loved and live as Jesus lived, our living witness … even if it is a lonely and despised one … is committing ourselves to living the answer to the question he asks.
What do I think needs to be done about guns in our society? I believe they need to go.
Not because I believe restricting access to weapons will decrease gun violence … though I believe it will.
Not because I believe owning a gun makes us less safe … though I believe it does.
Not because I believe the second amendment right to bear arms is grossly misapplied in ways that were never what the framers intended … though I believe it is.
I believe that we need to get the guns off the streets because from everything I can tell from studying the Bible and trying to follow Jesus, weapons whose sole purpose is to main or destroy human life do not honor God. I believe that the Jesus who commands us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” and who healed the slave’s ear after Peter cut it off with a sword and who went to the cross rather than stop loving even his persecutors does not dream for us to take one another’s lives even to save our own.
I believe that we need to get the guns off the streets because if we are a church whose mission truly is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” that doesn’t happen at gunpoint.
I believe that we need to get the guns off the streets because what happened three blocks from us today is not part of a city that makes glad God’s heart. And together, that is what we are tasked and gifted with building.