Last Sunday, I made a short journey to the town of Hillsboro, TX to serve as a supply priest for a small congregation of faithful Episcopalians. It also happened to be the First Sunday of Lent. It also happened to be the first Sunday after the latest incident of mass murder in the United States.
As I did not know the congregation that I was serving on Sunday, I chose to preach a sermon that addressed the question of guns and violence by way of metaphor. I wanted, no, I needed to say something about the issue of guns in the United States on this particular Sunday. I needed to say something about it because I have come to the conclusion that absolute freedoms around gun ownership and the failure to regulate types of weapons available for private purchase and ownership are sins of our time.
Yes, you read that correctly. I believe that unfettered, unregulated gun ownership is a sin.
Now, I am not saying that owning a gun is, in and of itself, a sin. I grew up with guns in my house. I learned all about guns in my childhood – from shooting one to cleaning one to handling a gun safely. I am not suggesting that simply owning a gun is sinful. However, it is a societal sin, in which all of us share some part, that gun ownership is not tightly regulated.
I understand sin to be something that keeps us from right relationship with God and with each other. I understand sin to be something greater than a list of acts that we should avoid. Sin is a violation of relationship between people within a community and between a community and God.1
Sin is something that initiates consequential evil actions. Once done, the sin creates a chain of events that unfolds over the passage of time.2 The unfettered ownership of guns in the United States has done precisely that. In 2004, the federal ban on assault weapons expired, and since that time, the United States has experienced a sharp increase in mass murders. Perhaps allowing the ban on assault weapons to expire was sinful. It was an action that created a wave of future actions that could easily be described as evil.
The reality is that any number of individuals can give up their individual guns, but the social sin, the communal sin would remain in place. Though the recent string of videos on social media of individual people giving up their assault style rifles by either surrendering them to local police agencies or destroying them is admirable, the reality is that it does not change the accessibility of these types of weapons in the marketplace. In refusing to regulate gun ownership and the types of weapons that are available for purchase in this country we, as a society, continue worshipping an idol – an action that can only bring more death.
The worship of this particular idol, the idol of unregulated gun ownership, brings more death precisely because it does nothing to honor the sanctity of human life. The creation story tells us, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 NRSV) It is in God’s image that all of humanity is created. It is life that is blessed (Gen. 1:28) and given the responsibility to care for creation and for each other. The sacredness of human life is intrinsic to humanity’s existence, and it is called good by God (Gen. 1:31).
When we fail to regulate gun ownership and the types of guns that are available for purchase and ownership, we fail, collectively, to honor the sacredness of human life. We fail to love each other, and we fail to follow the double love command to love God and to love neighbor. The regulation of gun ownership and the regulation of types of guns available for private ownership is one way that we return to honoring the sacredness of humanity. It is one way that we can love our neighbors as ourselves.
To repent of the sin of unregulated, unfettered gun ownership in our country is to return to following in the way of Jesus and to heed Jesus’s teaching on rejecting violence as a means of justice. In the middle of the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel according to Luke Jesus says, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” (Lk 27-30 NRSV) Here, Jesus urges us to follow a different path, to love even those that may hate us. If we are to follow Jesus’s teaching here, it means that we have to give up those things that perpetuate cycles of violence in our society.3
Recognizing that unregulated gun ownership is part of that cycle is part of our repentance. Our recognition of the damage that gun violence causes in this country is the first step in fixing the problem and working towards becoming communities of peace that support the sacredness of all human life.
After reflection and prayer on this topic, I am committing myself to the following actions and beliefs:
- I believe that all gun owners should be required to obtain a firearms license prior to the purchase of any gun. The license has to be renewed periodically and should include a strenuous background check.
- I believe that assault-style weapons, including any gun that fires the next round by simply pulling the trigger, should be illegal to purchase or to fire. I believe the ammunition for these guns should not be available for private purchase.
- I believe that gun ownership is a privilege that carries responsibilities. Violation of the responsibilities of owning a gun would also mean a loss of the privilege to own a gun.
- As a matter of conscience, I will not support a politician that accepts money from the NRA or other gun lobby institutions. I will not support any politician that does not support more stringent gun laws on a federal level.
- As a member of the clergy, I will actively advocate for more common sense gun laws in this country.
- As a faithful minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I will preach against gun violence.
I believe unfettered gun ownership to be a sin because it prevents us from being in right relationship with God and with each other. I believe unfettered gun ownership violates our trust in God’s grace and goodness. I believe that unfettered gun ownership helps to perpetuate the cycle of violence across the United States. I believe that refusing to do something about the accessibility of guns in this country is sinful and denies us the ability to come back to right relationship with ourselves, with our God, and with each other.
I believe that we, as a society, need to repent of our sin of unregulated gun ownership, and I believe that we, as a society, need to repent of our sin of failing to regulate the types of guns available for private ownership.
I believe that we need to do something to return to honoring the sacredness of human life, and I believe that we need to reject violence and any means of perpetuating it in order that we might be able to more fully love each other and our God.
1.Harrington, Daniel J, and James F Keenan. 2005. Jesus And Virtue Ethics. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
3. Hays, Richard B. 2004. The Moral Vision Of The New Testament. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.