Gun Idolatry

The love of bearing arms has become a dangerous obsession.   Dangerous because it eclipses the ideals of peace and justice.

In 1990, the Presbyterian Church USA at its national meeting stated: “The religious community must also take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns which overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse”

26 years later, we still haven’t heeded this warning.  Instead, society goes on developing a gun culture forming a religious cult.   Former NRA Executive Vice President Warren Cassidy points out that “[t]he base of the National Rifle Association believes so strongly it’s more a religion.”

But, it is not just the NRA that follows these cult traditions.  Every day people use language that reflects gun ideology.  We “bring out the big guns” when faced with a large challenge.  We applaud people who “shoot from the hip,” and let them “call the shots.”  It seems owning and carrying guns has spawned obsession and dangerous ideology.  

The Bible reminds us that “You shall not worship other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them” (2 Kings 17:35).

But, in the name of safety,  people are normalizing openly brandish guns.  Many states permit openly bearing weapons in workplaces, schools, stores, churches, and bars.  We have taken our love of the gun to a new level.  We bear our guns as they are sacred.  This will backfire.

When our weapons are more important than the people and values they are supposed to protect we have turned them into objects of worship…into false idols.  That something scripture is rather clear on.  Multiple verses of the Bible chastise people for worshiping something beyond their faith.  Today we can add to the list of idols:  the Golden Calf, Amon, Baal to include assault rifles, hand guns, semi-automatics, etc.

I have expressed the apocalyptic realities of gun violence in our society before but let me recap: around 30,000 people a year die from shootings a year in the US.  

30,000 people is:

Imagine the cemetery this idolatry has created.

We must hear the prophetic call to change our understanding of what motivates the need to irresponsibility hold to our rights while ignoring our responsibilities.    

We must uphold our values of justice and peace over our fear and our idolatry.  

Jesus’ Great Commission to Our Islamic Siblings

Hate crimes in the US that specifically target Muslims have increased 67% since the presidential election.  The hateful rhetoric employed by certain candidates has galvanized people and has created a fear for those outside the WASP community.  There is a moral obligation to address that rhetoric and those actions taken up because of that rhetoric.

As Christians, we are called to follow the teachings of Jesus, even when it is hard or dangerous.  When it comes to our Islamic siblings, we seem to have forgotten a lesson or two.  

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus’ “Great Commission” of the disciples to go out into the world and teach.  In that Gospel, it is the first time anyone but Jesus is given teaching authority.  Up until then, they had only been learning.  I wonder if we have learned his lessons well enough to enact them in our lives now.  We certainly have forgotten the story of the Good Samaritan.   Jesus teaches that a man is robbed and left for dead on the roadside.  He is passed over and over again by fellow members of his faith, indeed leaders in that faith.  Instead, an outsider, an “other”, someone of a differing faith and ethnicity, rescues this man and goes above and beyond even putting the man up until he has healed.  Perhaps the Samaritan was teaching us who he truly is and what his faith means.  

In my hometown of Kansas City, there is a group called the Crescent Peace Society who is speaking out about the truth of the Islamic faith as one of Peace.  Kareen Talib, a founding member realized that the over 30,000 Muslims in Kansas City had a calling to teach about their faith:  “We realized that we had not done our part…We came to this country and we started working very hard. We were living our lives, and we were taking care of our kids. We didn’t have time to think about it.  Then we realized that one element was forgotten, and that was educating others about who we are.”   

My seminary education, my church life, indeed even bartending has taught me that we have a call to listen to those who are being accused even oppressed because of their faith, skin, sexuality, etc.  Why?  

Because as a Christian, I know that Jesus was a man who spoke up for those accused of being outside the norm.  He was a threat to the Roman empire’s standard not because of his violence but because he called out against the oppression of people.  He was deemed “enemy combatant” and was executed because he defended the rights of a religious group.  Our Muslim siblings are being painted as “enemy combatants” when those who truly practice their faith are peaceful.  It is up to us to learn the difference rather than paint with broad brush strokes of hatred based in fear.  

Our Great Commission is to learn and to teach.  It’s time we relearn some forgotten lessons. 

Extremist Ideas Slaughter the Innocent

All kinds of weapons slaughter innocent children.  They are killed by bombs, guns, hunger, treatable disease, but they are also killed by the weapon of extremist ideas that work to make such horrors just and right.  

Last week, I felt sting of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” in Syria where 22 children and six of their teachers were killed in an airstrikes seeming to specifically target their school.  It is considered the deadliest school bombing since the Syrian civil war started.  What is worse is that these 22 children are the latest in a long line of bombings of schools that cost 591 children their lives in 2015.  

Why did Herod, Pharaoh, or the commanders behind Syrian attack choose to attack children?  Why attack the most vulnerable and hopeful?  They are the most unlikely threat.  Yet, these children and their teachers while learning were deemed worthy of only death, unwelcome in the world.  They shared the unwelcome that some felt for Moses and Jesus.  This long line of school bombings have created sacrificial victims to extremist ideology.  

These ideologies are not limited to the warmongers on the other side of the globe.  Here in the US, we are seeing a war of ideologies.  Some are radical, holding a belief in one right way to exist– white, straight, cisgendered, conservative, Christian–and that only those like them should be in power.  

In his book American Fascists, Hedges mention talks about the dangers of some of this belief:   

“The radical Christian Right calls for exclusion, cruelty and intolerance in the name of God.  Its members do not commit evil for evil’s sake.  They commit evil to make a better world.  To attain this better world, they believe, some must suffer and be silenced, and at the end of time all those who oppose them must be destroyed.”

This attitude is the kind that motivates the massacres in schools, burning of churches, and other acts of hate.  These acts of hate are attempts to intimidate the open forum or hopes for positive change.  Fanatical and intolerant has come to be an acceptable form of discussion.  But as Tony Blair former Prime Minister of Great Britain warns:   

“When we allow the fanatics to define the debate, they win the battle of ideas.”

In the case of our world, the battle of ideas needs to be defined by active tolerance and a look beyond our own insular world.  None of us have the exclusive insight on the ultimate right way to exist.  

Jesus said,”Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Luke 18:16).  

This is what tyrants fear most.  Tyrants fear the Kingdom of God, the wonderful reign of hope in human hearts that we can live justly and in peace.  Children are targets because they represent hope.  This is why they must be protected: they are hope of the world.