Friday, July 4, 2008

Responses to Supreme Court's Gun Control Ruling

Religious groups are responding to the Supreme Court's recent ruling that Washington, D.C.'s, ban on handgun ownership is unconstitutional. My own United Methodist Church, long a proponent of gun control, in its 2004 official statement on gun violence, "call[ed] upon all governments of the world in which there is a United Methodist presence to establish national bans on ownership by the general public of handguns, assault weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits, and weapons that cannot be detected by traditionally used metal-detection devices." Although the statement provides no spiritual or theological rationale, it makes reference to a program entitled Communities of Shalom, whose own website has a section on a "Biblical Understanding of Shalom":

The Biblical understanding of shalom (Hebrew word for peace), is not merely the absence of conflict but everything that makes for people's highest good. It works toward hope and wholeness in which people, individually and collectively, experience health, prosperity, security, oneness with nature, and spiritual renewal. In John 14:27, Jesus, in one of his final moments with his disciples, offers peace....not as the world gives but as God gives (NRSV). Shalom is the transforming power of God at work through the church in individuals and the community.

More recently the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the body that speaks for the entire denomination, in April of this year updated the official statement to say:
No appeals to individual autonomy are sufficient to justify our church’s ignorance of this threat. The need to prevent the incidence of firearm-related injury and death is an issue of increasing concern and a priority public health issue. The United Methodist Church is among those religious communities calling for social policies and personal lifestyles that bring an end to senseless gun violence.
Based on the official position on gun violence, the denomination's Board of Church and Society and Board nf Religion and Race, have issued a joint response, decrying the Supreme Court ruling.

I myself was raised in a household with guns. My parents owned shotguns, rifles, and handguns. I was given a small .22 caliber rifle at the age of twelve or thirteen, and I occasionally would use my father's shotgun when I would go hunting with friends. I never killed anything, and I did not particularly enjoy the activity.

At the age of sixteen or seventeen, I was shooting targets with a friend. I was using the hood of my parents' car as a surface to reload
a small handgun belonging to my friend. As I was loading it, the gun went off, denting the car's hood as the bullet struck it with a glancing blow. I was very shaken at this and was uncertain exactly how it had happened; I had been around guns all my life and knew how to handle them, yet an accident had occurred, thankfully with no real consequences.

At some point, my father gave me a shotgun that had been owned by his father. The gun was certainly old, and it was uncertain whether it could be fired. I never attempted to find out.

When I turned twenty-one, I was preparing to marry less than a month away. On my birthday, my father gave me a handgun, a .357 magnum, saying that I needed to be able to defend my family. Indeed, I can recall getting the gun and checking out my lawn, one night when I heard something outside. I found nothing amiss in the lawn and hesitate to consider what might have happened if it had turned out otherwise.

I started seminary at the age of twenty-five, having been exposed to and delighted with a critical study of religion that caused me to reconsider the conventional faith of my Bible Belt upbringing. In seminary I encountered lots of different Christian perspectives and wholeheartedly became a liberal Christian, both theologically and socially.

My wife and I decided that our young son would not be allowed to play with guns. One day, when he was old enough to think about such things, he asked me whether I owned any guns. I thought for a moment and said, "Not any more." I immediately gave my guns back to my father. He said he would hold them for me until I decided I wanted them back. That was almost twenty years ago, and I have not seen fit to bring guns back into our household.

My son is in college now, and he has his own ideas that challenge those he has learned at home. That's perfectly fine, but I have never regretted the decision my wife and I made to remove firearms from our home, which was always a place where our family has striven for shalom.

No comments: