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November 27, 2022

God, guns and a confused nation

The early Christian church, up until the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 C.E., was by and large a pacifist religion. Christian, the noun, came from those outside the religion describing Jesus’ followers as people who were trying to be little-Christs or Christ-ians. As such, the early Christians were committed to the non-violent example of Jesus, willing to sacrifice their own lives for the good of the community and for the good of society.

A new challenge for the religion arose when Constantine—the leader of an imperial army, and one with much to lose by adopting pacifism—converted; the locus of power within the Christian church became centralized and the mission began to take on the values of empire with a commitment to earthly power. The Christianization of the Roman Empire brought significant spreading of the faith; it also carried with it Rome’s political and military interests. Those in power chose to discard Christianity’s pacifism and create a new idea, that God had ordained their power and blessed their conquests.

The deep challenge to Christianity, the mixing of faith and political power, persists to this day. This reality has reared its ugly head again in our nation as leaders who profess faith in the nonviolent, self-sacrificial Christ, take up the banner of more guns will make our nation safer and more peaceful. The reaction to our shock, horror, grief and anger over Buffalo, Laguna Woods, Uvalde—seven mass shootings in the last month, without counting gang or cartel violence—has been predictable: a call for gun control alongside vehement declarations that the ownership of guns is some sort of God-given right.

In response to another American massacre of our children, Canadian elected officials have had the good sense to mandate a buyback program for military-style assault rifles and to ban the sale of handguns; we in the United States seem doomed to gridlock and inaction, willing to let innocent civilians and children—CHILDREN—perish in order to satisfy our lust to own instruments of death and destruction.

It is time for Americans of good will and good sense to pray for and act for a change to our twisted understanding of the Second Amendment. The 27 amendments of the U.S. Constitution fall at the end of the constitution, dependent on the meanings established in the seven articles that precede the Amendments. Article 1, section 8, clauses 15 and 16 make clear what a well-regulated militia is:

“The Congress shall have power… to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

That sounds like the U.S. National Guard, an entity that did not yet exist at the writing of the constitution. Citizens don’t organize a militia, Congress does. Citizens don’t supply the militia’s weapons, Congress does. Citizens don’t decide when a militia acts, Congress does. And citizens don’t need AR-15 style rifles and high powered handguns.

Reading the constitution, it is clear that the Supreme Court decision in Columbia v. Heller is misguided at best and constitution-denying at worst. And, if Roe v. Wade can be overturned, Heller certainly should be.

I call upon Christians of all stripes: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, evangelical and progressive; it is time to embrace the words of Jesus, “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9); it is time to take up the “sword” of Jesus—his words (Revelation 19:15); it is time to follow the example of Jesus, placing the lives of his fellow humans above his own, sacrificing himself for us.

Rev. Robby Olson is a Presbyterian pastor in Watsonville. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.

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