(And, for the record, I don't think this is really the biggest issue Christians need to consider when deciding whether they'll patronize CFA or not. More on that here.)
As a result of all this, we stopped talking about something that's arguably much more important--and something that has already returned to the headlines with last week's shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee. Gun violence is a persistent reality in our country, and we need to face it.
In the wake of bloody killings in Aurora three weeks ago, several voices in the media sought to shine a spotlight on the state of gun control in the US. One of the most insightful pieces I read was by James Martin, a Jesuit, called "Why Gun Control is a Religious Issue." It's an easy read, short and provocative. Basically, Martin wants to make the point that gun control is a "pro-life issue" just as much as abortion, euthanasia, or the death penalty, and so Christians need to "stand for life" on this issue as well.
Another good piece by Fareed Zakaria at CNN, "Time to face facts on gun control," emphasizes the statistics where America leads the world in guns per capita--no one else even comes close--and also boasts a high number of gun homicides. The numbers are not encouraging.
Of course, for a few days, articles arguing one side of the issue or the other were a dime a dozen, and usually (though I don't think this is one of those cases) you can find really compelling cases being made for either side of a polarizing issue like this. Online articles are hardly the end-all in this debate.
So let's turn to a, for some of us, more authoritative voice, and see how it weighs in on the issue. Let's turn to the official statements of the United Methodist Church and see what they have to say about the question of gun control.
One of the most extensive and unambiguous discussions that I found comes from the Book of Resolutions, 2004.
The opening paragraphs feature some strong language, including the call to affirm our faith through "vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence... A significant total reduction in the numbers of guns in our communities is our goal in ministry." The resolution goes on to argue that "no appeals to individual autonomy are sufficient to justify our church's ignorance of this threat." The UMC, it goes on to say, is "calling for social policies and personal lifestyles that bring an end to senseless gun violence."
That's all well and good, but what does all of this mean in practice? A look at some of the actual proposals shows us the practical vision behind the more generic statements:
(4) develop advocacy groups within local congregations to advocate for the eventual reduction of the availability of guns in society with a particular emphasis upon handguns, handgun ammunition, assault weapons, automatic weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits, and guns that cannot be detected by traditionally used metal detection devices. These groups can be linked to community-based, state, and national organizations working on gun and violence issues;
(5) support federal legislation to regulate the importation, manufacturing, sale, and possession of guns and ammunition by the general public. Such legislation should include provisions for the registration and licensing of gun purchasers and owners, appropriate background investigation and waiting periods prior to gun purchase, and regulation of subsequent sale;
(6) call 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;*
There is more, like talk about education on gun safety, adult responsibility in gun violence prevention, etc. All the same, gun control is clearly the focus. It's also clear that the church is particularly concerned with preventing gun violence among youth, but that doesn't undermine any of the larger practical aims. (You can read all of this and more online here.)
I'm not interested in taking everyone's guns away--and neither is the United Methodist Church. Hunting is a good thing, and you need guns for that. I may not have any use for a handgun in the house, and I may not think Christians ought to have them, but I understand that there are very different philosophies on this, and I certainly wouldn't want to impose my view on this on everyone else through legislation. People should be able to keep a gun in their homes for self-defense, if they like.
But assault rifles? There are limits to my understanding and support of gun ownership, and I honestly can't see why it should be any other way. I find myself in perfect agreement with James Martins when he asks, in the article linked above: "Why would anyone be opposed to firmer gun control, or, to put it more plainly, laws that would make it more difficult for mass murders to occur?"
There's a lot of space for debate and frustration when a denomination offers its official position on a controversial issue. Yet this is one case where I'm really pleased with my own denomination's conclusion, and I echo the UMC's call to faithfulness for believers in America: Christians need to do what they can to reduce the availability of guns in our society.
* Each of the proposals cited was reaffirmed in the Book of Resolutions, 2008.