A Good Faith Debate: Gun Control from a Biblical Perspective

In the wake of the horrific and inexplicable slaughter of innocent children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas this week (not to mention the shooting at the supermarket last week in Buffalo… and, here, the dam breaks with all the statistics flooding in), I am numb.  Beyond my inclination to withdrawal and stew and wallow, I do seek some kind of positive contribution to bring healing in and to a broken and hurting world.  And so…
  • I pray – though it’s more of a knotted stomach and groaning that I believe the Lord discerns and understands. (cf., Romans 8:26)
  • I find myself holding loved ones closer.  In word and deed, I want to assure them that, in the words of David Wilcox, “it is Love that wrote this play” we are in (no matter how messy the stage can get).
  • I find myself googling around – seeing what resources are out there that might bring healing and comfort.
  • Invariably, I come back around to the subject of gun control: what I think and believe, yes, but also the question of how we’re going to break through the impasse that surrounds this issue (and so many other divides in our land and our world).

As a spiritual director who believes in listening as a fundamental spiritual discipline and as one who affirms the value of paradox, it seems to me that a first, crucial step in moving towards any meaningful solution to gun violence in our culture is our finding our ways into a common forum in which positions can be shared in a climate of civility, openness, and respect.

One such forum is ours via The Gospel Coalition and its “Good Faith” series of debates.  Recorded just a few weeks ago (on May 4, 2022), “How Should Christians Think About Gun Control?” provides what I believe to be a balanced, albeit introductory, presentation of both sides of this issue from a biblical perspective.

In the hopes that I can get folks to listen to the entire debate, I have decided to provide clips of each individual’s opening argument.  I suspect that there are some folks, you see, who are so given to their own position on the issue that they might need to hear what “their” person says before they are willing to give themselves to the fuller discussion.  (Following these introductory clips/arguments is the video in its entirety.)

First, there is the opening argument tendered by Bob Thune (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary)—advancing arguments against gun control:

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Speaking to the “pros” of gun control is Andrew Wilson, teaching pastor at King’s Church, London:

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To see the debate/video in its entirety (including an edited transcript), click here: How Should Christians Think About Gun Control? (thegospelcoalition.org)

For more than half of my 35+ years in pastoral ministry, I felt like it was mine to tell people what to think and how we ought to do things on various issues and initiatives.  Over time, though, this stance yielded to an understanding that the bigger need in congregations and our world was the shepherding of due process — the promotion of holy conversations.  Yes, I have my positions.  Do not get me wrong.  But, it seems to me that until we’ve taken the time to guarantee a safe place to respectfully share and gracefully listen, we hardly ever earn the right or the opportunity to share the truth that is in us. We’ve got to find a way to get around the endless talking past each other which characterizes too much of our discourse these days!

[Forgiving] Love: Christianity’s Nucleus and Glory

“Across my 35+ years of pastoring and preaching, there has not been a topic more powerful, needful, and provocative as “forgiveness” — receiving forgiveness (and forgiving self), asking for forgiveness,… extending forgiveness to others.  It was and is a theme that stirs much emotion and many questions.”

Such are the words I shared with students enrolled in the BeADisciple course, “Serious Answers to Hard Questions” in our last week of work–focused on “forgiveness.”

Through the years, I have amassed a file of stories of real forgiveness.  A few of these made it into videos that I produced in support of sermons (as images can be so much more powerful than words alone)…

      • The first video (produced in August, 2006)
        highlights the powerful testimony of Corrie Ten Boom:

        • The second video (produced in May, 2011)
          conveys a variety of vignettes of radical forgiveness:

Recalling these stories and the messages they supported has me affirming (once again)…

  • that, while there are a lot of questions out there that are “difficult” for the ways they engage our minds and thoughts, the question of forgiveness is troublesome mostly for the ways it wages war with our emotions.  To be sure, there are some critical learnings here–as, e.g., forgiving is not forgetting.  But, it’s the heart not the mind that is the crucial battlefield here–precisely because forgiving is not forgetting!
  • that forgiveness (radical forgiveness) is real and possible in our lives…  Here, I ponder the folks over the years who have told me “you don’t know what he (or she) did to me” or “you do not know what I’ve done.”  Still, surveying the stories reflected in these videos, I can not help but declare 1) that the “unforgivable” that many mention are mere marshmallows compared to the boulders in these stories and 2) that there’s no offense God can not equip us to forgive — either our own or another’s!
  • that forgiving (self… and others… and, maybe, sometimes, God) can be among the hardest easy things we’ll ever have to do in this world and life
  • that here, in the confluence of all these affirmations,
    is the nucleus and the glory
    of true Christianity and its Lord and its Way–

    making confession and reconciliation a crucial dynamic
    (and not an option) in our journeys of spiritual formation,

    making forgiveness (real forgiveness)
    Christianity’s greatest gift and proof
    in and to a broken and hurting world!

The Gospel According to Andy the Tree Guy

Had a “that’ll preach” moment the other day –
in the wake of Andy “the tree guy”
(as we’ve come to name him… at least between ourselves)
working around our house.

Most immediately, there was the message – the reminder – of how God has variously gifted folks in life to serve different purposes.  Seeing Andy up in some of our four to five story trees had me thankful that there are those who have been called and gifted to monkey up trees–and with a chain saw, at that!  (Andy may very well feel the same way about those who monkey around in the pulpit.)

And then, there was and is a parable of how things grow. 
Jesus himself would speak of the need for cutting off the
useless and being about pruning’s that make for greater fruitfulness.

 Obvious to me now, as well, was and is the way that cleaning things “up there” heightens the potential for greater and fuller light to reach (and nourish) grass and plants below.

Purgation and illumination: these are words that the ancients of our faith would assign to this dual process of thinning-pruning and increasing light in the journey of spiritual formation.  Employing the image of a dilapidated house, Brian McLaren gives definition to each of these processes as follows:

If the soul is a house that has fallen into disrepair or perhaps a house that was abandoned and boarded up before it was completed, you must begin by purging the house of the trash, dirt, and vermin that have accumulated within it. So the purgative way first instructs you to take the boards off the windows and tear down the heavy old curtains that hide or obscure the mess inside. Then it tells you that you must take some soap and water and scrub the windows of their grime. As you begin the reclamation, everything depends on letting light come in, because without light you won’t be able to see what’s dirty and what needs to be cleaned and repaired…  The via illuminativa, or the way of fotosis, means that now, having removed the boards and curtains from the long-closed windows of our souls, we learn to let light in [so that we can more and more see all other things—God, self, and others—as they really and fully are].  

(Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again, p. 151f., 159-160)

Elsewhere, McLaren will point out how some might be inclined to reduce these movements to phases of life when, in fact, they are recurring dynamics throughout our spiritual lives.  On the way to ultimate Union with God, we might say, there will ever be seasons of purgation and fuller illumination.

This latter note is a way of saying or reminding us that, like God, Andy the tree man will return again – monkeying around in the trees with his chainsaw, stimulating fuller life above… and below.

The Lord’s Prayer Elicits a “Sign of the Cross”

The Universe in 57 Words, a devotional by Carolyn Arends on The Lord’s Prayer, is a free gift from the Spiritual Formation ministry which is Renovare.  Going to the web page for the book/pamphlet (click here: The Universe in 57 Words – Renovare) not only takes you to a link for a free download but also offers songs (performed by Arends) which compliment each unit’s reading.  Together, they provide a meaningful experience for studying and meditating on our Lord’s perfect prayer–information for the mind and formational practices for the heart and soul.

Engaging this offering and Arends words have me recalling my own reflections on and experiences with the Lord’s Prayer–reflections and experiences which I have shared through the years. While “A Protestant Rosary” shares the fullness of my use of “knots and beads” in a prayer exercise that has emerged over the years, it especially focuses on my seeing a “sign of the cross” in the Lord’s Prayer–something which has come to me as I have prayed the Prayer (with crucifix in hand) in the heart of that prayer time/exercise. The video form I share here is a result of my sharing this practice with others—in A Formational Practicum for Leaders, led by Rev. Brenda Buckwell of Living Streams, Flowing Waters in Fall 2021.  The video gives some suggestion of the evolution of this material in my heart and mind over the last 15 years—from an experience in prayer to formal blogging…  unto my employing it as I led morning prayer in my third year of Spiritual Direction training [in January 2021]. For those wanting to engage reflections specific to “The Lord’s Prayer,” jump to the 8:00 mark in this video…

So, here, the question (or questions) assert themselves…

  • what is your general experience in prayer?

  • what stirred in you as you watched the video?

  • what, if any, life does The Lord’s Prayer have in your prayer life (beyond Sunday worship)?

  • how, if at all, does The Lord’s Prayer stir your imagination?  what images come to mind as you recite and live with these words?

“Soul Matters for Christian Leaders”

It’s an arduous read.  It’s weighty and lengthy… and it wanders.  (Truth is, folks might say that about me and my writings.)

“Our Pulpits Are Full of Empty Preachers” by Kyle Rohane is the cover story in the May-June, 2022 issue of Christianity Today.  “Tens of thousands of pastors want to quit but haven’t,” the subtitle reads, “What has that done to them?”

And here, the wandering begins—with the first one-third to one half of the article talking about the vocational drift and “great resignation” that has plagued all sectors of employment… and how that drift compares and contrasts with the vocational uneasiness of Pastors.

It’s only when you get to its second half that the article really gains traction.  There, we are given some sense of the causes of angst among clergy (i.e., standard stresses, combined with pandemic and other emerging culture forces and realities).

And there, we are given some hint of solutions.  Key words—perhaps the heart of the article (for me, at least)—are given near article’s end:

It’s easy to forget that Christ’s undershepherds are still sheep in his flock. If we treat pastors like spiritual superheroes, we do them a disservice. Superman doesn’t need to do pushups, but ministers still need permission and margin to do their spiritual exercises: time alone with God, time praying, time in Scripture beyond sermon prep, time with spiritual directors and counselors and other pastors who get what they’re going through.

This line is surrounded by the testimony of Pastor Johnathan Dodson.  His story is far too rich not to include here in its fullness.

When Dodson experienced his sudden-onset ministry burnout, he went straight to his elders and explained the situation to them.

“They said, ‘Let’s just sit in the dirt with you. Let’s mourn. We know it’s been an atrocious two years,’” he said.

Dodson was as surprised as most pastors might be by such a response. More often, they fear the kind of encounter he heard about a short time later. “I was meeting with a group of pastors who I have lunch with every six weeks, and I told them the story of this sitting in the dirt together. And the wisest and oldest pastor in the room said, ‘I can’t believe they responded like that. My elders would have tried to fix me.’”

Our first instincts, when we see a church leader spiraling, might be to jump to their rescue with book suggestions or time management recommendations. But ailing pastors need something deeper.

“We’re in a fix-it culture,” Dodson said. “If there’s something broken, we think, How do we get it healthy? How do we get it back on track? The category of lament is very inefficient. It’s unproductive.”

Dodson’s leadership team knew the greatest need of the moment wasn’t to get him back to preaching ASAP. His wounds were deep, and he needed time to heal. So they granted him an immediate sabbatical. No agenda. No strings attached. Just a promise of some time to process the previous two years without the weight of congregational leadership resting on his shoulders.

“The first few weeks were weeks of lament, of spontaneous crying, having to pull over because the tears were just coming so fast and hard. Not being able to walk into church. Feeling paralyzed and having to sit in the parking lot for 30 minutes and then sneak in the back,” he said.

“Then I moved into a second phase. I got away to the Colorado Rockies. Natural beauty is healing and restorative for me. I had some days of silence and solitude, and it was just so wonderful.”

Dodson found respite in Isaiah 53 and Lamentations. “In Lamentations 3, there’s a long argument that basically talks about the wormwood and the bitterness of [Jeremiah’s] sufferings. It only gets into that bit we’re familiar with about mercies being new every morning after [more than] 10 verses of suffering. But after that, he says, ‘It is good.’ The Lord does good to those who wait for him; the Lord is good to those who sit quietly and wait.”

This message and time with the Lord were just what Dodson needed. “It was in that quiet and waiting that restoration began to happen, where I wasn’t responsible for people, and the grief began to slip away.”

Time alone with God (silence, solitude, nature), time praying, time in Scripture, time with spiritual directors and counselors and spiritual friends who are willing to “sit in the dirt” with us: who would not benefit from these spiritual practices?!?!?

It’s a message at the heart of the most recent issue of the Zoe-Life seasonal periodical which is Ruminations. “Soul Matters for Christian Leaders” (and here, we are talking about clergy, yes, but also Christian leaders across the spectrum) homes in on the “perfect storms” we face in ministry… and the crucial ways that spiritual formation fuels sustainability and vitality.

Click here to access the Rumination’s archive—
including this newest, downloadable issue.

We pray you will find it worthwhile… and worth sharing!