by Dee Lorraine
The premise of God and Guns is that America’s love affair with firearms acquired, possessed, and used with the intent to kill humans is in clear opposition to the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christians who purchase and use guns for this purpose are disobeying God.
The editors and authors, seven Biblical scholars and theologians, are not focused on gun ownership for activities such as hunting, sport shooting, or historical collections. They focus on those who acquire and use guns to kill men, women, and children.
Mr. Parks’ delivers the four-hour, 26-minute, 38-second reading in a steady and pleasant voice. However, I would have preferred hearing the authors themselves read or different voices for each chapter. Chapter Two, “A Mother’s Lament,” by Yolanda Norton, is particularly poignant and hearing a woman’s voice and inflection would provide more impact. Given the diversity of the writers and their topics, different readers would highlight and complement each thesis and perspective.
The Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas starts with his tension about gun ownership and Christianity. When he returned home after two years of study at Yale Divinity School, his father gifted him with a hand-carved gun. Hauerwas accepted it ungraciously, failing to recognize it was his father’s gift of love.
Hauerwas discusses the broader tension that exists when believers in Christ own guns. He concludes that this book is valuable because the writers avoid “the gross characterization of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible as violent in contrast to the nonviolence of the New Testament. As a result, these chapters not only commend nonviolence: they are themselves nonviolent.”
Crouch and Hays’ opening discussion, “Guns in America, by the Numbers,” features a litany of statistics from 2017 and 2019. The data shows the overwhelming devastation wrought by American gun owners against other humans. The editors include that 3 million children witness gun violence yearly, and gunfire kills 1,700 children and teens annually.
The grim statistics confirm the daily news reports of gun deaths and injuries in America. Yet American Christians, including politicians, who proclaim they are pro-life and say they love America’s children disregard these facts. They remain staunch advocates for the unfettered right of American citizens to purchase and own guns, including AK-15 assault weapons.
In “Gun Violence in America: A Theological Treatment for a Deadly Epidemic,” Hays explains that when he searched Amazon and Google, he didn’t find any book that examined gun culture in the United States from a Biblical perspective, so he and Crouch decided to write one.
The book’s six chapters present various aspects of the unique American psyche of owning and using guns and the tragic consequences. The writers draw on statistics, psychology, Old and New Testament passages, culture, and politics. They examine ancient history and current events to make their points.
In Chapter One, “Projecting on Joshua: You Can’t Worship Both God and Glock,” Brent A. Strawn addresses violence in the Old Testament Book of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan. Strawn acknowledges the violence in the Bible and posits that American Christians project themselves onto such Biblical passages to justify gun ownership and violence. He concludes that confronting this realization of projection is the first step toward changing America’s approach to gun violence.
In Chapter Two, “A Mother’s Lament: Mourning as a Witness to Lives That Matter,” Yolanda Norton discusses 2 Samuel 21, the story of Saul’s wife Rizpah, whose two sons were among seven men King David gave over to be hanged, in his attempt to stop a three-year famine.
The bereaved mother takes a public stance to guard all seven bodies left unburied, not just the remains of her sons. Verse 10 describes how she spreads sackcloth to sit and protect the bodies from animal attacks daily and from birds at night. Rizpah challenges the king’s authority and shames David into giving the bodies a proper burial. After the burial, the famine ends.
Norton describes Rizpah (her name means “glowing coal”) as “a woman on the outside of Davidic power.” She says it is Rizpah’s “profoundly personal loss and her resulting vulnerability that gives her the fortitude to challenge the king’s supposed piety.” By her actions, she “ensures justice for the slain.”
Norton compares Rizpah to Black mothers in America who take up the challenge of seeking justice and accountability, not just for the deaths of their sons but for others killed by intentional gunfire. She cites numerous examples, including the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Jordan Davis, son of Lucy McBath.
A White man shot and killed McBath’s son Jordan Davis, who was in the back seat of a car listening to music. His death inspired her to become a national advocate for gun control. In 2018, after the mass shooting that killed 17 high school students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, McBath ran for and won a seat in the United States House of Representatives, representing the Sixth Congressional District, north of Atlanta, Georgia. Congresswoman McBath continues to fight for gun control legislation to protect human life and ensure justice for the slain.
Norton’s writing reveals her passion for the subject matter. She shows that the penchant for violence in the Old Testament and the United States is state-sanctioned and deeply embedded. Under the United States government, the right to own a gun is greater than the right to life. America’s gun culture and justice system are grounded in a safety myth. A common perception among White people is that Black victims of gun violence must have been a threat, so their deaths are justified. Shedding human blood is a crime against God.
Norton concludes that as more Black mothers and others continue to act to protect human life and true justice, America’s Davids will shame into doing the right thing for the people. As a Christian and a Black mother of an adult son, I felt a profound connection to this chapter.
Chapter Three, “Do Not Be Afraid: The Walls of Jerusalem and the Guns of America,” explores self-defense. For context, Hays examines chapters in several Old Testament books, including Isaiah 22 and 44, the New Testament synoptic Gospels, and Revelation. Hays asserts the need to change hearts and minds. He notes conservative pundits speak of a Biblical right of self-defense, yet guns and Christianity are “in effect, two competing religions.” He counters the arguments supporting self-defense with the importance of relying on God, not physical violence. One example is Jesus’ actions when arrested. Hays says we can heal like Jesus or inject more poison. The chapter ends with: “Fear drives gun ideology, but the entire Bible echoes with the refrain, Do Not Be Afraid.”
Chapter Four, “Israelite Bows and American Guns,” by T. M. Lemo discusses the commonality between the bow, used in ancient Israel, and the gun, in the contemporary United States. Both are projectile-type weapons used for hunting and warfare. They represent a wide range of symbols, including power, reproduction, personhood, military dominance and hyper-masculinity, or what current culture calls toxic masculinity. To support his position, Lemo cites numerous examples from Scripture, including Psalm 46:9, Jeremiah 50, Lamentations 3:10 and 52, and Amos 2.
Lemo views Jesus’ death on the Cross as the antithesis of gun violence. “His crucifixion refutes in the most dramatic way possible the conception that divine favor rests with those who make prey of other human beings. It is remarkable that so many Christians seem not to see this.” He concludes his chapter by saying the test Christ calls on us to perform is to lay down our bows and guns and take up the Cross “because it is only the Cross, and not the bow or the gun, that makes Resurrection possible for Him and for the entire world.”
In Chapter Five, “This Sword Is Double-Edged: A Feminist Approach to the Bible and Gun Culture,” Shelly Matthews considers whether it works for Christian gun control advocates to build their arguments on the New Testament theme of nonviolence. She says, “yes and no,” and explores the issue through various New Testament books. Matthews discusses Jesus’ verbal violence in John 8:44, the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in Luke 22, and the wielding of swords in Revelation. Matthews concludes that the Bible is a double-edged interpretive sword, with texts affirming violence and others affirming peace.
The title of Chapter Six presents a blunt question: “Can a Christian Own a Gun?” David Lincicum fine-tunes his title to ask, “Can Christians in the capacity as Christians own guns, or are the moral problems inherent in gun ownership sufficient to render it forbidden?” The author shows Protestants are the highest percentage of gun owners, with white evangelicals leading the way.
Lincicum’s thesis is “The gun is a temptation to arrogate life-destroying power to the wielder, and should be resisted by those who follow an allegiance to a crucified Messiah.” He supports his position with numerous references to Scripture, including 1 Cor. 6:7 and 1 Peter 2:23. Then he poses more questions, such as “The Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms, but should the individual Christian take up that right or refuse to do so?” Lincicum boldly provides Bible-based answers.
Chapter Six closes with a final question: “How can I fulfill the Second Commandment if I am preparing to kill my neighbor?”
Each chapter of “God and Guns: The Bible against American Gun Culture” adds a piece to the picture puzzle of gun ownership and violence in America. The end reveals a picture unlike any other nation. You see a vivid and disturbing image: Intentional killing of men, women, and children in America at the hands of gun owners who are predominantly Christian.
The book reminded me of 1 John 4:20-21 KJV: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
In the Afterword, the editors offer ways for readers to get involved. They include a list of national organizations and non-profits focused on gun control and justice. One of the statistics provided is that 119 people died of gun violence every day in 2020. Then the narrator reads dozens of names of individuals killed by gunfire.
Parks’ recitation reminded me of hearing victims’ names read during the annual 9/11 memorial service. Those individuals were killed intentionally in America by foreign enemies. The shooting victims that Parks names were killed intentionally in America—but by fellow Americans.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants a Bible-based and factual publication with clear and compelling support for its premise: Owning and using a gun to kill a human, even in self-defense, is not what Jesus Christ would do.
God and Guns: The Bible against American Gun Culture begs the question for Christians in the USA who own or consider purchasing and using a gun: Do you love your guns more than you love Jesus Christ?
Dee Lorraine writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and is drafting her first novel. Her work appears in Agape Review, Friday Flash Fiction, Midwest Book Review, The Birdseed, and 101 Words. Dee’s YouTube channel “Superfast Stories” features her videos of writers’ 100-word stories; “Provoke Unto Love” promotes a Christ-centered permanent solution to homelessness in the USA.