Shootings spark gun control discussion among Baptists

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Amid a tragic stream of mass shootings -- including incidents in Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Marshall County, Ky.; and now Parkland, Fla. -- Southern Baptists have offered a range of proposals on gun control.

Baptist commentators have urged Christians to discuss gun control 'constructively' and in a manner that does 'not divide.'
While details of the proposals differ, their advocates agree the ultimate problem behind gun violence is spiritual and that believers should not allow differences on gun policy to divide them.

"Gun control, admittedly, is a culturally divisive topic," wrote Todd Deaton, editor of Kentucky's Western Recorder newsjournal, one of at least three Baptist state papers to address gun violence in the past two weeks, "but it's part of a conversation the church needs to help lead our society to have constructively ... for the sake of our children, for the sake of our congregants, for the sake of our communities."

Deaton wrote in a Feb. 20 editorial that followers of Jesus should "acknowledge" that gun policy "is a very complex social issue" while avoiding "insults" and "tired rhetoric."

Possible topics of discussion for churches, Deaton wrote, include "responsible gun ownership"; "increased security measures" at schools and houses of worship; "mental health issues"; depictions of violence "in movies, television and video games"; and "the biblical values of love of self and love of neighbor."

Gerald Harris, editor of Georgia's Christian Index newsjournal, offered several suggestions for curbing school shootings in a Feb. 21 editorial, though he stopped short of advocating laws to restrict the purchase of firearms.

"A more careful scrutiny of those seeking to buy guns and more effective background checks would probably be helpful," Harris wrote, "but if you expect me to become a champion of gun control as a means of curbing school shooting[s] you will be disappointed."

Harris added, "Those who go on killing sprees are people with mental or psychotic illnesses, people who become agents of the devil, people who hate, people who are angry and if guns were not available they would find some other weapon like explosives, poisons, or some other nefarious means of destruction."

Among Harris' proposals were arming qualified teachers in schools, following up "on reports of individuals who give warning signs that they are bent on violence," combatting violence in the media and holding children accountable at home.

In a column submitted to Baptist Press, Maryland pastor James Dixon asked Christians to consider voluntarily getting rid of their guns to highlight the priority of spiritual solutions to violence in America.

"One effective way for Christians to exemplify God's precepts and examples here on earth is to totally surrender our guns and embrace the full armor of God," wrote Dixon, pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md. "When mankind sees we live in this world but are not of this world, and are willing to give our lives for the Kingdom of God, it is then, only then, that a divine change will take place in our society.

"We human beings do not have the physical capacity to protect ourselves from Satan," wrote Dixon, a former president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. "We can purchase all the guns in the world and it still wouldn't be enough to protect us from evil, because it was God's original plan that He'd be the one who provides eternal protection for His people."

A Feb. 21 op-ed in the Baptist General Convention of Texas' Baptist Standard newsjournal suggested Christians give up their guns as a form of fasting during Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter.

"When we as Christians cannot think of giving up something, it is a sign that it has occupied its seat in the house too long, a houseguest long overstayed," Myles Werntz, a professor at Hardin-Simmons University, wrote in the Standard.

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic said in a series of tweets following the Parkland shooting that individuals "under age 21 should not be able to legally purchase a high-capacity gun, of any type, designed to kill humans." He also commended "young people" for participating in "demonstrations to bring common sense gun laws to America."

"The Bible says, woe unto him who gives strong drink to his neighbor," McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, tweeted Feb. 23. "Implication: the one supplying the drink is as responsible for consequences as the consumer. NRA/GOP/Evangelicals makes the AR15 [semi-automatic rifle] available. That makes them complicit. Surely we can agree to outlaw AR15's? Surely!"

A month following the murder of 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, ethicist Russell Moore urged believers to keep the gun control debate in perspective and not allow political opinions about weapons to become their priority.

"Often our cultural and moral and political debates are important," Moore wrote in a December 2017 commentary. "Offering one's opinion is fine and good, sometimes even necessary. But if our passions demonstrate that these things are most important to us, and to our identity, we have veered into a place we do not want to go."

Two years earlier, following the shooting deaths of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., Moore wrote that gun control debates "should not divide" Christians. While views about gun laws should "be shaped by Scripture and the church," there is no "'Thus saith the Lord' command" on gun control "with the authority of Scripture."

For his part, Moore said he holds "traditionally conservative views on the Second Amendment as a personal and individual right."

Still, Moore wrote in a January 2016 commentary, "I do not think that our debates over gun control are debates over whether or not we will be pro-life. The question of gun control is a different question than the question of gun violence itself. The gun control debate isn't between people who support the right to shoot innocent people and those who don't. It's instead a debate about what's prudent, and what's not, in solving the common goal of ending criminally violent behavior.

"That's why orange-vested National Rifle Association members and Birkenstock-wearing vegan gun-control advocates can exist as the Body of Christ," Moore wrote, "in the same church without excommunicating one another."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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