question of faith

Question of faith: Faith leaders address the role of religion and morality in gun control debate

Church leaders reflect on what religion can bring to the discussion

February 22, 2013 

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  • IF YOU GO

    "Overcoming Violence in our culture: Faith perspectives" featuring Rabbi Moshe Smolkin of Ohavay Zion Synagogue; the Rev. Dalene Vasbinder of Woodland Christian Church; Ben Griffith of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation; Carole Barnsley, assistant professor of religion at Transylvania University and Lance Brunner, music history professor at the University of Kentucky.

    When: 7-9 p.m., Feb. 26

    Where: Ohavay Zion Synagogue, 2048 Edgewater Court

    Contact: Lisa Satin at (859) 338-3740.

The controversial issues of guns, gun control, the rights of gun owners and the American gun culture are in the spotlight these days.

The debate ranges from what the Second Amendment of the Constitution really means to how to keep children safe in schools.

We asked Central Kentucky faith leaders what role religion and morality play in this debate. Here are some of their answers:

Chuck Queen, senior pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Frankfort: Jesus responded to violence with nonviolence and told his disciples to follow him all the way to the cross. When one disciple drew his sword the night of his capture, Jesus told him to put it up. He instructed them to love their enemies, to pray for them and do good to them.

That said, if a violent intruder invaded my home or church or workplace with the intent to harm, I would do whatever I could to take him down, violence not withstanding. But I could not claim the blessing of Jesus.

What makes no sense is why any Christian would not be a strong advocate for common sense gun legislation that bans assault style weapons and requires background checks and registration. Certainly the Second Amendment did not envision the destructive capability of modern weapons. But even if it did, Christians are first citizens of God's kingdom before they are Americans or citizens of any other country. Our first allegiance is to our nonviolent Messiah and his peaceable kingdom.

The fact that so many Christians oppose common sense gun legislation simply shows how far much of institutional Christianity has drifted away from the actual life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Rachel Brooks, New Hope Church, Lexington: Religion and morality do have a role to play in this debate, and people of faith need to stand up and remind society that the problem on our hands is not the object (the gun), but our cultural cheapening of life and our insistence on removing the idea of personal responsibility.

Evil has always been and always will be among us. Blaming an inanimate object is evidence of our unwillingness to face this reality.

The Bible clearly gives one the right to defend oneself and the obligation to defend those who are too weak to do so. Loving our neighbor means that we will come to their defense and sometimes that means using a weapon to prevent greater harm and destruction.

As Christians we should never be ruled by fear and emotion, and we have a sacred duty to seek truth that is grounded in reality and fact, and the data and statistics do not support the idea that "gun control" reduces gun crimes and gun violence. Believing that "gun control" will make the world safer does not correspond to reality.

As Christians it is our obligation to take care of the weakest members of society. This means that we should be caring for the mentally ill and we should be defending children, and the recent events indicate that we don't seem to be doing an adequate job on either front.

Rev. Mary Weese, pastor, Midway Presbyterian Church: There is the easy way. And then there is the hard way.

Over and over, Jesus called people to do things the hard way. Don't settle for vengeance, he said. As much as you want to, don't be vindictive. Turn the other cheek. Pray for those who persecute you. Love your enemies.

I wish Jesus made it easier on us when it comes to guns, but he doesn't. He makes it clear there is no place in the Kingdom of God for violence. When people came for him with weapons he said to his disciple Peter: "Put your sword away, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52) Jesus calls us to do something better.

The easy way is to believe that guns are the answer. The hard way is to believe that love is.

The easy way is to think of ourselves as vigilantes. The hard way is to trust our law enforcement officers to protect us.

The easy way is to talk about our rights. The hard way is to talk about someone else's rights to not be a victim of gun violence.

The easy way is not to compromise because it's a 'slippery slope.' The hard way is to know we must work this out together.

The easy way is to blame the mentally ill. The hard way is to know they are our brothers and sisters and we are their keepers.

The easy way is to accept violent solutions. The hard way is to look for nonviolent ones.

Jesus calls us to do better. He calls us to make the world more gracious and loving. So that's what we must ask: What will make us more gracious and loving?

The Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church: On any divisive issue like this one, I see the church's role as modeling what it means to be in constructive dialogue. Faithful believers will reside on both sides of this issue, so the church's job is not to champion one particular view, but to create space where both sides can listen to the other. Progress won't be made on issues like gun control by seeing who can shout the loudest or which side can quote the most biblical passages. Progress will be made when we recognize the complexity of the issue and the passionate emotions involved, and when we seek the greater good for all of God's people, not just ourselves.

Anthony Everett, lead Christian social activist, Nia Community of Faith: Since the early days of this country, the gun violence culture has been a tragic part of our American way of life. Gun violence began as the first settlers came to the 13 colonies as a form of conquering and controlling the original inhabitants of the land. It continued with the creation of the U.S. Constitution and a Second Amendment that empowered state militias to quell the insurrection of enslaved Africans in Southern states.

The amendment had nothing to do with hunting and recreational shooting, if such a thing really exists. A bullet from a gun is meant only to kill a living creature. It has no other purpose.

The role religion and morality play in the gun violence culture debate is to educate people that human bodies are sacred — the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, in fact, was a pacifist.

The fact that an average of 33 bodies are laid to rest each day due to gun violence in this country cannot be in the best interest of the common good. There should be no debate when it comes to human life. Those who would support the right to life movement and conversely support "gun owners' rights" are hypocrites.

The faith community must call on every level of government to take steps to stop gun violence.

It is all about common sense and reforms that save lives, pure and simple, with efforts that have proven to be effective. Those efforts include universal background checks on every gun sale, banning high capacity gun magazines, and banning military-style assault weapons. It could include gun buyback programs in which the guns and ammunition are destroyed.

We must also shift our thinking that views the importance of the loss of life in Aurora, Co., and Newton, Conn., where the victims are majority European American, as greater than the loss of life of children like Hadiya Pendelton and others on the Southside of Chicago, Illinois or our African American youth in the north, east, and west neighborhoods of Lexington. The lives of African American youth are as equally as important. Youth from communities of color in America die disproportionately from gun violence..

Gun violence control is the real issue, and for anyone who reveres God and respects God's creation of human life, there is no debate.

Debra Monck, Lexington: If you own a hand gun or assault rifle, or basically anything beyond a rifle used for hunting, and have ammunition for the gun, I would surmise you are prepared to wound, if not kill another person with it. You have already made the decision you are willing to take a life, most likely in a split-second decision.

When I compare that scenario with the Sermon on the Mount, I do not see the parallels. When I look at the words of Jesus, I read nothing that encourages me to grab a literal weapon and be prepared for a shoot-out.

This past spring, my son walked home from his high school bus stop to a crime scene. At approximately 3 p.m. on a Thursday in May, a 19-year-old was shot across the street from our home. He died a few hours later at a hospital. While arming our home might seem like a safe and reasonable response to such violence, I choose to disagree. Teaching our 18-year-old honor student with excellent hand-eye coordination from years of drumming to defend the family with a hand gun might seem the smart idea, but I differ. I choose an example of peace and reconciliation.

Ernie Heavin, Oasis Church of Christ, Georgetown: The story goes that when the famous vaudeville comedian W. C. Fields was hospitalized for the last time, enduring a bout of delirium tremens, his friends found him reading a Bible. One of them said, "What? You, Bill, reading the Bible? You're an atheist, what are you doing reading the Bible?" The alcoholic, hard-living comedian replied, "Looking for a loophole."

In my opinion, the gun control issue is more about looking for loopholes than actually addressing the core of the problem. And the core of the problem is the heart, not the hardware. The apostle James presents us with a very good question, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you?" (James 4:1)

The role religion and morality play in this debate will most likely not be settled by the Second Amendment of the Constitution, but from the first and foremost commandment of the Most High God, in which Jesus said, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Rev. Karen Hartsfield, Associate Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church: A 1998 PCUSA study guide reads: "Sin means that all our relations with others have become distorted and confused. Although we did not cease to be with God, our fellow human beings, and other creatures, we did cease to be for them; and although we did not lose our distinctive human capacities completely, we did lose the ability to use them rightly, especially in relation to God. Having ruined our connection with God by disobeying God's will, we are persons with hearts curved in upon ourselves. We have become slaves to the sin of which we are guilty, helpless to save ourselves. ..."

The hopeless need hope. Humankind's hope is Jesus Christ. "Our mission ... is to bring hope to a desperate world by declaring God's undying love — as one beggar tells another where to find bread." Since Christ is hope, "God judges what God abhors — everything hostile to love — by abolishing it at the very roots. In this judgment the unexpected occurs: good is brought out of evil, hope out of hopelessness, and life out of death."

God's love is what a person bent on annihilating himself and others needed to have heard. God has answered our question, "How many innocents have to be slaughtered!?" God's answer was, "Just one."

The Rev. Jim Sichko, St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, Richmond: There are two specific roles, as I see it, that the church must play in the discussion of morality and, specifically, regarding gun control.

The church and her members must always be prophetic in proclaiming the Kingdom of God; that said, we must always be bold in calling all people to examine their responses to any issue in light of the inherent dignity that human beings have since we are made in God's own image.

Anything that threatens, destroys, compromises or diminishes the inherent dignity of life must be realized for what it is as measured by the litmus test of the dignity of life. Safeguarding life is paramount. Religion and morality must be prophetic enough to call us to new introspection and valid thought processes that cause us to make decisions based on more than simply the confines of the law or personal agenda.

Elda Dede, Baha'i Community Of Lexington: Here is what is written in The Most Holy Book (the Baha'i book of laws): It hath been forbidden you to carry arms unless essential. He, verily, is the Ordainer, the Omniscient. Let there be naught in your demeanor of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant. Well is it with him who hath adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character. He is assuredly reckoned with those who aid their Lord through distinctive and outstanding deeds.

Bahá'u'lláh confirms an injunction contained in the Bayán which makes it unlawful to carry arms, unless it is necessary to do so. With regard to circumstances under which the bearing of arms might be "essential" for an individual, 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives permission to a believer for self-protection in a dangerous environment. There are a number of other situations in which weapons are needed and can be legitimately used; for instance, in countries where people hunt for their food and clothing, and in such sports as archery, marksmanship, and fencing.

In the Tablet of Bishárát, Bahá'u'lláh expresses the hope that "weapons of war throughout the world may be converted into instruments of reconstruction and that strife and conflict may be removed from the midst of men."


IF YOU GO

"Overcoming Violence in our culture: Faith perspectives" featuring Rabbi Moshe Smolkin of Ohavay Zion Synagogue; the Rev. Dalene Vasbinder of Woodland Christian Church; Ben Griffith of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation; Carole Barnsley, assistant professor of religion at Transylvania University and Lance Brunner, music history professor at the University of Kentucky.

When: 7-9 p.m., Feb. 26

Where: Ohavay Zion Synagogue, 2048 Edgewater Court

Contact: Lisa Satin at (859) 338-3740.

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