Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guns And Protests: How Should Christians Protect American Freedoms?

When President Barack Obama made a stop in Phoenix, Arizona on Monday, the location where he was to speak was surrounded by protesters. That is not, perhaps, unusual in and of itself, but there was something about this crowd that was . . . many were carrying guns.

Arizona is an open carry state - you may carry a loaded gun almost anywhere as long as it is in plain site. Only concealed carry requires a permit. A news article about the event, unfortunately, took issue with one particular man who carried a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle (perfectly legal), calling it "military-style" and an "assault weapon".

These protesters made the point that unless you use your rights, you will lose them. The the specific "rights" that they speak of is their interpretation of the second amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights: "the right right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was also interviewed for this article. He said that people should not be allowed to bring guns near the president. "To me, this is craziness. When you bring a loaded gun, particularly a loaded assault rifle, to any political event, but particularly to one where the president is appearing, you're just making the situation dangerous for everyone."

Another perspective came from Northern Arizona University political scientist, Fred Solop,"When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance. It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication."

The question is, who's right? I believe they all are. The protesters are correct that they may, indeed, lose their rights to bear arms, although I disagree with their use of the Second Amendment. I will briefly describe why. The full amendment reads: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Yes, individuals have the right to keep and bear arms. That right must be maintained. But the purpose for the keeping and bearing of arms is what is glossed over and has definitely been infringed upon: a well regulated militia. State and local militias are the last check to balance the political system to prevent our entire political system from spinning out of control. This nation was founded "for the people, by the people" and, according to the Declaration of Independence, must "throw off such a government [which "evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism"] . . . and provide new guards for their future security." State Militias were disbanded after the Civil War by Abraham Lincoln. All attempts to return to this model have been thwarted by the federal government. Each state should sovereignly maintain its own militia that could, in theory, overthrow the federal miltary. This keeps the government in check.

Protests, by nature, are supposed to shock and wake people from "things as usual." In this goal, these protesters are succeeding. But they may not like the response they receive. Most do not understand, or care, about what rights we have been given or their individual duty to protect them. They see open gun-carrying as a threat to personal safety and will not respond favorably.

The Brady Campaign president is also somewhat correct in that it is probably unwise to protest with guns around this particular president. Barack Obama is a rather polarizing individual and there seems to be a lot of anxiety concerning his ethnic background, his policies, and his means of achieving those policies. Many are worried that he might be threatened, or worse, assassinated. Assassination would be a tragedy and would do more to hurt the intentions of conservative gun-owners than anything the Brady Campaign could concoct.

The political scientist is also correct, not in theory but in practice. In our day, guns are polarizing and even the sight of a gun can send some individuals into a veritable panic. Conscientious gun owners and users should be sensitive to their concerns even while standing for their own beliefs. In theory, we should be able to bring guns into the presidential speeches and rallies, but given our current, divided, national condition, it would be very unwise and impractical to do so.

Political philosophy aside, how should Christians protect their freedoms as citizens? Are there things that are off limits to the Christian? Christians are under specific biblical strictures that we are required to obey. Paul said in Romans 13:1-5,

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves . . . For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Jesus said in Matthew 26:52, "All those who draw the sword will die by the sword (this may not be as much a condemnation as a warning)." Jesus also said in Matthew 5:21, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."

There is nothing in Scripture against protest, although we must be careful to obey our authorities. This holds concerns for common protest practices like civil disobedience. Further, we Christians must not violently protest or commit murder (including political assassination). Does this mean we cannot be involved in a militia or in the army? I don't think so. I believe that the Christian may serve as a militia-man or a soldier with a clear conscience. As an individual, the Christian should be a model citizen, even in the face of oppression.

How should the Christian go about changing laws? Our nation is blessed in that it allows individuals to participate in the political process (especially at the local, community level). Christians should be involved. We should use the means that have been granted by the work and blood of those who have gone before us. We can sway the government toward a favorable perspective toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ through faithful individual Christian witness and justice toward all people. When given the opportunity to speak on bills or regulations that could harm Gospel work or the Gospel message, we must speak out.

Should we protest? As long as it is lawful to protest peaceably, we may do so. Should we carry guns in protest? It may be legal in some places, and therefore it is a matter of personal conviction, but I would suggest that it is unwise to do so. Should we use guns in protest? Our current laws provide for the overthrow of the government through violent means, but I would suggest that this is not the realm of the Christian. Let us use the laws and the time we have been given to sway our legal system toward the cause of Christ Jesus so that violent protest is not necessary and we won't have to deal with the ethics and theology of such an event.

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