Potluck | November 6, 2017

God and guns

I don’t want to talk about it either.

But in spite of the controversy, there’s a heightened need to address the relationship between guns and our faith.

Back when the availability of guns translated into a hunting rifle on the gun rack or a BB gun in the closet, things were tame and controllable. But now a whole arsenal is at our disposal—legally.

The recent carnage in Las Vegas has made the arsenal horribly vivid. But many of us Americans are accessing that weaponry in a kneejerk reaction to a perceived rise in violent crime.

It’s ironic, though. Violent crime overall is in decline, in spite of a recent uptick of violence in US cities in 2017. Gun acquisition has increased, as more Americans acquire weapons for self-protection, not merely for recreational use.

This translates into a climate of fear, resulting in the rise of violence, including gun violence, as people increasingly utilize armed force in an attempt to protect themselves.

But God wants us to protect ourselves more creatively. Violence doesn’t work. As Martin Luther King Jr. clarifies: Violence is “a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. . . . Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”

For some, this sounds naïve. But a turn from violence is not equal to being a doormat. Rather, it’s a doorway to a more savvy way of stopping evil.

Fifty-five years ago, America was entangled in the Cuban missile crisis. The Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for a fullscale attack. But cooler heads prevailed, and a better weapon was found: a naval “quarantine” of Cuba. The US surrounded Cuba with ships, preventing more weapons from entering from the Soviet Union and forcing Cuba to remove or destroy the missiles already in place.

Nonviolent solutions would be more evident if we applied the same research and development prowess to the creation of nonviolent weaponry as we do to conventional weaponry. Christ-followers are to slow the cycle of violence— advancing creative weapons, nonviolent weapons, God’s weapons. Thus, we advocate for the lessening of guns, to lessen the temptation to protect ourselves violently.

In 1995, Mennonite artist Esther Augsburger and her son Michael created a 16-by-19-foot sculpture entitled “Guns into Plowshares.” It was created out of 3,000 actual guns, melted down after being collected by the Washington, DC, police, as part of a buy-back program.

For years “Guns into Plowshares” stood prophetically in Judiciary Square, in the heart of Washington. But in 2008, Judiciary Square was remodeled and the sculpture was replaced by a fountain. “Guns into Plowshares” was relocated behind a fence, in a maintenance yard near a sewage treatment plant. Later it sat next to a remote police evidence control facility. How easily the cause of nonviolence can ebb away.

But the Augburgers did not give up. This fall, “Guns into Plowshares” was relocated temporarily to the edge of the Eastern Mennonite University’s campus to be refurbished.

The move was a herculean effort, since the sculpture weighs four tons. But the Augsburgers were determined that the sculpture not be sidelined—but renewed, so that eventually it can be returned to Washington for a continued witness for peace.

We are called to renew and continue our witness for peace. It’s a herculean effort. But Jesus and his message will not be sidelined.

Jesus requires that his message be proclaimed in the public square, openly, prophetically, vividly, until the dream comes true: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. . . . they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:3-4).

Thank you to Eastern Mennonite University for granting permission to use photos from the “Guns Into Plowshares” statue dedication ceremony. Find out more at http://emu.edu/now/news/2017/10/forging-peace-guns-plowshares-sculpture-dedicated-emu.

Paul Mundey is an ordained Church of the Brethren minister. He is engaged in a ministry of writing and consulting, along with being a post-graduate student in family systems theory, at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University.