Christianity, the religion and faith system that seeks to live the reality of the Risen Christ, has a long history of being confused for, or used to sanction or legitimize, political power. This has always presented Christianity with a dramatic tension between the humble messiah lacking temporal power and the proud, violent empires who have sought to exploit the implicit power of this faith system to their own, often unjust and inhumane, ends. The struggle of the Church throughout history, particularly since the Constantinization of the Church, has been to navigate political power, wealth, and privilege all while claiming to follow the Son of God who is characterized by the Apostle Paul as one who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
This historical struggle is important to keep in mind in our current context where access to power, wealth, and the means of violence, are all being sanctioned by those who claim them as their divine right. This glaring reality became extremely vivid when Wayne LaPierre, the President of the National Rifle Association, or NRA, told a wildly supportive crowd at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, that the right to bear arms is “not bestowed on us by man but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.” The whole speech can be seen here, but I want to pause here for a moment because there is so much here to unpack.
Lord Jesus, there is just… so… much…
I want to address them from the end and work our way backwards. First, LaPierre suggests something about the “American Birthright” and connects this to God’s divine activity. The idea that America is God’s special experiment is not new. In Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, the Rev’d. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas suggests that it is an intentional part of our national narrative, constructed and deployed by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America who viewed America as the “new Israel.” Now, aside from the antisemitism and supercessionism present in this whole foolishness around “New Israel,” the concept that America is God’s special enterprise is an importance idea to keep in mind. It explains why people on the Religious Right react the way they do when athletes like Colin Kaepernick protest the wanton and extrajudicial and ostensibly state-sanctioned disrespect and destruction of black bodies by refusing to stand for the “Star Spangled Banner,” or when anyone offers any critique of Donald Trump (despite the fact that they levied many a critique of Barack Obama – but that was okay because for many on the Religious Right he was both a foreigner and Muslim, which were code for “unAmerican” and “illegitimate”), or when students protest for the right to live and learn in safe environments. These protests aren’t protests against just any state; they are protests against the State, the State divinely ordained by God. Refusal to support the State is tantamount to blasphemy for those who cannot differentiate between their faith and their country.
Second, LaPierre suggests that God has given something special only to Americans. This reinforces, or in the structure of this sentence, introduces, the idea of America as God’s special experiment. It also smacks of American Exceptionalism, the idea that something about the fundamental identity of America is implicitly better than literally every other nation in the world. This might sound like harmless patriotism, but I would like to suggest that is poses a moral danger to the rest of the world, to each of us as citizens, and to people of color who live in the United States. Kelly Brown Douglas critiques the idea of American Exceptionalism in Stand Your Ground as fundamentally grounded in violence. The United States is allowed to assert itself violently across the continent (Manifest Destiny) and across the world (colonialism, slavery, wars, military expansion, etc.) because we are “exceptional” and it is our “responsibility” to spread this exceptionalism. The narrative also prevents us from exploring and claiming a truthful narrative of our history. How can America be “exceptional” when so much of our history is bathed in the blood of Native Americans and enslaved Africans? In order to claim the exceptional label, we downplay the parts of our history which call it into question and overemphasize the parts the fit neatly into the narrative.
[Point 2a, when the NRA refused to stand up for Philando Castile, an African American man who was shot near Minneapolis, Minnesota while in possession of a gun he had both every legal right to own and had disclosed to Officer Jeronimo Yanez, I became very clear about what the NRA means by “all Americans” (spoiler alert: it doesn’t include black folks).]
The Way of the Cross – a way of humility, compassion, peace, and justice – is utterly absurd.
Third, and most troubling, LaPierre claims that the right to bear arms is “not bestowed on us by man but granted by God.” Now, as an ordained priest in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, I want to call bullshit right here. Never, not one, single, solitary time does Jesus promote the use of violence or the tools thereof in scripture. In fact, he sort of promotes the literal opposite. During the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before he was taken away to be tried and crucified, he rebukes an unnamed disciple for attacking the High Priest’s slave. Moreover, despite having “legions of angels” at his disposal, he eschews the use of violence the whole time violence is being use against him. In Transformed Lives: Making Sense of the Atonement Today, Dr. Cynthia Crysdale suggests that his refusal to engage violence with violence was a deliberate, divine action intended to expose the utter fecklessness of the entire enterprise of violence itself. It is true that there are times when Jesus employs rhetorical devices that suggest violence (like when he says that anyone who places a stumbling block in the way of his vulnerable followers should just tie a millstone around their neck and throw themselves into the sea – the ancient version of popular statements like “kill yourself” or “bye Felicia”) but no one who reads the full narrative of the ministry of Jesus can reasonably suggest that he was a proponent of violence in any way). It is possible to draw a violent narrative through a selectively violent reading of the Hebrew Bible or a few other areas of the Christian Testament; but, that requires a lot of proof-texting, the extraction of scripture from its cultural and political context, and a hermeneutic that is itself steeped in violence. Moveover, taken as a whole, the Holy Bible, a book sacred to Christians, seems to point us away from violence.
But the point I want to expose is that all this deep, careful theologizing is unimportant for those who are determined to live their lives according to codes of violence and narratives of exceptionalism. They aren’t interested in being formed by the God of the Bible into the image of God’s Son. They are only interested in deploying the Bible as a tool to promote their values of violence and greed. They are so deeply entrenched in a narrative of violence and wealth that the Way of the Cross – a way of humility, compassion, peace, and justice – is utterly absurd to them. The Apostle Paul tells the Church of Corinth that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It makes no sense for people who stake their hopes on worldly power and might that they, like all idols, are powerless to save. Only the Way of the Cross is salvific. It makes absolutely no sense. It is counter-intuitive. It is foolish.
And that’s the whole point.
In coming into the world, the Son of God brought the fullness of God to bear against the kingdoms and systems of this world, kingdoms and systems which often position themselves against God. The way to engage these systems couldn’t be on their terms – wealth, power, privilege, and violence. That is why Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a Bethlehem ghetto and on the fringes of imperially-occupied land. Jesus was born devoid of earthly power to reveal the utter powerlessness of that power. From the very beginning, Jesus was inhabiting, and thereby blessing, nonviolent direct action as the way to live in the world against exploitation and oppression. Violence was the enemy and antithetical to the Reign of God. And when that powerless-power violated his body and his life, rather than respond with the same, Jesus short-circuited the systems of powerless-power by introducing a new force into the equation – love. He calls out powerless-power, all them time honoring the human dignity of those who oppressively used their powerless-power. He forgives the system for killing him, all the while indicting it as ignorant (“they do not know what they are doing”). He accepts the blows rather than return them.
It makes no sense for people who stake their hopes on worldly power and might that they, like all idols, are powerless to save. Only the Way of the Cross is salvific.
If God was going to grant anyone the right to bear arms, I would think it would start with the Son of God who was exposed to abuse and state-sanctioned murder. But God doesn’t, and that’s because the “right to bear arms” is not from God at all. In giving us free-will, we can choose to bear arms; but, as I was told growing up: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Each person in the United States of America has the Constitutional right to bear arms and each American must make that choice for themselves, but don’t for one moment try to make the case that owning a gun is something God wants. If Isaiah’s “Peaceable Kingdom” is a framework of the Reign of God that is to be believed, weapons have no place in the presence of God and that is because they are feckless idols of powerless-power which distract from the actual source of real power – God.
God does not give us the right to bear arms. God gives us a commandment – “love one another.” That is the highest ideal of our Christian faith and the sum total of the Law and the Prophets. We ought to strive for greater and wider expressions of love, rather than retreating behind increasingly high and armored walls of fear and violence. Let me know when we are having that national conversation – the conversation when we decide that pouring more and more money into weapons and security isn’t actually making us any safer because safety and security only happen when human beings have what they need to flourish (food, shelter, nurture, and community). That is a worldview that is defensible in scripture.
The rest of this is inhumane, blasphemous garbage and its high time the Church speaks out against it.
 Constantinization refers to the process by which Christianity moved from a fringe religious system to the center of power in the Roman Empire. In 313 C.E., one year after the Battle of Milvian Bridge where the victory of Constantine’s army was attributed to the power of the Christian God, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which made “religious tolerance” an official imperial policy. In doing so, the Roman State was essentially making the claim that Christianity no longer stood in opposition to the goals and ends of the Roman State (which was the political reason behind the persecution of Christians in late antiquity). This political move in effect neutered the early church’s radical claims that Jesus Christ, not Caesar, was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” This legalization of Christianity suggested that the Church could exist simultaneously with, and in many ways provide the sacred foundation for, the brutal Roman State. Nicene Christianity wouldn’t become the “official” religion of the Roman Empire until 380 CE when the Edict of Thessalonica made profession of the faith compulsory.
 Philippians 2:7
 Matthew 26:52
 Matthew 26:53
 1 Corinthians 1:18
 Luke 23:34
 Isaiah 11:1-9