Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jesus & Guns

There are far too many people who read Scripture without any context. I'm grateful to Walter Wink, a New Testament scholar who opened my eyes to the context of "turn the other cheek."

According to Wink, in the time of Jesus it was alright to backhand your slave, your wife, your child, your inferior; to put them "back in their place." Since the right hand was the only hand you used for human interaction (the left was reserved for wiping one's bottom, still a custom among the poor in many places), you would backhand your inferior on the right cheek, the only cheek where backhanding would work. According to the laws of the day, this was allowable.

When Jesus says to the slave or wife, "turn the other cheek," he's not saying be a doormat for Jesus. The abuser can't backhand on the left cheek. The only option is a fist to the face. According to the laws of the day, that was not allowable! That was assault, even in the patriarchal society of that time.

Jesus is saying to the abused person, be fearless. Stand your ground in dignity as a child of God. Make your abuser recognize you as their equal and if they are going to unlawfully hit you, they will strike you as an equal. 

The other two scenarios that follow in the Gospel of Matthew, in context, counsel the same moral jiu jitsu, putting the burden of being in the wrong on the abuser. 

Most Bible translations also have Jesus saying "resist not evil." Wink contends this is a mistranslation, likely from the time of King James, when the King had a personal investment in having his subjects believe evil shouldn't be resisted. Wink claims the sentence should be translated "resist not evil in the usual way." 

And the usual way of resisting evil, then, as now, was violence. 

I'm not a Greek scholar. But thinking about it, I can't understand how Jesus would tell us not to resist evil. Isn't that what his whole life was about, resisting evil? Whether it was the work of demons, the oppressive laws and actions of the religious and political elites or the money changers in the temple, he resisted evil to the point of crucifixion.

Nowhere in the Gospels can I find Jesus suggesting we use violence or get weapons, even for self defense. But unfortunately, I still recall the church that wanted to start a men's group. In order to assure a good attendance they raffled off several free guns. And recently, Jerry Falwell Jr. counseled all the students at the "Christian" Liberty University, to buy guns and carry them, as he does; ostensibly, to take out any Muslims that might come their way. 

Let's face it. People with guns kill people. People with guns get angry, get fearful, get threatened, get drunk, get stupid. People with guns have an easy response to threat, especially a gun that's concealed and carried. Even if Jesus is in the heart, the gun is quickly in the hand.

This past month it wasn't just a massacre in California, following on a similar bloodletting in Colorado. There was also the guy in Texas who didn't like his neighbor parking in front of his house. When he told him to move the car and was denied, he shot his neighbor in the head. 

Didn't Jesus say, love your neighbor?

Or how about the waitress in the Mississippi Waffle House. She told a customer he couldn't smoke in the restaurant, they argued, and he pulled a gun from his waistband and with one shot to the head killed her. All over a cigarette.

People with guns are dangerous. It's not a backhand today. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser, if the abuser owns a firearm. And firearms are used more than any other vehicle in suicide. We have even coined the phrase in this country "suicide by cop." Is it any wonder, with guns in every home and on every street corner, that we have a climate of fear and terror permeating the very fabric of the culture. We only seem to know how to escalate, not de-escalate conflict.

And in the midst of it all, people like tough talking Donald Trump, encourage the "roughing up" of contrary voices, the beating of the homeless as some of his followers get "a little carried away," and as of late, celebrating "how his poll numbers go up" with every new massacre. My God, what have we become?

In the Senate on December 3, our two Senators in South Dakota both voted against:  (1) permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists; (2) ensuring that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and providing a responsible and consistent background check process; and (3) improving mental health and substance use prevention and treatment.

Both Senators should be retired as quickly as possible, after apologizing to all the family members of the gun dead on their watch. We need believers in Jesus, not the gun lobby, in Congress.

Carl Kline

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