It takes serious theological gymnastics to twist the Bible to defend guns.
Ted Cruz was the largest recipient of National Rifle Association funds during the 2016 Senate race. And that seems to have affected the way he interprets the Bible.
Here’s the backdrop for those who missed it. It all started with a thread from Texas State Representative Matt Schaefer in which he said gun ownership is one of our “God-given rights”. Not given by the Constitution, but by God. Enter Alyssa Milano. The actress-turned-activist (and perhaps now a budding theologian?) Asked a good question: Can anyone quote what passage from the Bible God declares that it is a God-given right to have a firearm ?
Cruz took a bite of the hook and replied with a long thread to him. In an attempt to defend the “right given by God” to own a firearm, Cruz cited an obscure text from the Book of Exodus: “If a thief is caught breaking and entering at night and receives a blow fatal, the defender is not guilty. shedding of blood ”(Exodus 22: 2). Cruz himself even admitted that the next verse says that if the same thing happens during the day, it is no longer self-defense and the law forbids it. Thus, according to Cruz’s own argument, the right to self-defense by firearm ends at dawn. Afterwards, it’s a murder.
It is certainly an exaggeration to say that a verse from Exodus allowing self-defense in the middle of the night justifies the right to own military weapons and take them to Walmart in broad daylight. But this is where Cruz’s logic leads us.
It should be noted that the same chapter of Exodus used by Cruz ostentatiously speaks of taking care of strangers, widows and orphans and ensuring that the poor receive justice and compassion. The same chapter, Exodus 22, says this: “Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger, for you were once strangers in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the orphan. If you do and they scream at me, I will definitely hear their scream. Wow. I would have liked him to take this role literally.
Or the part of the next chapter, Exodus 23, that says, “Do not take a bribe.
While Exodus does not defend guns, it does prohibit paying a bribe… like, say, $ 360,727.
Like a target at the shooting range, there are a lot of holes in Cruz’s theology. But the biggest hole in his theology is this: There is no Jesus in it. In his argument for firearms, he never once mentions Jesus or the gospel.
When it comes to interpreting the Old Testament, Jesus is the lens through which we understand everything. When you interpret Jesus in light of the Exodus, rather than the Exodus in the light of Jesus, you get distorted theology.
Every pro-gun Christian has the lingering problem of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the enemy love that Jesus displays on the cross. At the heart of Christianity is a savior who has been the victim of violence, not an advocate of violence.
So I started to think about what text I would use if I was leading a Bible study with Cruz (or Milano, for that matter). In fact, the two have agreed to meet in person next week to discuss the matter.
If I were to sit down with Cruz and a Bible, I would turn to a story that appears in Luke 22 – when the disciple Peter uses a weapon to defend Jesus – a story so important to the disciples that it appears in all four Gospels.
When Roman soldiers try to stop Jesus, Peter takes his sword and cuts off a man’s ear. Jesus responds in a surprising and confusing way. He scolds Peter and tells him to put his sword away, insisting that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. Then Jesus healed the injured man, picking up the man’s ear and putting it back in place.
Peter learned, as each of us who dares to follow Jesus must learn, we cannot carry a cross in one hand and a weapon in the other. Jesus shows us how to interact with violence without reflecting violence.
Early church father Tertullian said, “When Jesus disarmed Peter, he disarmed each of us. There is not a Christian in the first 300 years of the faith who justified violence or argued for self-defense. Instead, history records the opposite. The early Christians insisted that for Christ we can die on behalf of others, but we cannot kill for them.
Cruz offers a version of “Christianity” which traded the cross for a gun.
But the gun and the cross give us two different versions of what power looks like. We’re ready to die. The other is ready to kill.
I will say this: Cruz teaches us something to pay attention to. Gun violence is not just a political problem; it is a spiritual problem. At the root of our gun problem lies a theological and moral crisis.
Remember, the day after this recent shooting in Texas, the state changed its gun laws to allow people to carry guns to church. Christians heat up as they worship the Prince of Peace.
Christians own firearms at a higher rate than the general population and use the Bible to defend these weapons (just as it was once used to defend slavery).
White Evangelical Christians are the largest gun-owning demographic in America. It is clear that gun violence has persisted in America not in spite of Christians, but because of Christians … many of whom claim to be “pro-life.”
Christians like to talk about being pro-life, but too often it would be fairer to say we are pro-birth or anti-abortion. Christians need a pro-life vision that is cohesive and defends life from womb to tomb.
Gun violence is a pro-life problem.
Over 100 lives a day – each created in the image of God – are lost to guns. It matters to God, and it should concern us.
Shane Claiborne is the founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and co-founder of Red Letter Christians. His books include, as co-author, “Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Wey of Violence”. The opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.