Thursday, September 27, 2012

Christianity and the Bill of Rights (Part 2)

This is the second in a weekly series discussion between Christian Theology and articles from the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.  Today we discuss the 2nd amendment:
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.

A fundamental human right that the founders of our nation wanted to protect was our right to own and carry weapons.  I've never owned a gun, and don't suspect I will.  I'm not a hunter, I'm not a gun enthusiast.  I have, however, done some target shooting.  I've shot clay pigions with a shotgun at a camp where I used to work; and while in college, after helping a fraternity brother build a deck on his parents house, shot other various rifles, handguns, etc. on his rural Indiana property.  While I do not suspect I will ever own a gun--I have to say shooting them was great fun.  This tends to be how I think of guns--a source of recreation, not unlike a fishing pole. 

However, I also know of guns as a big part of the problem in inner-city areas.  All kinds of people carry handguns, and disputes (drug-related and otherwise) turn into homicide as quickly as an angry person can pull the trigger.  On the one hand guns are fun... on the other, they are dangerous.  They can be used well, they can be used with terrible destruction.  And our constitution says we have the right to own them and carry them.

I tend to naturally agree with some who say--yes, owning some types of guns is appropriate while other guns (i.e. semi-automatic assault riffles) may not be appropriate.  We say certain guns are not designed for every day personal use, but for military use.  There is a problem however...  The right to keep and bear arms is specifically given due to the agreed upon premise, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state..."  It is precisely for military purposes, not hunting even, that we have a right to own and carry weapons.  It will be interesting if our court system ever defines appropriate and inappropriate weapons for individuals to bear... for instance, I don't suspect this right allows for your neighbor to build a nuclear weapon and hold onto it just in case; regulation is called for in the amendment ("a well-regulated militia").  Conservative Justice Scalia suggests it may be likely that the courts could impose limits on what weapons are protected and which are not:
"Some [limitations] undoubtedly are because there were some that were acknowledged at the time. There was a tort called a ”frighting” which if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something, that was I believe a misdemeanor. So yes there are some limitations that can be imposed, what they are will depend on what the society understood were reasonable limitations at the time... Obviously the amend does not apply to arms that cannot be carried — it’s to “keep and bear,” so it doesn’t apply to cannons, but I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to — it’ll have to be decided."

What about the Christian voice in this?  Should Christians bear arms?  Is it a mark of a society that bears the influence of Christianity to have such a right that all people may bear arms?  Not surprisingly there isn't a clear cut answer to this...  Since the right to bear arms is for the purpose of a well regulated militia, the Christian discussion on bearing arms will be ultimatley interrelated with whether or not it is ever appropriate for a Christian to kill/go to war. 

On the one hand, God gave a simple command "Do not kill."  Some quibble over whether this means specifically murder, or killing in general, though I've not been convinced that there is a significant difference in the Hebrew understanding.  On the other hand, God does clearly command his people to take over lands from the hands of their enemies--there is a fair bit of violence in the name of God, especially in the Old Testament.

An interesting theme, however, is the unique ways in which God hands over certain lands to his people.  Joshua commanded the people to march seven times around Jericho, and on the seventh time they blew their horns and shouted.  The walls fell and the city was theirs--a unique battle plan, but one that makes clear that it is God's might and not the might of people that took the city.  Little David killed the giant with a small stone--again, a clear victory for God.  Samson had great strength so long as his hair remained uncut as God had commanded.  When it was cut he lost his strength--until a final prayer for one last feat of strength, then leaning on the pilar in the temple, he took out many Philistines.  There is no doubt in the story that this is God's doing, not Samson's. 

In the New Testament, approaching the climax of his ministry, Jesus indicated the final battle was at hand.  "'The disciples said, see Lord, here are two swords.'  'That is enough,' he replied.'" (Luke 22:38)  It turns out that two swords was more than enough for Jesus to claim "all authority on heaven and earth" (Matthew 28: 18)  In fact, the first sword that was used when Peter used his to cut off the ear of the Roman soldier was rebuked and reversed by Jesus.  The second sword was not a sword but a cross--and on it, Christ did the rest of what was necessary.

So as Christian Americans, it seems we do have the right to bear arms--(see, here are two swords) but our sense of safety and hope is not found in the possession or use of weapons.  The extent to which the 2nd amendment allows any weapons to be in the hands of every day Americans will continue to be debated for many years--but for the Christian, (regardless of your possition on the constutionality of gun control, etc.) we need primarily to remember that our hope and security--and for that matter, the hope and security of the world are found in the cross, not in the sword/handgun/rifle/shotgun/AK-47, etc.  We trust in God's might, not in the extent of our personal arsenal.

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