The Idolatry of the Gun Culture

I wrote the following earlier today and posted it on Facebook. I decided to use this platform as well. At some point, I believe that people of good will need to do whatever it takes to transform the idolatry of the gun culture that has overtaken our country. For better or worse, here are my thoughts today in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre.

In my sermon on Sunday – having heard nothing about the shooting in Orlando either when I wrote or preached the sermon – I mentioned Martin Luther’s definition of the operative “gods” in our lives – our “god” is whatever we look to for meaning, purpose, status, and security. Further I said that the most insidious idolatry in our lives is recasting the God of the Bible into a new god of our own imaginations. We project ourselves onto our conception of “god” and then follow our own creation.

I don’t know all that prompted the killer in Orlando. What I have read thus far today is that his ex-wife left him because he was physically abusive, bipolar, with a terrible temper. He was disgusted by LGBT people. He had EASY access to purchase an AR-15 assault rifle. He created his own version of “god” in alignment with other misguided terroristic men who wreak havoc on the lives of innocents, apologizing for it because of their conception of “god” – a conception that is roundly denied by millions of other Muslims. (In the same way that I denounce the Christian faith of a man who shoots people at a Planned Parenthood facility.)

I look at all of that and the various challenges posed and they seem nearly impossible to address. Except one. EASY access to purchase an AR-15 assault rifle.

What stands in the way of eliminating legal access to assault rifles to anyone but law enforcement? What stands in the way of adding previously investigated people with the potential to commit terroristic acts from the “no you can’t buy a gun” list in the same way as they can be added to the “no you can’t board an airplane” list?

The idolatrous, fanatically religious, notion that guns protect us. And it is a fanatically religious notion in that the facts, real numbers, real life experience, simply do not support it.

Dr. King said that he couldn’t make a man love him but he could see that laws were passed so that he couldn’t lynch him. That is common sense. That is the purpose of government.

If anything can redeem the insanity of Orlando it is this.

  1. To recognize that marginalized people will always be easy targets for hatred. LBGT, and every other minority community, have long suffered, and will continue to suffer, even as they have striven so long to gain a voice, an identity, and claim their civil rights. No one in that club did a damn thing to deserve what happened and that couple in Miami had every right to kiss in public. That’s what people do in Miami! The problem existed ONLY in the shooter’s mind and his failure to process his own thoughts and feelings.
  2. To enact and enforce common sense federal laws that restrict, reduce, and eliminate the on-going proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in our country. Australia and others have done it. We can too. We have to replace common $en$e with common sense.
  3. Religious communities have to continue to name and reject idolatry within our own ranks. As a Christian, I have to give that the “What would Jesus have me do?” test. That begins for me by looking at what Jesus actually did. He didn’t criticize the religion of the woman at the well although his own faith wouldn’t have allowed him to even have a conversation with her. And yes, Peter had a sword when Jesus was arrested. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away and he healed the ear of the man Peter lashed out at. As a follower of Jesus, I am against civilians using weapons to do violence against others. I am against promoting hate, mistrust, and mischaracterization of other religions.

Full disclosure: I have a concealed handgun permit issued by the state of Texas. I got it anticipating a motorcycle trip to Alaska and I was afraid of animals. I bought a handgun. Then I bought another. Because of Canada’s seriously restrictive laws against bringing guns across the border, I left my gun at home.

Even as I took the class to get the permit, I already knew the statistics. If I brought a hand gun into my home the overwhelming facts say that the people most in danger from that gun would be my family or myself.

Then came the slaughter at Sandy Hook and I had enough. I announced to my congregation that I would getting out of the gun culture. I brought my guns to a local gun shop and left them on the counter. The guy behind the counter asked what I was doing and I told him, “I’m not leaving with these. You can do whatever you want with them.”

What did that cost me? Personally it cost me nothing. Kelley was very relieved that we no longer had access to guns. Professionally, I had families leave the church I serve because I am too “liberal.”

I did what I thought Jesus would have me do. I’m doing it here again with post.

As for the people who would leave our congregation because of my response to the tragic deaths of FIFTY people and the wounding of FIFTY+ more, in a culture where such tragedies have become COMMON, so be it. I hate to see and I grieve their leaving.

And should they then find another congregation that blesses the idolatry of gun ownership for purposes other than hunting and target practice, then that just goes to show that Christianity has its own dangerous extremists that need to be exposed and opposed as every other religion.

Christianity is not a religion of blind faith. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind. Seeing reality for what it is in central to Christianity. Facts and actual lived human experience matters to Christianity. “How will this ACTUALLY AFFECT real human lives?” is a question embraced by Christianity.

Only idolatrous fanaticism is based on blind faith, on ignorance and fear, on the quest for power rather than humility and the will to love.

I pray that God leads us – each of us, our elected leadership, our country, people around the world – down right pathways for his name’s sake. That we fear no evil, trusting that God will protect us, and that those chosen to lead us will do the right thing.


18 Responses to “The Idolatry of the Gun Culture”

  1. Tim Anderson Says:

    Thx, KN. Yes – we either get more guns to protect one another or we take the road less traveled (in this society, at least) and go with “less is more.”

  2. marisue Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post and for you words about gun control. We are bound to one another all over the world by God’s perfect love.

  3. Carol Smiley Says:

    Amen and again, Amen.

  4. Deacon Cathy Boyce Says:

    God bless you for having the courage to speak out and back up your beliefs with action. There are those who would say that taking guns away takes our freedom away, but I would argue that we are more imprisoned in this country through love of money that prevents us from doing what we know to be right. It is our shame, and I pray that perhaps after this latest tragedy we finally find the strength and courage to stand united and make the changes we need to make.

  5. Jim Sbertoli Says:

    Thank you for saying what so many of us think and feel…now the courage needed to act.

  6. Georgene Says:

    Thank you. The honesty of this and it’s truth made me cry.

  7. Michelle Says:

    Amen! And bravo!
    God bless you, Rev. Kerry and may God bless your family and congrigration.

    • Karen Kress Says:

      Having the courage to say the truth as well as live by it, is God given Thank you for being God’s messenger. Let it be so for all of us.

  8. Joy Edmonds Says:

    Thank you so much for saying this! I have been truly disturbed by this prevalent attitude that our hope is in Smith & Wesson or Glock first and then God is the afterthought. I feel very much bullied when expressing a desire for reasonable gun control. I feel like you have given many who feel that way a voice.

  9. Betty S. McClain Says:

    How comforting to have you speak out so forcibly. You aren’t alone, you have spoken for many, many of us — the reprehensible behavior and speech we hear and read (many times by professed Christians) condemning our fellow humans nauseates me. That is not following “my Jesus” — and, oh, the incomprehensible WORSHIP of GUNS!!!

    Thank you. You are a blessing, and have been for years to me and my late husband. I do miss your Daily Devotions; I go back and re-read many.

  10. Doug England Says:

    I do hope you sent this devotion to your Congressmen. I will forward it to mine.

  11. Carolee Says:

    Pastor Kerry, I think you are looking towards gun control as an easy “fix” against the radical jihadists murderous acts against the “infidel”. The fanatical acts of terror don’t stem from gun worship. You are hoping that gun control will solve these murderous acts of terror, they won’t. Could it be due to our attempt to understand something which most of us cannot understand. We have to look instead at recognizing these dangerous radicals. We must do everything in our power to defend against these fanatics and their ilk, whether they be Islamic terrorists or homegrown mental cases. We cannot take the politically correct “liberal” high road, and blame our own Constitution’s second amendment for being the problem. Too easy…. big problems have difficult solutions that require our government and its agencies, our communities and ourselves to be involved. We must work to prevent and defeat terrorism wherever we find it, whether it be in Orlando or San Bernardino or even Houston or Omaha.
    Perhaps it is too political an issue for a clergyman to take on. I know that in North Dakota their exists a lawsuit against a pastor who always took the “liberal” side. He lost many of his congregation, and those who left lost their home church. Sad but true. Personally I find it difficult to express a political viewpoint because for sure it will raise the ire of those of a different persuasion.
    But God bless you for trying despite the strong feelings on both sides of the gun issue.

    • Craig Saboe Says:

      It’s not too difficult for a clergyman to take on. It is in fact -exactly-the type of issue that a clergyman -ought- to take on. Pastor Kerry works hard to help us see our world through the lens of Scripture. Sometimes the picture isn’t clear, and sometimes it’s -too- clear and the answer is one we just really don’t like. Saying that a pastor might want to avoid discussing political issues is essentially implying that we’re not interested in seeing these issues through that lens.

      The fact that no gun control legislation of -any- kind has a chance in heck of being passed is -explicitly- because of the almost idolatrous nature of gun culture in America. It’s easy to see the almost religious nature of this culture… Gun rights advocates have their own selective scriptures (beyond the 2nd Amendment itself), such as selected quotes from the Founding Fathers or statistical cherry-pickings that make great sound bytes. They have their own denominational organization with the NRA – complete with lobbying arm and political candidate rating system as to their alignment with NRA doctrine. They have home churches at gun ranges all over America. For every “Honk For Jesus” bumper sticker you see, there are four “Don’t Tread On Me” or “I vote NRA” ones. You have core doctrines that are almost sacrosanct; you have core organizational structures that stewards those doctrines; you have membership within those structures that include a strong exhortation to lobby and advocate those policies out in the world. And you have the glue that keeps it all together – the (cultivated) sense that said members are being persecuted, their rights are under attack and their doctrine is being questioned. Sounds pretty theological to me.

      As to the effects of this idolatry…The fanatical acts of terror don’t stem from gun worship – but they sure do benefit from its lobbying for free access to anyone of weapons of most any type. Gun control won’t stop shootings from happening – but banning specific weapons that have demonstrated exceptional performance as mass killers would most certainly help. If the Orlando shooter didn’t have access to that Sig Sauer, if he had to use other weapons that weren’t so deadly efficient, do you really think -over 100- people would have been killed or injured?

      It’s tragically comic that as Christians, we can lobby for a more peaceful, safer and loving world – while at the same time making absolutely sure that should we ever feel like it, we or anyone else can walk into the nearest gun store and buy something designed for the sole unequivocal purpose of killing as many other people as quickly as possible.

  12. Beatrice Showman Says:

    You forgot one thing when you wrote this devotion; the man responsible for Sunday’s tragedy WAS law enforcement. Granted, not by what some would deem ‘official,’ but a member of that brotherhood, all the same. I’m not a gun-toting individual, but I do respect their use by those who need them – for safety, for the need to put food on the table. A gun is a tool, just like a hammer. Both can inflict injury. Granted, one can certainly be more dangerous in the wrong hands, but it is a tool. The underlying problem is far more complex within society than simply gun control. Mental health must be dealt with better than society has chosen to deal with it in the last 50 years. People with mental health issues need better care access and facilities than what we are as a society are currently providing. Not saying the problems would cease; but, 50 years ago we certainly dealt with mental health issues with far more real compassion and help than we do today. The man accountable for Sunday’s tragedy, due to his profession and background, would have had the exact same access – possibly even easier – with what you outline in your devotion. Everyone needs to realize that when calling for ‘more gun control.’ People tried to alert others to his dangerous tendencies; no one listened. THAT’S the release tragedy and core of the problem.

  13. Rita Wade Says:

    Very well said! I’d not thought about the current gun culture as being a god, but it certainly is. Also, the extreme religious in my area anyway, seem to think the Bible is a tool used to evaluate everyone else’s life, not a guide for their lives. I’m so weary about hearing we “need to bring God back into America”. He didn’t leave, you did! Mad because we can’t have prayer in school — pray with your kids before they go to school. Mad because the football coach can’t have a prayer before the game, you become active, invite the players to a prayer session. America started out like God did, we don’t force you into religion, that’s your choice–follow or not. If the football coach has Christian prayer, are you willing to have your kids stand by for a Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist prayer. Get active! You do something. Don’t complain that someone else isn’t fulfilling your job.

  14. Charles Sheppard Says:

    Kerry, this is awesome!.  Chuck   Sheppard

  15. Carolee Says:

    In response to Craig Saboe: The Senate will soon vote for some controls on specific guns, and that is good by me. Also if you have a “no-fly” dictate you will also have a “no gun” purchase dictate. I didn’t mean to leave an impression that I am a card-carrying NRA member, because I am not. I don’t even own or want a gun in my home “for protection”, nor are we hunters.
    My point was that to have your first reaction to such an horrific shooting act be a political one of “gun control” seems somewhat simplistic and misses the point. (The crazies, the fanatics will find a way to get a gun illegally.)
    The message sent should first be one of sympathy for the families affected and a call for prayer and for gratitude for the many acts of kindness, even of heroism displayed during this tragedy. Many people did an amazing job; the law men and women, the doctors, the survivors, the public who stayed the course. Reverends and all of us who call ourselves Christians must make the plea for people to accept and uphold every individual’s dignity as a right due to our freedoms in a democratic society.

  16. Barbara Balius Says:


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