'Love Thy Neighbors, Not Guns,' Pastor Urges Evangelicals

A pastor and author from Illinois urges evangelicals to be more flexible in their opinions on the gun control debate following the Connecticut shooting earlier this month, warning that some might otherwise think "we love our guns more than our neighbors."

There is no straightforward biblical imperative for or against guns, argues Daniel Darling, the senior pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, in his article on CNN's Belief Blog.

At times, the Bible seems to affirm the right to self-defense. For instance, when Jesus famously told Peter to put down his sword during Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he didn't tell Peter to destroy the sword but put it in its rightful place.

However, Scripture is pretty clear that Christians must also be advocates for the sanctity of human life, adds Darling, author of Real: Owning Your Christian Faith. "This doesn't simply apply to abortion but to any unlawful taking of human life. Advocating for life also includes taking care of children's and others' well-being after they are born."

So why can't followers of Christ support sensible restrictions, such as a ban on military-style combat weapons? "These weapons seem to serve no purpose other than the glorification of violence," the pastor says. "New gun laws won't prevent every future crime, but perhaps a few common-sense regulations would help destroy a culture of violence that so tempts young troubled men."

Darling agrees that it is ultimately not the gun that kills, but evil that resides in every human heart. So let's not put "instruments of death so close to hands that would do evil."

The Bible affirms the government's first and most basic job to protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable, our children, he says.

"An unwillingness to entertain common-sense restrictions casts the evangelical faith in an unnecessarily unfavorable light," he warns. "It may cause some to think we love our guns more than our neighbors." Christians should be unyielding about many things, but not about the right to own a killing machine, he writes.

The debate on gun control was revived after a lone gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother in their home in Newtown, and then opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 first-graders and six educators. He then shot himself to death on Dec. 14.

Many Christians in the United States, mostly from mainline denominations, are backing calls for gun control.

On Dec. 21, faith leaders from different communities gathered at the Washington National Cathedral where bell-ringing was held in remembrance of the Sandy Hook shooting victims. "There is hope because this tragedy will move us to action," said the Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of Churches. The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, prayed, saying, "We will never forget them, oh God, and we pledge to honor their memories by doing what we all know to be right."

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was recently quoted by The New York Times as saying that the NAE had no official stance on gun control but might now "take a harder look."

J.D. Greear, the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., recently wrote on his blog that while laws are good, necessary, and appointed by God for peace in a fallen world, "laws have an extremely limited ability to heal the spiritual dysfunction of the human heart."

"Ultimate healing, of course, comes from the gospel. Jesus made an end to sin by suffering its penalty in our place, and by beholding him and receiving his grace, the power of sin is broken in us," Greear said, adding that not even divinely dictated laws can fix the real problems of our society. "The best laws can restrain evil, but they cannot remove it."

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