5 Questions for Church Leaders about Gun Violence in the U.S.

October 2, 2015

Yesterday a gunman entered a community college classroom in Oregon, shot and killed the teacher, then told students to stand up, one by one, and state their religion.

To those who said Christian, he replied “Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.” He killed 10 people.1

Killer With GunAs a minister, as a Christian, as a citizen of the United States, I’m appalled by this senseless act of violence, by the Charleston shooting, by the 262 other mass shootings in our country this year, and by the culture that supports it.

It’s time for change.

In 2015 alone, the United States has seen:

39,529
9,956
20,269
7,516
264
3,337
1,701
2,902
1,390
Incidents of gun violence
Deaths from firearms
Injuries from firearms
Children killed or injured from firearms
Mass Shootings
Officer Involved Shootings
Home Invasions
Defensive Uses of Firearms
Accidental Shootings2

And for pastors who believe Charleston was an isolated case, there have been 68 deadly force incidents in houses of worship in 2015 alone, resulting in 27 deaths.3

I’m not a politician, sociologist, or cop. I don’t know what specific changes are needed politically, legislatively, or in the enforcement of existing laws.

But I am a Christian, a minister, and an American. And I have some questions for fellow leaders, for the church, and for myself. In particular, I’m wondering about these things.

Why are there so many deaths by firearms in the United States?

In particular, why do we have so many more (10.2 per 100,000) compared with countries similar to us, such as Canada (2.2 per 100,000)?4

Is it the proliferation of guns? Is it the facile use of gun violence we see in police dramas and video games? Is it the virulent form of individualism peculiar to American culture that makes us more susceptible to the idea that a gun is the answer to a problem?

In the realm of culture, is it time for Christian leaders to directly address the spirit of violence that pervades our society?

Why are so many perpetrators of mass killing angry young white men?

And I wonder how we can reach them with the good news. We plant lots of churches for suburban families and even a few for inner-city down-and-outers. Is anyone making a serious effort to reach the demographic of people who are doing the killing?

If this is, at the core, a spiritual problem, how should the church respond? How can we bring the good news that Jesus gives abundant life to people so blinded by the enemy that they see a gun as the answer to their problems?

In the realm of spirituality, is it time for Christians in general, and Christian leaders in particular, to take the gospel to our enemies as well as our friends?

Why are so many Christians stuck on the political issue of defending gun ownership?

It is interesting, if not surprising, that more white Evangelicals own guns, by a wide margin, than do Catholics, and that even after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which took the lives of 20 children, 59 percent of white evangelicals continued to oppose tighter restrictions on gun laws.5

Is this a case where our politics and our religion have become confused? Are we really more concerned with our individual right to own a gun than with protecting children, students, worshipers? Which is a greater threat to freedom, limiting gun ownership or living in fear of entering a school, theater, or church?

While this problem has a spiritual root, is prayer the only action we should take to end the violence?

In the realm of politics, is it time for Christian leaders to defend the rights of helpless children over rights of firearms owners?

How long will Christians think of this as someone else’s problem?

I’m a father, and some of these shootings slaughtered children. I’m a minister, and many of them happened at church. I’m the husband of a community college teacher, and the latest shooting took 10 lives at a community college, beginning with an instructor. I’m a Christian, and now, in America, people have been murdered for the faith in Christ.

Is it time for Christian leaders to help the church wake up and see that their own people are not safe in their streets, schools, theaters, and houses of worship?

I guess what I’m really asking is this:

Isn’t it time for Christians to end the violence in our country rather than ignore it, dismiss it, or even defend it?

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.