Gundamentalism on the Rise
What would Jesus carry?
This week, a Christian “family camp” at a Colorado Springs church featured Lauren Boebert, who is among the most extreme MAGA members of Congress and an overt Christian nationalist.
Boebert makes a career of being outrageous. For that reason, I’m loathe to write about her. But she’s becoming a headliner in some Christian circles and raising more than a few eyebrows. At the Colorado Springs event, she said she prayed for President Biden using Pslam 109, “May his days be few.” Of course, it went unsaid by the Congresswoman that the next verse reads, “May his children be orphans and his wife a widow,” a line that surely most people in the audience knew. (It isn’t entirely original, either. Psalm 109 was used to pray against Obama as well. I wrote about that in 2009.)
The prayer was bad enough. But she couldn’t resist going further and offered up this take — how Jesus could have saved himself from crucifixion if he’d only had a couple of assault rifles at Gethsemane:
Of course, this is nonsense. It betrays extreme theological ignorance. In Matthew 26, when the Romans arrested him, one of Jesus’ disciples takes out a sword and hacks off the ear of a member of the arrest party. Jesus rejected the violence, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Indeed, the theological point of the crucifixion was that Jesus responded nonviolently to imperial violence.
To state this seems like Sunday school simplicity — Jesus, whose birth was heralded by the proclamation of peace on earth, and whose teaching highlighted “blessed are the peacemakers,” modeled a way of forgiveness, reconciliation, and true human concord for all his followers.
Yet an audience full of churchgoers laughed when the Congresswoman suggested Jesus needed a few more AR-15s to take out the government to avoid getting killed. A joke? Not really. A theology was operative there, a full blown reinterpretation of God and guns that obscures the message of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Ten years ago, Presbyterian pastor James Atwood warned of the growing theological dimensions of gun culture, something he called “gundamentalism.” He insisted that guns are no longer tools that people use, but they had become idols of trust and power.
Many modern-day shamans and religious gun enthusiasts proclaim God wants all citizens well armed so they can protect our values, even our faith. . . These religious cults have become an integral part of the religion of the Gun Empire that give the idols of power and deadly force what they most need: a divine status. For these men and women the command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself, is placed right alongside their new commandment to be ready at all times to defend yourself against your neighbor. . . (They) built an idolatrous religious framework around guns and have worked feverishly to justify biblically their unwarranted fascination with guns. . . Millions worship at this shrine. (Atwood, America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, 82-83).
There’s not much doubt that Lauren Boebert is one of those “religious gun enthusiasts.” She built her political career on gun rights and owns a restaurant called Shooters Grill where waitstaff carry guns. From her biography and her public comments, it is easy to see that she’s a devotee of the God-and-guns cult. Her comment wasn’t funny. It was a theological dog-whistle to that audience.
That’s what we should be thinking about — not necessarily fixated on some own-the-libs comment from an attention-seeking politician — but the audience to whom her remarks were addressed.
Recent polling indicates that 26% of White evangelical Protestants agree with this statement: “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” In a recent column, David French at the Dispatch gave life to this statistic when he wrote about how extremist violence is being organized in evangelical churches.
Boebert’s comment wouldn’t be much more than click-bait if it was just the bad theology of one woman. But it isn’t. What she said reflected a widely-held theology in white evangelical churches — the very same churches where 1 of every 4 members believes that political violence is acceptable. And they own guns. Lots of them. In 2017, Pew Research found that 41% of white evangelical Christians possess firearms, compared to 30% of people in the general population. In addition, evangelical gun owners carry at a high rate (65%, vs. 57% of all gun owners) and generally believe that they should be able to carry their guns anywhere.
Why? Because they believe that guns make them safe. Americans with high levels of religious commitment are more likely than those with lower commitment to keep a gun for protection (67% vs. 60%), and less likely to have a gun for sport shooting (26% vs. 36%) or as part of a collection (10% vs. 15%).
Guns protect. Guns keep them safe. Guns are security. Nobody can touch their guns.
And that’s exactly what biblical traditions call idolatry — the first of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no gods before me.”
There is a world of difference between family members or friends going hunting together or a grandfather passing on his shotgun to his grandson as a keepsake and believing that a semi-automatic handgun will keep one safe. When one trusts (the most basic of spiritual concepts) a gun for one’s well being, the seeds of a disturbing idea are planted in the mind . . . When guns become idols and life seems too dangerous to be without them, one’s ability to reason, cherish community, love neighbors, and depend on God for security as often surrendered.
Rather than offering a vision of community in which we are bound together by our common humanity, reverence for guns teaches two paradoxical emotions: omnipotence and fear. Omnipotence as one feels the thrill of being in charge and able to dominate others, and fear as one begins to suspect enemies or potential enemies who might want to take away one’s new-found power. (Atwood, 116)
In America, God and guns have always been a problem. But now? A huge number of people in one of America’s major religious communities — that of white evangelical Christians — have more guns than ever, a belief in political violence, and a theology of guns. All combined with white supremacy and a deep loyalty to Donald Trump.
We don’t have a “God and guns” problem. America has a “guns are God” problem. Guns are a religion. Its adherents demand that we all worship at their altar.
I, for one, refuse to bow down.
Today’s post is a theological call to action regarding gun violence. As Congress is set to actually take some political steps toward America’s gun problem, people of faith — especially Christians — need to address the spiritual and theological dimensions of what has become an unbearable ritual of mass murder. If theology is part of the problem (and it is), politics can’t fix that. Only we can.
Please read this helpful article on the role of religious organizations working on gun violence that includes a listing of such groups. In addition, Faith & Leadership at Duke Divinity School has theological resources regarding gun violence.
Finally, this page from the Wisconsin Council of Churches is invaluable with links to denominational resources, worship suggestions, and “safer church” (without guns!) guidelines.
Here is a revolver.
It has an amazing language all its own.
It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.
It is the last word.
A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.
Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery hide behind it.
It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.
It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.
It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.
It is less subtle and treacherous than any one lawyer or ten.
When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of execution in and interfere with the original purpose.
And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the old belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers.
— Carl Sandburg, “A Revolver”
This poem was unknown before 2013. Read about its discovery HERE.
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PERSONAL UPDATE: Things are improving on the COVID front at the Bass household. Richard is nearly back to his old self. My case was rather more severe than his but I’m feeling better — even if I am very tired and don’t have much energy. I’ve done a little work this week but I’ve rested a great deal as well. We are very grateful for your prayers, good thoughts, kind words, and supportive notes.
Please do make sure your vaccines and boosters are up-to-date and consider masking indoors to care for your health and that of others. COVID isn’t over.