(Originally posted on January 17, 2013)
To begin, I have to confess that this is a post I have been very reluctant to write and even more reluctant make public. In seminary we were taught an important lesson about expressing ones opinions on political or social issues too quickly. Its a lesson which has been reinforced and reiterated by wise counsel since then. The lesson? As a priest I need to avoid political arguments. It isn’t that I have to abandon all political convictions or leanings when I put on the cross of my calling, but I must check my need to express, opine, or preach anything other than the Gospel of Christ. As a pastor I have to be mindful that I must be present to minister to everyone – no matter what their political leanings. To bring politics to the pulpit is to immediately and unnecessarily alienate a percentage of the people I minister to. If I am to speak on any issues of the day, it must squarely be rooted in a preaching of the Gospel of Christ. I am not a servant of any political party, agenda, or nation. I am an unworthy servant of God – that’s the only allegiance I am bound to pledge to. This is what I was taught, and it is what I try to maintain in the ministry I have been called to.
I have been reluctant to write and make public the following because it deals with a current political issue, although my reason for writing is not political. On top of that, it is a very heated political issue. In fact, its really the level of heat, not the details of the debate, that has me concerned, and that finally led me to write this. My biggest fear, to be honest, is that writing something and making it public may just add more fuel to a terrible fire I see burning, and have seen burning for some time in our nation. I fear that we are isolating ourselves more and more. We are becoming more suspicious and afraid. I have seen relationships strained and fractured over this and other political issues. I mourn this, even as I have been guilty in the past of participating in it. Forgive me, a sinner.
Disclaimer: It is important to note that I am speaking mainly to Christians here – as I do not feel I am in a position to comment at all on how others who do not espouse the tenants and belief of Christianity approach an issue. I am certainly in no position to judge…well….anyone. But I am charged and bound by my ordination as a priest in the Orthodox Christian Church with preaching the Gospel of Christ, of speaking the truth in love, and, when, in my heart I am grieved or convicted to speak a word, even of correction or challenge – I must prayerfully do so.
My heart is grieved.
My heart has been heavy over the past weeks and months as I have seen the debate develop surrounding guns and violence in our nation in the wake of the horrific shootings in Newtown, CT. I am not going to use this forum to write about gun laws or lack thereof, nor about the letter or spirit of the 2nd Amendment. I do believe that it is an important conversation for our nation to have. But I must speak only to what has grieved me most – and to what I feel I would be betraying my calling if I didn’t speak to. I must speak to what I see as a spiritual illness evident in how abrasively and vehemently some on the opposing sides have waged their attack. There is a line that is crossed, as Christians, when our espousal of a political, civic, or national issue, or “right” for that matter blurs into taking a place in the central principle of our lives – a place reserved for and only for Christ. By this, I mean, that, when we take something like our right to bear arms, or, on the other side, the reliance upon the national government to “fix” the issue and make us safer – and give those things, which are secular the place of the sacred – the thing which we would die for and feel the need to defend to our last breath – we are in danger of falling into the ages-old trap of idolatry.
Neither guns nor government are God, nor even inherently godly or righteous. Neither are sacred. Neither can grant real, lasting security or absolute protection. Neither can bestow or really even defend true freedom. Neither will save you. As Christians we believe freedom, security, and protection come only through Christ. And we believe that not even death can take away. Whatever side we might take on the current national debate, let us – especially we who identify ourselves as Christians – guard our hearts against idolatry. If we find ourselves holding onto anything but the Gospel of Christ so tightly that it divides us from our neighbor, or consumes our time and energy, or makes us react with such urgency as if all is lost if our position does not prevail – then we must examine our hearts carefully and prayerfully, and repent.
I also grieve what I have perceived to be a celebration and glorification of firearms that goes far beyond a support in the Second Amendment. If, indeed, the right to bear arms is an important safeguard placed in the Constitution in order to protect against tyranny, as is argued, then, fine – that can be reasonably argued and held as far as Caesar is concerned. But as Christians, the only response to any violence must be mourning. I cannot find anything in the Gospel to indicate otherwise. We must mourn the fact that it would ever be necessary to have to take up arms – not proclaim with pride and gusto our right to do so. It should be mourned that guns even exist – even if we believe that it is important or necessary that citizens, or a well-regulated militia, or, even the armed forces or police must carry them to defend against threats to the innocent from those who wish to do violence. Its all still broken, and not as it should be – and therefore cannot be held up an an ideal by the Christian.
Closer, I think, would be the conclusion that Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to when considering how a Christian, who is not to take life, could be part of a conspiracy to kill Adolph Hitler: “What is worse that doing evil is being evil” (Ethics, 65). Bonheoffer genuinely struggled with carrying out an act of violence, even against Hitler, because he took what Christ did and said seriously. He died a martyr, in imitation of the One whom he truly served, in Whom nothing and no-one, not even Nazi executioners could prevail.