Why no one listens to the church on gun control

In the process of doing some research into the issue of gun violence in the United States, I came across some data that paint a convincing portrait of the decline of the mainline protestant voice in the United States. 

The major mainline protestant denominations each have been influenced by the Social Gospel Movement of the early twentieth century. As a result, each views a significant part of its mission as the promotion of “social righteousness” (that is a right ordering of society, often mirroring progressive political position).

One of the main ways these churches have done this is through actions of their highest governing bodies. These resolutions spoken with conviction, and advocated for by denominational offices have largely been spoken into an echo chamber that serves little purpose other than allowing the speaker to believe his message has been amplified and heard around the nation. In reality, no one is listening.

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How do I know? Take a look at the facts:

In 1990 the Presbyterian Church (USA) called for “effective federal legislation to regulate the importation, manufacture, sale, and possession of guns by the general public.” In order to achieve this goal, the resolution suggested:

  • the registration and licensing of guns
  • the registration and licensing of gun owners
  • background checks
  • waiting periods prior to purchase
  • regulation of the secondary market (secondhand guns, that is)

The PCUSA isn’t alone:

  • The United Methodist Church passed similar resolutions in 1976, 1988, and 2000.
  • The United Methodist Church passed resolutions calling for the denomination to enter into direct negotiations with the NRA in 1969, 1995, and 1999.
  • The Episcopal Church passed no less than eight (8) resolutions between 1976 and 2000 calling for stricter regulation of firearms and ammunition.
  • The U.S. Conference of Bishops issued policy statements in 1995 and 2005 advocating for the reintroduction of the lapsed assault weapons ban.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church issued as message to the church in 1994 and reaffirmed it 2008 advocating tighter gun control.
  • The National Council of Churches (NCC) issued its own Interfaith Call to End Gun Violence in 2000.

In other words despite significant effort over more than a decade, the mainline church has had a negligible effect on gun control issues. Despite all this work, in 2013 we’re no further ahead than we were in 2000.

  1. The church speaks at the culture rather than with the culture. When a denomination like the PCUSA issues a resolution and the begins to advocate for it, they have a press conference and bring together a non-diverse group of advocates. They speak the language of politics, activism, and with the sort of rhetoric that turns many off. Their language is abstract and inaccessible to many people who are predisposed to disbelieve their claims in the first place. In the end, they simply become one more voice in the tone-deaf world of politics.
  2. The culture is against gun control. The United States is a center-right nation. Always has been. Decrying that fact won’t change it, At the end of the day, the right to own and carry a weapon has been added to the Constitution. You may wish to limit this to the formation of a militia. That’s fine. I find your argument compelling, but apparently the Supreme Court of the United States wasn’t convinced.
  3.  Many perceive significant hypocrisy in the voice of the church. A majority of Americans still believe that abortion is wrong except in the case of incest or risk to the life of the mother. However, each of the mainline denominations is officially on record as supporting a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. The argument for gun control on the basis of “the sanctity of life” sounds hypocritical from all mouths save the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  4. These churches often don’t speak for their constituents. In the case of the Presbyterian Church (USA) these resolutions come from an act of a General Assembly. Delegates to that body aren’t democratically elected and are often not representative of the views of the average person in the pew.

In the end, these sorts of resolutions really ought to be avoided. All ministry is local. And all change will happen through faithful Gospel witness in the local context rather than through the press.

3 thoughts on “Why no one listens to the church on gun control

  1. Jeff, I have only one disagreement. Gun rights are the second amendment which is in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments that have always been in our constitution and they are rights of individuals guaranteed to protect from the tyranny of government. Government is a necessary evil that must be kept small and leashed. Unfortunately, it got completely unleashed when the sixteenth amendment was added.

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    1. You’re right. I would characterize the state as necessary, but not necessarily evil. The state is ordained by God for the purpose of restraining wickedness and protecting the common good. The state may reasonably, in theory, limit whether one can own a gun or what types of guns may be owned. However, in reality this has to happen in light of our constitution and respect to the realism that suggests that outlawing guns will not necessarily preclude them from falling into the hands of criminals.

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      1. “Government, even in it’s best state, is a necessary evil, in it’s worst, an intolerable one.” is from Thomas Paine. Power is corrupting because man is a sinful being that when given the power of authority all too often abuses it for his own pleasures at the expense of others.
        The Newton shootings were done with guns owned by Lanza’s mother. I can go and buy a gun on the street within the hour. You are not going to stop the sell of guns by registering those who purchase them from sporting goods stores. Guns flow as freely on the streets as illegal drugs. The flow of these items makes the Mississippi look like a babbling creek. Those street purchased guns are the ones most often used for criminal purchases.
        The best way to stop gun violence is to get rid of the restrictions, gun free zones (sitting duck zones is what they are) provide names of those that have committed crimes with guns instead of registering the innocent. Gun violence is half of what it was 20 years ago.
        There is something far worse than are more people being infected with HIV, a deadly virus, yet we have not forced all to be registered and quarantined if infected. That could greatly reduce the spread of death especially since 63% (over 53,000 a year) are in 2% of the population known for wearing those summer scarfs at G.A. It’s the 1970’s all over again. Many married women are infected by their husbands. No one ever talks about this because it hurts the “image” of the community.
        .

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