In Fort Worth, Texas for the Christmas season, we found ourselves sitting in the midst of the heightened gun control debate following the recent Newton shooting.
We were trying to get to a pajama party at a museum with a special Omni screening of The Polar Express for the kids, but we couldn’t make it through the sea of trucks gridlocked in L.A.-like traffic within a 2 mile radius of the museum (and conveniently the convention center hosting the Lone Star Gun Show). According to later reports, this gun show had record numbers that rivalled the opening hours of Black Friday shopping.
Blown away by the number of military style assault weapons being carried down the street in plain sight by average people, my thoughts naturally turned to crime, gun control, the debate, and their connection to the highly political Christian right.
I live in a strange place, between worlds and worldviews. I grew up in Fort Worth, where the 2nd Amendment is biblical, where personal liberties are biblical even at the expense and danger to the broader community, and where the gun show is the only show more popular than church. Currently, however, I live and work outside Vancouver, BC, where they are quick to give up personal liberties for the safety and security of everyone.
The distinctions between the two show up in a number ways, and I find myself fighting internally over the line between personal liberties and how they impact the broader community. Often I’m concerned with how someone decides what is best for me or how I should protect myself, but I’m keenly aware of how my actions and the actions of others impact our community.
David Heim responded to these recent debates with a quote from Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish scholar, who wrote, “Just as it is forbidden to sell idolaters articles that assist them in idol worship, it is forbidden to sell them articles that can cause harm to many people—for example, bears, lions, weapons, fetters and chains.”
It seems common sensical to him that it is your business to care for the community first, regardless of the cost to your own wealth or liberties. He speaks to a specific people, called to a different ethical standard than the rest of society. His comments understand that others will sell and collect things that bring harm to their community, but your role, as God’s people, is to care for your community and to minimize the potential harm.
We would like to argue that the Bible defends our personal liberties, but truthfully the Bible is a communal book concerned with communal activities. The laws provide ways to naturally care for the community, particularly the vulnerable. The prophets speak against the abuse of the powerful, who forsake the betterment of their community for their own wealth and power. Jesus returns dignity and worth to individuals outcast by society, and the early church takes to communal living in way that cared for one another as Jesus had taught.
More guns and more access leads to more violence in the same way that more television programming and more access has led to more tv viewers for more hours. It is an ethical question: do we concern ourselves with our liberties or our communities?