In Matthew 10:34, Jesus declares, provocatively, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” So far as I know, however, this is not a scripture that white evangelicals appeal to when justifying their opposition to gun control.
As Washington Post religion columnist Lisa Miller observed last Friday, evangelicals (like most other Christians) regard Jesus as taking the turn-the-other-cheek approach to threats of violence. They justify armed self-defense by appealing to Nature. Wade Burleson, my favorite conservative Baptist blogger, put it this way last month in the wake of Newtown:
As a Christian, I may choose not to bear arms, to turn the other cheek, and to live like Jesus Christ lived. But as an American, I will resist any effort by the state to take weapons from her citizens.
Natural Law demands this of me.
I must say I am puzzled not only by a Southern Baptist pastor splitting his moral identity into Christian and American halves, but also by his setting Natural Law up against the Gospel. But I suspec that what really counts here is devotion not to Natural Law but to the historical misconception that the Second Amendment was put in place to guarantee a right of revolt.
Anxious to provide security for the new republic but wary of standing armies, the federal government both approved the right to bear arms in order to be able to have on hand “well-regulated” state militias, and, in 1792, passed the Militia Acts in order to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania–a populist anti-tax revolt that, as was widely noted a couple of years ago, represents the best historical precedent for the Tea Party movement. It was George Washington who, as president, led the state militias that sent the Whiskey rebels packing.
In other words, and Burleson et al. notwithstanding, the Second Amendment was designed to strengthen government military authority over the citizenry, not the other way around. It is a memorial to federal authority. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” says Jesus in Mark 12:17. Perhaps he would have approved.