Have Guns Become an Idol in the U.S.?

NC Council of Churches Billboard

By. Rev. Jennifer Copeland, NC Council of Churches


Editor’s Note: We think this piece is particularly relevant as the nation absorbs one more act of gun violence. This piece is not intended to advocate for a particular religious position, but rather give us all another perspective on the gun debate.

When the news broke about the North Carolina Council of Churches billboard suggesting a connection between guns and idolatry, responses ran from, “Thank you for naming the truth,” to “How dare you claim owning a gun means worshiping an idol.” And everything in between, not always in language you would print where children might see it…

I read the 2nd Commandment to mean there are a lot of distractions that keep us from focusing on the God who promises us abundant life. Clearly, God recognized this potential when Commanding us not to worship idols. Rather than thinking of idols only as graven images (monuments or statues), we might more correctly think of idols as those things that are more important to us than God. Consider the encounter between Jesus and the rich person (Mark 10:17-31). Jesus names the last six commandments for him, though not in Exodus order, and the rich person claims to have followed them all. Then Jesus, “looking at him, loved him,” and proceeds to tell him to give everything away and come follow him. We know how this story ends; the rich person “went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

The possessions in and of themselves are not the problem; it is the esteem with which he held them, raising them to a rank higher than God–idolizing them. Jesus could see this about his life, how those possessions owned him and kept him from flourishing into the abundant life God offers. It’s also important to note that Jesus “loved him.” That’s the way of Jesus, to see those things so clearly in our lives that are keeping us from having abundant life and pointing those things out to us in the hope that we will make a different choice. Jesus wants that for us–abundant life. But we have to choose it.

Another way to consider our idols is to confess that while we worship only God (adhering to the 1st Commandment), we sometimes feel the need to hedge our bets in case God doesn’t provide all the insurance and safety we think we need. So, we keep our weapons on stand-by–nuclear arms stored by our nation for national defense as well as concealed weapons we can draw for personal defense. Either way, this shows we don’t really have confidence in the God who promises abundant life. In another place, Jesus suggests that those of us who obsess over saving our lives have already lost them (Matt 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). We can understand what Jesus means when we consider how much energy and angst we expend worrying about security.

Our billboard suggests that the discussion about guns in this country skirts dangerously close to idolatry and occasionally crosses over. At times, the “right to bear arms” is more important than any other right–Constitutionally protected or God-given. In fact, many comments we received about the billboard seemed to conflate Constitutional protection with God-given rights. But God is not an American, even if a lot of Americans have faith in God. They are different, Constitutional rights and God-given rights–that’s why we have the First Amendment. Those of us who profess faith in God are expected to place our God-given rights before the Constitution. So, if the Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, we must bear them and legislate about them in ways that always honor God. If we don’t, the guns are an idol.

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