“Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” According to the Bible, those are the words of Jesus. Many people have heard this saying, but oftentimes don’t realize it comes from the Bible. I have heard students attribute it to some great writer or another, but these were the words of Jesus when he was arrested the night before he was crucified. Roman soldiers came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest him for treason, and one of the disciples (the hot-headed and impulsive Peter, naturally) grabbed one of the soldier’s swords and fought, slicing off the ear of the soldier. Jesus calmly healed the ear, and then uttered this sentence, before giving himself over to the authorities.
This phrase was one of the first things that popped into my mind when I heard the news story last week about Tennessee’s lieutenant governor suggesting that Christians should arm themselves after the terrible shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I couldn’t help but wonder what Bible he had read. Christianity, as with any of the major world’s religions, has a great deal of diversity. It is unfortunate that the press wants to focus on one section of Christianity, the right-wing conservative. Of course, this is the same thing the media tends to do with Islam. In both religions, these groups are the minority. Yet, when there is an entire network dedicated to sharing the story of only one segment of Christians, it is understandable that version becomes what society views as the norm for all Christians.
There is no question that we live in a violent society. There is no question that we live in a deeply fragmented and divided society. There is no question that there are people who deal with mental health concerns (yet, do we really want to become the society of Spielburg’s 2002 movie, Minority Report?). However, I am tired of people who say they are Christians speaking for all Christians, when so many of us interpret the Bible differently and choose to follow Jesus along a different path.
Escalating violence in a violent society is not the Christian way. We have not even truly attempted to deal with the issue of guns and mass shootings in a peaceful, proactive manner. The stats are clear – our country far exceeds any other developed country in gun deaths and mass shootings. And the ones who cry the loudest for accessibility to guns are the ones who claim to be Christian and consistently call our country a Christian nation.
So, what would Jesus do? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that living by the sword will only increase the violence and further alienate us from the grace, love, unity, and compassion the Christ Spirit offers. I am by no means against people owning guns. I grew up in a mountain culture where I knew plenty of people who hunted so their families could eat. I don’t know any Christians who want to take guns away from people like this, or people who are truly responsible. But I do know a whole lot of Christians who want to have serious discussion and reform in the open accessibility to guns, especially guns which could not possibly be used for hunting and can only be used for killing numerous people in a few seconds.
The Bible also says that we need to work towards being a society where swords are beaten into plowshares. We need to work towards giving life instead of destruction. No one wants to die by the sword, so let’s take proactive, unifying steps towards a more just, peaceful society.