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The idolatry of gun worship

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Picture: Brendan Smialowski / AFP – A man drops flowers at a makeshift memorial where balloons and Teddy bears are left outside the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Nashville, Tennessee, March 27, 2023. A heavily armed former student killed three young children and three staff in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack at a private elementary school in Nashville on Monday, before being shot dead by police. Chief of Police John Drake named the suspect as Audrey Hale, 28, who the officer later said identified as transgender.

By Ariel Gold

In the aftermath of the horrific Nashville school shooting that took the lives of three adults and three little children, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, refused to find fault in America’s obsession with guns. Instead, he posited prayer being the only solution to the crisis of mass shootings.

“We must return to the only lasting source of hope and freedom — the Lord Jesus Christ,” Perkins said. “Nothing Washington is doing will matter until we acknowledge and address the moral decay and brokenness plaguing our culture.”

Perkins isn’t wrong in connecting religion to gun violence. But, rather than a deeper embrace of his organisation’s mission “to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview”, what is needed is recognition of how some are distorting sacred scripture and religious traditions in such a way that it is fuelling violence.

Addressing America’s gun violence crisis is a daunting and necessary task. An average of 43,375 people die each year by gun and it’s increasing rapidly. Between 2012 and 2021 the number of gun deaths increased by 39 percent with gun violence deaths now being the leading cause of death for children and teens.

What is tragic, deeply disturbing, and ultimately infuriating is the extent to which distortion of religion is contributing to this epidemic.

Christian nationalism is the belief that America is blessed by God to be a Christian nation, as it was founded, and that civic life and Christianity should be fused together. Connected to white supremacy, nativism, patriarchy, and the like, it envisions Jesus not as the humble Semitic man who turned the other cheek and washed his disciples’ feet, but a broad-shouldered, White man with thick biceps and a sword (or if one had been available at the time, an AR-15) at his hip.

What is tragic, deeply disturbing, and ultimately infuriating is the extent to which distortion of religion is contributing to this epidemic.

A February 2020 survey by The Flag and The Cross authors Gorski and Perry, asked a sample of people to respond to the statements: “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,” and “The federal government should enact stricter gun laws.” They found two-thirds of the white Americans who strongly agreed with the first statement also disagreed with the second.

Adding religion into the mix, a 2019-2021 survey by the same people found evangelical Christians to rank higher indicators of Christian nationalism. Analysis by political scientist Ryan Burge of data from the 2020 Co-operative Election Study found that two-thirds of white evangelicals own guns. This compares to one-quarter of mainline Protestants and Latter-day Saints, 17 percent of nonwhite evangelicals and atheists, 11 percent of Jews, and 9 percent of Muslims.

Aside from white militia groups and the extremists who led the January 6th insurrection, some gun manufacturers appear to be among the most out-front proponents of the connection between guns and Christian nationalism. They see their businesses as both patriotic and the fulfilment of a sacred religious duty.

About a week after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, TX that killed 19 children and two adults, Daniel Defense, the company that manufactured the particular AR-15-style weapon used by the shooter, tweeted the image of a young child holding an assault rifle with a quote from Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Daniel Defense is not alone. Florida gun manufacturer Spike’s Tactical sells an AR-15 style rifle named “Crusader“ with Psalm 144:1 inscribed on it and if that isn’t worrisome enough, in 2015, one of their spokespeople claimed that thanks to its “Pax Pacis, Bellum, & Deus Vult” settings, the weapon could not be used by “Muslim terrorists”.

An Interfaith effort, organised by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, is under way right now to declare Mother’s Day a national day of prayer, mourning, repentance, and contemplation to solve the crisis of gun violence aided by Christian nationalism. Given the dangers of allowing guns to be regarded as sacred objects whose rights must be protected at all costs, we would be wise this May 14 to heed the words of Howards Zinn that “one cannot be neutral on a moving train”, and pray with our feet to end gun violence and overcome Christian nationalism.

Ariel Gold is the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation – USA, the oldest peace and justice organisation in the US Previously, she was the national co-director of CODEPINK, where she helped manage the Peace in Ukraine coalition.

This article was first published on Common Dreams