Guns, Dunn, Race, Religion, and You

Guns. Race. Religion. Is it possible to have a conversation about these three things?

Must the mere mention of any of them send a conversation spiraling down into a cess pool of innuendo and posturing?

How do we talk about series social issues as people of faith without stumbling into the briar patch of stereotypes?

Is it possible to listen to each other?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how important it is to be careful about what we say. This is definitely one of those times.

I am thinking about this today because of the recent news activity around the trial of Michael Dunn and his role in the death of Jordan Davis.

The story has all too many familiar elements: a young African American male, a Caucasian male, and a gun. Add to these three elements loud music and confrontation.

The result? A young man dies.

You likely know the bare outlines of the story. Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station and parked next to another vehicle with four young men in it. While Dunn’s companion went into the store a confrontation developed.

Dunn complained to them about their loud music. Words were exchanged. Dunn says he felt threatened for his life.

As they drove away he fired shots at the vehicle. Several shots struck Jordan Davis and he died.

Since Jordan Davis and his friends were African American and Michael Dunn was Caucasian racial issues immediately entered the conversation.

Whether or not racial stereotyping figured into Dunn’s decision to fire his gun at Davis’ car as it drove away is a very legitimate question.

Whether or not his possession of a gun wrongly or rightly empowered him is another legitimate question.

As a society, we have very necessary work to do talking to each other about race and about guns. Tossing innuendo around, mouthing stereotypes, and posturing are not productive for having careful and seriously critical conversations.

Where does religion come into this toxic mix?

The ethicist, David Gushee, wrote an article this week entitled “Romans 13, Michael Dunn, and gun-toting citizen vigilantes.” It was a thoughtful article about social and cultural struggles tied up in racial issues, gun rights, and personal security.

In the end, he calls for a reexamination of a growing sense of vigilanteeism and the way it empowers people to ignore natural social structures and the appropriate responsibility of authority. Hence, the mention of Romans 13 in his title.

One thing I found interesting about his article was the way commenters reacted so strongly to him. In particular, it was fascinating how two individuals quoted Luke 22.36 as justification for bearing arms and defending oneself when threatened.

Given the more comprehensive message of Jesus focused on loving neighbor and enemy, it is hard to imagine extending a reference by Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion to the gun rights debate. Moreover, it is even more a stretch to use it to justify the decision Michael Dunn tragically made.

We must exercise great care whenever we look to scripture to justify our own social or political beliefs.

Ultimately, our faith as Christians should not empower us to “stand up for our rights” as much as it should strengthen us to give our lives away. The call of Christ is to follow him, even to the cross.

The most Christian thing any one of us could do is to work to make an enemy, or anyone who disagrees with us, a friend.

We are a long way from sorting out all the social dynamics related to racial and gun control issues.

However, the path to understanding and peace can be found walking beside each other, listening, learning, and giving our lives away.

Are you willing to walk that path?