This is a theme I’ve addressed elsewhere in another blog post shortly after the tragic shooting in Tucson last month. It is a topic I have returned to because of a Catholic News Service article that was published today bearing the title, “In Gun Control Debate, Catholic Position Elusive.” The subheading of the story reads, “One gun-carrying priest: ‘I tell people all life is sacred, including mine.'” That should give you a sense of why this is a matter worth discussing again.

The February 11th CNS article begins:

Avid outdoorsman and hunter Fr. Joe Classen, associate pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Maryland Heights, Mo., has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

“I rarely ever conceal and carry, but sometimes if I’m in a very bad area, I do take protection,” he said. “I tell people all life is sacred, including mine.”

A few states away, Fr. Theodore Parker said he knows he has the constitutional right to own a gun, but can’t see any reason why he would. The pastor of two inner-city Detroit parishes said, “The real purpose of a gun in our culture is violence.” And there’s just too much of that, he contends.

As readers of this blog know, I agree with the position of the second interviewed priest, Fr. Parker, and take it a step further — a step that, according to a January 14 CNS article titled, “Gun control: Church firmly, quietly opposes firearms for civilians,” is clearly in line with the Church’s teaching, no matter how “elusive” it may appear to Fr. Classen and others.

Guns are designed to do one thing: kill. Granted, there are instances such as hunting at which times civilians might justifiably use a firearm to gather food. However, there are other ways one can find nourishment today and some people would even suggest that one need not even hunt to eat healthily, just ask a vegetarian or vegan. Apart from hunting animals for food, the only thing guns are good for are killing human beings.

Fr. Classen defends his ownership, concealment and carrying of a firearm in “very bad areas” for “protection.” In what way does he intend to use the firearm for protection? The most obvious answer is to kill or harm another human being before that person could ostensibly attempt to harm him. How is that OK? Especially for a priest?

All life is sacred. Period. And to be truly prolife means that one’s life is not worth more than another, not even a priest’s over an alleged criminal’s.

I understand that the issue of self-defense is a complicated and contentious one, where people otherwise committed to nonviolence find examples worthy of exemption. However, when we really turn to the Gospel for guidance in the matter of violence and the role of Christians, can we ever justify the use of violence? Jesus Christ himself submitted, innocent as he was, to the violence of the state and individuals. In the case of self-defense, Jesus chastised his own Apostles for trying to defend him with violence. Jesus did NOT see self-defense as a legitimate reason for violence.

I find it particularly upsetting when priests publicly defend the carrying of weapons. It seems like something that stands in stark contrast to what Christian life is all about. When it comes to guns of any sort, we know What Jesus Would Do.

The world will only be transformed by love, not violence. Maybe instead of carrying a tool of death into “very bad areas,” Fr. Classen could carry a spirit of openness and peace, meeting the people he is scared of with the compassion of Christ and not the violence the Lord condemns. This is especially important if gun-carrying priests like to see themselves as in persona Christi.

Jesus wouldn’t defend guns, why would you?

16 Comments

  1. There is just something wrong with a priest / religious carrying a firearm. I always thought that The Cross was enough protection for me.
    Ministry in the inner-city is challenging and at times can be dangerous. If my students / congregants knew I was “packing heat” I think they would be scared of me and therefore not open to the Good News.
    Did Jesus carry a weapon? Not to my knowledge. In fact when violence was done in his sight — to protect him —- did He not say to Peter — Put up your sword?

  2. Well said. As a Canadian who comes from rural climes, I do believe that hunting is not only a permissible reason for individuals to own guns, but a necessary one (but that is another topic altogether). Beyond that, wearing a concealed weapon, especially ones that have no other design than for inter-human conflict, is unacceptable. Great piece!

  3. As someone who grew up in rural Northern Michigan, I accept hunting as a source of food and have been blessed by this throughout my life. As a Detroiter, I celebrate the words of Fr. Parker and look forward with hope to the days when our swords will truly all be beaten into plowshares.

  4. I agree with all that you wrote. I simply can’t see any reason why someone would need to carry a gun. As you said, what are guns for? We hear a lot more about people killing others with guns than we do about lives saved by the protection offered by guns. Guns are too easy….we see tragedies everyday, those that are caught in the line of fire, innocent victims (including children) and those who are the targets of gun shots. In my opinion, the right to carry a gun does not lead to freedom, that is true freedom, the kind that Jesus invites us to.

  5. Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: `And he was numbered with the transgressors’ ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied. (Luke 22:35-38, NIV)

      1. Seems we agree in that this quote clearly affirms something for each of us about the topic at hand. It does confirm that the disciples were packin’ heat, right?

  6. I struggle with parts of this. I grew up in a family of campers and hunters and was taught to respect firearms at a very young age. When I was old enough, I also began hunting on occasion and would also enjoy the occasional rounds of trap shooting. This is a hobby and I am not a gun-wielding maniac who is holding a death weapon.

    I would disagree that the sole purpose of a gun is to kill. Countless people use guns for target shooting and target shooting alone. Some people simply are gun collectors (antique memorabilia from past wars, for example). I target shoot. My family has a number of guns locked up in a safe in our home. I am having trouble understanding how this is putting me at odds with Jesus and makes me a bad Christian as is often implied by this blog. The very last line of the blog states: “Jesus wouldn’t defend guns, why would you?” So here I am defending guns…apparently I am disappointing my savior? The feeling I get from this blog is that people who own guns are bad people, and that is quite offensive. Maybe I am taking that too far, and for that I apologize, but it certainly comes across that way. Just because I own guns does not make me a sinner or out of touch with Catholicism.

    I also struggle with the idea of simply allowing someone to kill me or my family when I could possibly do something to protect us. Br. Dan, something that is glaringly missing from your blog is the fact that not every shot is a kill shot. There are many places on the body that can be wounded without being life-threatening or mortal wounds. Another implication from this blog is that every time a gun is fired, someone dies, and that is simply not true. Not even every gunshot victim dies. I’m not advocating shooting people, just simply stating facts.

    Just my $.02

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Bill, although I certainly cannot agree with your position. A gun, as I stated above, was invented and designed to kill (animals, humans, etc.) that they are used for target practice, to hone one’s skills at aiming a bullet doesn’t mitigate the teleology of firearms. As I admitted above, while I concede that there might be a conceivably justifiable reason for the use of some firearms for hunting purposes, there is absolutely no justification for handguns. I’m not the only one who sees it this way, here I quote Dr. Barry Gault in this week’s issue of the Catholic magazine “Commonweal,” he writes:

      “If it’s birds or very small game they’re [hunters] are after, they use a shotgun; for bigger game, a rifle. But pistols are for shooting people.”

      You can read more in his article titled, “Lay That Pistol Down: Mental-Health Laws Weren’t the Problem in Tuscon.” As to your last paragraph, absolutely no one is advocating passive reaction to violent aggression. Instead, the Christian response is one of nonviolent resistance. “Simply allowing someone to kill me or my family” as you put it would likely fall under the rubric of a sin of omission for doing nothing. We have agency, but we must use it for peace and nonviolence. As for your last line about “not even every gunshot victim dies,” I do not know how to respond.

      I thank you for your honest sharing and I am grateful for your voice in this dialogue! Peace and good!

      1. And I appreciate your response. However, a few of my points are still sticking in the front of my mind since you didn’t respond to them. Most importantly: “I am having trouble understanding how this is putting me at odds with Jesus and makes me a bad Christian as is often implied by this blog. The very last line of the blog states: “Jesus wouldn’t defend guns, why would you?” So here I am defending guns…apparently I am disappointing my savior? The feeling I get from this blog is that people who own guns are bad people, and that is quite offensive. Maybe I am taking that too far, and for that I apologize, but it certainly comes across that way. Just because I own guns does not make me a sinner or out of touch with Catholicism.” So again I ask: Do you honestly think I am opposed to Jesus and a sinner out of touch with Catholicism because I own guns?

        I would also vehemently dispute Dr. Barry Gault’s quote about pistols being used only for shooting people. I know many people who own pistols (I do not) and only use them for target practice. When done at the range, the guns go back in the locked safe never to see the light of day until the next visit to the range. His quote is irresponsible and completely unfair to those people that own them and responsibly use them.

        Also, to be perfectly honest, you’re taking my last line completely out of context and it makes me look like a lunatic and that is not fair. That dealt with something completely different than advocating for shooting people – which I do not.

  7. Bill, I will address you question because you’ve asked me directly, but I didn’t want to reply word-for-word to your post because it struck me as unnecessary.

    Frankly, yes, the support of firearms along the lines expressed by Fr. Classen is — to use your phrase — “at odds with Jesus.” I am in no position to make individual judgements about whether this or that person is “good” or “bad.” That is for your conscience and for sharing with your confessor. The question I pose at the end is for your reflection: do you believe that Jesus supports the proliferation and widespread ownership of guns? I don’t know how one can justify such a claim in light of the Christian tradition and Scripture, I would have a difficult time making such an argument. And neither you nor anyone else to date has made substantive argument for that position. I believe, in short, that such a position in untenable. But that’s my reading of the issue.

    Your defense of pistol ownership remains disassociated with the discussion introduced in the blog, or tangential at best. Because some have found an a posteriori use for a deadly weapon that does not involve killing or maiming something does not change the reason for its invention and continued presence. Guns were made to hurt and kill. Guns were not made so people could compete in biathlons or shoot targets (which, in firing ranges I have visited, often feature targets shaped as human torsos). There is no “need” (the focus of the debate) for anyone to own a pistol. Whereas one might argue rural residents might “need” a shotgun to hunt game to feed a family.

    I am sorry if you feel that you come across as a “lunatic,” that’s not the intention. I will quote your line in full here: “There are many places on the body that can be wounded without being life-threatening or mortal wounds. Another implication from this blog is that every time a gun is fired, someone dies, and that is simply not true. Not even every gunshot victim dies. I’m not advocating shooting people, just simply stating facts.”

    I still have no response, in large part because I don’t quite follow your argument. My apologies.

    There is much more that can be said here and an abundance of theological resources to which I can direct you if you are interested. Perhaps we could have a conversation about this the next time our paths cross. Peace.

  8. The point of that quote dealt with the idea that shooting does not always equal killing. It doesn’t matter, though, as the conversation has stalled and is now pointless. Every time I tried to make a point, I was informed I was wrong and that was that. I also find it hard to have a conversation with someone who repeatedly tells me that I am at odds with Jesus and opposed to Church Tradition and Scripture….especially when that person knows absolutely nothing about me or my life. Apparently my 10+ years of working for the Church and in pastoral ministry as well as my years studying theology in undergrad. and grad. school have been a waste of time.

  9. Bill, you asked me to answer your question and I did. This notion about your work/study being a waste of time is your observation articulated in your words, not mine. I’m sorry you feel this way. Peace.

  10. This seems like a very closed-minded article. I’m not a ‘hardcore’ Christian, but I do believe in God. That being said, I do believe that people have not only the right, but in some cases the need to carry protection. Self-preservation trumps preservation of others, if the others are in the act of trying to harm you.

    I get this feeling that a lot of the anti-self-protection posters live in an area of low crime. Anyone who has driven through an area and felt the need to lock their doors would probably benefit from having a pocketable 380 on their person while walking through the same neighborhood. Father Classen probably understands this very well. You can’t sit in a world of puffy clouds, gumdrops, and rainbows any more than you can think that you’re justified in carrying a cocked and locked 1911 to your sister’s wedding. There needs to be a sense of balance; a sense of reality.
    There are certain forums wherein teaching a new, more loving and caring lifestyle to thugs/gangsters/criminals is possible. However, a woman trying to throw a cross up to a potential rapist is not going to stop him. A thug will not put down his coercion device if he hears a verse from the bible. They might rethink their actions when looking down the barrel of a .45 caliber handgun with a competent finger on the trigger. I do think many situations can be resolved with a simple squirt of OC spray, but a gun can end those conflicts and more.

    Is it intimidating? Yes! That’s why it’s CONCEALED carry. Keep it out of sight and thus out of mind.

    1. Brian, I appreciate your comments, but must disagree with you wholeheartedly. Your presumptions are incorrect. Having lived in the Bronx and inner-city Wilmington, DE, where gunshots were regular occurrences and even friars (one of my closest friends) have been mugged, I think I have every right to assure readers here that your perspective does not at all represent that of Christians in “dangerous” urban centers of the United States. Having traveled and lived abroad in several developing nations, where violence is an every-day reality, I can also say that responding to that violence with violence is not the Christian way.

      Oftentimes folks who share your perspective seem to have an assumption that pacifism — which is the vocation of all Christians — means passivity. This is incorrect. There are many ways to resist violence, abuse and assault, responding with violence, however, is not one of them. Having just watched the acclaimed “Of Gods and Men” last night, I recommend that you see that film and recognize the struggle that even members of religious communities such as myself encounter when faced with such violence.

      Peace and good!

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