It would be hard to find a more succinct summary of the polarisation of religion and politics than the campaign bus of Kandiss Taylor who is running for Governor in Georgia.
Three starred bullet-points tells you all you need to know about her core commitments: Jesus. Guns. Babies.
When I first saw this picture, I assumed it was satire, a not-so-subtle pastiche of American political theology. Perhaps it would have been 20 years ago. But in 2022 people are campaigning like this for real. This is where American culture has got to.
This week has again seen the appalling tragedy of yet another mass shooting in a school in Texas with 19 children and 2 teachers being murdered by a teenager armed with two AR-15 assault rifles.
Predictably, the responses to the massacre simply expose again the deep polarisation in American politics, faith and culture. Franklin Graham contributed to the discussions via twitter:
Graham constructs a straw-man argument of the weakest kind: who is suggesting that guns are dangerous when left alone in a pile?
Individualising and spiritualising
He then individualises the problem ‘It takes a human being to plan and execute such brutality’ and spiritualises the solution ‘Only the power of God can cleanse the human heart and transform it’.
Neither of these emphases are surprising for political and religious conservatives.
But Graham does identify a more corporate target. The manufacturers and marketeers of firearms? The NRA and the gun lobby who fund so many politicians? No, he blames the entertainment industry for the violence:
Christian activist Shane Claiborne responded to Graham:
In Bryant Myer’s brilliant book Walking with Poor, he shares this model. The green circle illustrates the endless sociological debate about how people are shaped by society, or how much people shape society.
The important theological point the diagram makes is that sin affects both individual people and social structures. Both human hearts and political and economic structures are twisted by the failure to love God and love our neighbour.
Polarisation and tribalism means that often people only want to acknowledge one side of this truth. But both are a problem when it comes to gun violence. Angry and violent individuals should be constrained by laws which limit the destruction they can inflict.
The good news of Jesus’ kingdom is holistic and radical. Yes, it has power to change human hearts and help people become kinder, braver and more faithful. But it also seeks to transform social systems: for poverty to be addressed, for racism to be challenged, for climate change to be reversed and for sensible gun control.
Faith that is transformative always fuses the personal and social.
The idolatry of guns
Large parts of American culture has become possessed by a cult of gun ownership. It is an idolatry that is killing thousands.
Americianity twists Jesus into a religion far from what we read in the gospels. As Shane Claiborne also said this week:
“We really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”
As with slavery and racism, the Christian religion is part of America’s gun problem. But, as with those other social evils, faith in Jesus and his kingdom will also be a key part of the solution.