Americans who believe gun ownership is a God-given right and that the United States should be an officially Christian nation are among the most aggressive opponents of common-sense limits on firearms, Amanda Tyler and Holly Hollman said in a recent episode of “Respecting Religion,” a podcast of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
“We’re in an important moment when it comes to policy, but … something that stands in the way of finding agreement and compromise is Christian nationalism, and in particular the hold that ideology has on the conversation over guns in our culture,” said Tyler, BJC executive director.
The podcast dropped just a week before President Joe Biden on June 25 signed a new gun safety bill in response to recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y, and Uvalde, Texas. But while the president predicted the legislation will save lives, he added it doesn’t ban weapons or include many other provisions Democrats sought.
Tyler and Hollman, general counsel and associate executive director for BJC, noted that building enough bipartisan support to pass effective gun reforms is impeded in an environment where guns and religion are so intimately intwined by Christian nationalists.
“It’s making it really difficult to have a debate about sensible gun laws and even over measures that public polling shows most people agree on,” Tyler said. “Christian nationalism has a hold on our ability to proceed.”
Hollman referenced an August 2021 survey in which respondents were asked to rank the most important rights guaranteed in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. More than four out of 10 Americans who believe America should be a “Christian nation” named gun rights.
“What we’re seeing is that Christian nationalism and opposition to stricter gun laws are highly correlated,” Hollman said. The right to own firearms “was the most popular right chosen over freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”
Further evidence of the connection between highly politicized conservative Christianity and guns, Tyler said, is uncovered in The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy, a book by Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry.
The authors describe the “holy trinity” of white Christian nationalism: freedom, order and violence. In that worldview, guns are necessary to protect the freedom of white people and the order that they establish for non-whites to follow, Tyler said.
Hollman added that the book demonstrates the importance of aggression to Americans who want to see the United States declared an officially Christian country.
“The thing that strikes me is how Christian nationalism, which depends on us-versus-them thinking, fits very well with gun culture — particularly with what the gun manufacturers are selling, which is this fear of us-versus-them and feeling the need to protect yourself — good guys versus bad guys.”
Other observers compare this population’s fascination with guns to a religious fervor. For them, guns take the form of idols or fetishes that go far beyond enjoying them for hunting or target shooting, Tyler said.
“A gun fetish is when you’re a member of Congress and you pose with your entire family with assault rifles on your holiday card. Or you’re another member of Congress and you make all your public addresses with AR-15s behind you. It becomes part of who you are, not just something you own or something you do. And once you make that kind of gun ownership part of your identity, when someone suggests we limit what kinds of guns you can buy, or who can buy guns, then it becomes not just an attack on your property rights and what you can own, but rather an attack on your identity itself and that has a detrimental impact on our political debate.”
“And unfortunately,” Hollman added, “we see that identity being emphasized not just as an American identity, but as a Christian-American identity.”
The devotion to firearms among those who uphold the ideals of Christian nationalism also derives from the belief that gun ownership is a God-given right, Tyler said. “And if you think that, then any attempts to take away this right or restrict it can be interpreted as a direct attack on the Christian faith.”
The devotion to firearms among those who uphold the ideals of Christian nationalism also derives from the belief that gun ownership is a God-given right.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina has declared his opposition to any erosion of “God-given gun rights,” while U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Republican from Texas, connected the dots between guns and Judeo-Christian values, Hollman said.
Such rhetoric complicates efforts to reduce gun violence, including the ongoing Congressional effort to pass bipartisan gun safety legislation, Tyler said.
“This kind of language perpetuates this false history of America as a Christian nation, this idea that our founding documents were divinely inspired or that our rights are based on so-called Judeo-Christian values. Even that phrase, ‘Judeo Christian,’ is a more recent invention trying to layer on religious significance to government action.”
Theological confusion results from such Christian nationalist claims as the nation continues to grieve recent mass shootings, she said.
“It contradicts the many messages of peace we find in the Bible. There are mixed messages in the Bible, but there is this strong component of peace and protecting life in the Bible, and not murdering. And so to hear about these ‘God-given rights’ in the wake of tragedy is definitely confusing from a theological perspective.”
The rights Christian nationalists don’t describe as God-given is telling, Hollman said.
“It’s so clear that their commitment to these ideas that our Constitutional rights are God-given is selective. We certainly don’t hear much about the God-given right to defense counsel. That shows a lot of things about our gun culture and the powerful advertising campaigns of gun manufacturers and a lot of unhealthy parts of our civic environment.”
Hollman also suggested that politicians refrain from claiming expertise in history and theology. “It is unfortunate when elected officials have the big microphone and they do a terrible job as history teachers and a terrible job as Bible teachers.”
Here’s the link between COVID vaccine denial and opposition to sensible gun control | Opinion by Mark Wingfield
Our national golden calf is killing us | Analysis by Chris Conley
The oxymoron of being both anti-abortion and pro-gun | Opinion by Earl Chappell