Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dear Mike Huckabee . . .

Dear Mike Huckabee,

Ever since last week's shootings in Newtown, I've read your quotes all over the media; here's just a sampling of them:
"We’ve systematically removed God from our schools." (UPI)

"We’ve created an atmosphere in this country where the only time you want to invoke God’s name is after the tragedy. . . . we’ve escorted [God] right out of our culture and marched him off the public square." (Huffington Post)

"We don't have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. . . . we've ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations." (Christian Post)
At least we agree on one thing, Mike - that we have a sin problem. A sin problem that has existed ever since the Garden. Even if Adam and Eve had resisted the Tempter and obeyed God to the letter, someone down the line - surely you or I, if not someone long before us - would have come along and brought sin into the world.

But in acknowledging that we have a sin problem, we shouldn't try to deny that the fallenness of our world has brought related specific problems that we should be working to alleviate. Among them are rampant crime; a culture of guns and violence that increases the danger to all of us; and the problems of mental illnesses and social disorders that plague so many and make them a danger to themselves, their loved ones, and others.

Your central thesis, of course, appears to be the removal of God from our public life.

Really, Mike? Do you really think that Almighty God is so easily "removed" from public schools? Isn't his presence apparent in:
  • the life of every child and teacher who has given his/her heart to Christ?
  • the example of every child and teacher who lives her/his faith before others?
  • the behavior of every child and teacher who practices the Golden Rule by not forcing her/his faith on others and by showing respect to those who believe differently?
Children are free to share their faith with classmates, to pray at lunch or even silently in their classrooms, as long as they are not disrupting the normal class routine or creating an atmosphere of coercion or discomfort. But those are restrictions that pertain to any behavior.

So your claim that God has been "removed" from public schools is absolutely false, Mike. There's not an ounce of truth to it. God is still present in the public schools; what has been removed is the use of taxpayer-supported schools for religious practice, teaching, and indoctrination. Again, it's the Golden Rule, Mike. Treat other people's children and grandchildren the way you would want them to treat yours.

Throughout public life, God is wherever there are people who know Him, have Him in their hearts, and live for Him. And people - whether schoolchildren or adults - are going to see God's presence not in some officially imposed religious rites or indoctrination but in God's Spirit giving grace through the lives of His people.

Mike, let's take a serious look at the Christ we both claim to follow and serve.

In this Christmas season, of all seasons, we are reminded of God's gracious gift to us - coming to live among us, in human form, the form of a tiny, helpless babe. A babe born in the most humble of circumstances. Circumstances that were anything but regal. Joseph and Mary were turned away - "no room in the inn" came to them as a harsh rejection as they prepared for the birth of their son. Their only alternative was to lodge with the creatures in the stable. Not the good-mannered, sanitized beasts that appear on our lawns or in our Christmas pageants, but more likely dirty, smelly, and none too happy about having to share their home with this traveling couple. And on top of that, having to give up the manger - the trough that held their food - for this newborn infant? I doubt they gave it up easily. So the Son of Man came to us humbly and lived humbly throughout his life, as the carpenter's son who followed his daddy into the trade. Scripture tells us that he had nowhere to lay his head.

But you, Mike, appear to be insisting on a Messiah wearing a golden crown and imposing political rule on all in the land. Go back and read Philippians 2. The Apostle Paul writes,
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (2:3, NIV)

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness . . ." (2:5-8a, NIV)

Or Jesus' very own words in Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV):
"Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Mike, God is still in the public square. But perhaps his presence there should be evidenced more in our deeds than our words. The responsibility is ours as Christians - not to use God to win political points or to use God to demean those who disagree with us - but to live in such a way that Christ's presence will be unmistakeable. The presence of the Christ who:
  • was born in humility and lived humbly
  • taught that the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor
  • always sought to redeem and never to condemn
And it is certainly not our responsibility to force others to pay lip service to our Lord! As George W. Truett said in his sermon, Baptists and Religious Liberty, delivered from the east steps of the U. S. Capitol in 1920:
"God wants free worshippers and no other kind."
Come on, Mike, let's stop using these tragedies to call for a civil religion that demeans God rather than worships him. Instead, as Christians, let's be the presence of Christ to those who are hurting and, in the name of Christ, look for ways to end the violence that is claiming victim after victim after victim.

Your brother in Christ,
Bill Jones

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Time for Gun Owners to Lead, by David R. Currie

(NOTE: David R. Currie, Ph.D., is a Baptist minister and owner of Cornerstone Builders in San Angelo, Texas, who retired in 2009 after serving Texas Baptists Committed as executive director for over two decades.)

I own over 20 rifles, shotguns, and pistols. We gun owners have insisted on our Second Amendment rights, and we have insisted that those rights be virtually absolute, and have rejected common-sense restrictions on those rights. Tragically, last week 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School paid the price for our unrestricted right to own guns. Now their families grieve for the little ones they love, and we mourn the lives that might have been.

It’s time that we face reality – that our insistence on making those rights absolute makes it easier for disturbed individuals to carry out mass murders. I believe that it is finally time that I, and others who own guns, face some common sense reality and lead in calling for the enactment of effective gun laws that meet the constitutionality test. Gun owners need to lead the effort to stop these horrible tragedies.

Hunting has been an important part of my family for many generations. I have killed deer with my grandfather’s .30 Remington built in 1912 and my father’s .300 Savage manufactured in 1932. Most of my guns are antiques, which I value greatly, that belonged to my father or grandfather. I want to leave my guns to my sons, but I believe we must first change the gun culture in our country for me to do so.

The Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution reads, “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I believe in the Second Amendment and my right to own a gun. But every right is accompanied by obligations and responsibilities. We in America need to have a serious discussion about the kinds of guns that the average citizen should be able to legally own, and what kind of reasonable restrictions should be placed on their sale and use.

Following are some of my thoughts regarding possible common sense regulations. I do not believe that any of these regulations would violate the Second Amendment.

  • Should it be as easy to buy a gun as it is today? I do not think so.
Several years ago, to reward myself for winning a fantasy baseball league, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a .270 deer rifle; after paying, I immediately walked out with the rifle.

It shouldn’t be that easy. Unlike a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, a firearm is a dangerous lethal weapon. No one should be able to just walk right out with a firearm they’ve bought at a gun show or Wal-Mart.

I propose, at a minimum, three requirements:
  1. A reasonable waiting period
  2. Serious background checks
  3. Automatic registration of the gun in a national database
We must work harder to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals, as well as mentally incompetent and disturbed individuals. If law-abiding citizens have to go through additional red tape to own a firearm, then so be it. It’s too late to save those 20 children at Sandy Hook, but their deaths will have meaning if we can save others from suffering similar tragedies.
  • Let’s have a reasonable discussion about the number of bullets any firearm can hold without requiring reloading. When I go deer hunting, I usually load three or four bullets. If I need more than that, I probably shouldn’t be hunting in the first place. No individual needs to own an assault weapon or any weapon with a clip that will hold more than five to ten rounds of ammunition. No one needs an assault weapon for civilian purposes.
The bottom line? Sale of assault weapons to civilians – and any such use – should be prohibited.
  • To purchase and own a firearm, an individual should be required to obtain a license and proper training in safe use of the firearm. We require training and licensing to, to list just a few examples, drive a vehicle; sell real estate; or sell insurance. This is because of the potential impact of these activities on other people. So why should we permit an untrained individual to own and use a firearm, which has the potential of causing great harm to others?
To repeat, individuals should be required to undergo training to obtain a license before being allowed to own and operate a firearm.

No one can guarantee the effect of any of these regulations, because gun violence certainly involves many issues besides gun laws, such as mental health; parental responsibility; and the impact of television, movies, and video games in desensitizing individuals to the tragic results of violence. But it is time for a healthy, open, and candid discussion about all of these issues, including gun regulations, and those of us who own and love to use guns need to take part in that discussion with open and caring minds and hearts.

The arguments I hear from other gun owners opposing any regulation of the type and use of firearms do not make sense to me anymore, in light of the circumstances of modern America.

I do not accept the argument that allowing one regulation opens the door to all guns being taken away. We live in a world in which many things are properly regulated. For example, I am a homebuilder and accept, without question, that the homes I build are inspected and held to a reasonable standard of quality. However, regulation of my homebuilding does not prevent me from continuing to build homes; it simply means that I must build them to a standard of quality that any purchaser should expect in a new home. By the same token, to have the right to own a firearm, we gun owners should welcome proper and sensible regulation and required training.

And I have no more patience for the expression, “guns don’t kill people, only people kill people.” If we’re honest, we’ll admit that guns make it easier to kill people, and the type of gun used makes it easier to kill MORE people at once (and harder for the victims to defend themselves).

Dr. Nat Tracy, my Bible professor at Howard Payne University, defined freedom as “glad obedience to authority.” That definition applies in many areas of life. To drive safely, I need to follow reasonable laws designed to make driving safe. To make music, I need to follow rules of melody and harmony. If I want to own and use a firearm, my freedom to do so can and should be defined by our laws in a reasonable and safe manner.

Gun owners should welcome this healthy discussion regarding proper regulation and provide leadership to make it happen.