Of Loyalty Oaths and Gun Rights

To get a teaching job in the 1970s I had to sign a Loyalty Oath. Oaths usually included something like this: “I do not believe in the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force or violence…. I am not a member of any organization or party which believes and/or teaches directly or indirectly the overthrow of the Government of United States by force.” I’m not writing here to defend such oaths or my decision to sign one. (In 1961 the Supreme Court unanimously voted in support of my favorite junior high teacher, David W. Cramp, Jr., in his claim that Florida’s loyalty oath was unconstitutional.)

Back then right-wing citizens feared that individuals and organizations (i.e. communists) wanted to overthrow the government of the United States. Today they’re—surely I’m not hearing this correctly—are they actually claiming the right to overthrow the U.S. government? A tyrannical government, they say. That’s why the second amendment guarantees that they can own guns. As many as they want. With as much killing power as what the military has access to. Like in a Hollywood movie, True Patriots will take on the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

But who decides when the government has become tyrannical? “Thus always to tyrants,” John Wilkes Booth is said to have shouted in Latin when he killed President Lincoln. (Timothy McVeigh wore a t-shirt with that logo when he was arrested.) Booth couldn’t accept the fact that history was moving the country in a direction different than what he wanted. The terrorist cell he was part of lived under the illusion that through its efforts the Confederacy and the southern way of life would return to the way it had been.

These days we’re hearing a lot of talk about good people with guns and bad people with guns. As if telling the difference between them is all that easy. Booth would have been counted among the good men. He was described as being from the “best of society.” He was chivalrous and charming. Likewise I’m sure that those convinced today of the need to fight a tyrannical government are also good people.

There will always be citizens who don’t agree with the decisions of a democratically elected government. But if the Civil War taught us anything, it was that violence among ourselves will not solve the issues that separate us.

If Jesus Had a Gun

(I can’t resist the urge to keep tweaking the previous blog. Thanks for being forbearing.)

How incredible that during this Christmas season we’ve been arguing about guns. This season when we send cards and sing songs about the Prince of Peace. “What would Jesus do?” some people ask when trying to make a moral decision. Apparently many think Jesus would arm himself to the hilt.

I’ve been trying to imagine that kind of Jesus.

Joseph was so determined to protect the vulnerable infant that he kept a gun right there beside the manger. As the shepherds, the Wise Men, the angels approached, he said, “Don’t come any closer,” successfully keeping them at bay. As Jesus got a little older Joseph taught him to fire a weapon at a target in the shape of a Roman soldier.

Later, when he recruited disciples, the Jesus I’m imagining made sure they were armed. After all, we know from the Good Samaritan story that robbers preyed on travelers. And there were all those dangerous Romans soldier occupying the land, denying the Jews of all liberties. Surely Jesus and the twelve spent hours by Lake Galilee practicing their shooting skills.

One day Judas said, “I hear the Romans have new guns, more powerful than an ordinary rifle. Their guns can shoot bullets in rapid succession.”

“Then we must have them too,” Jesus replied. When Judas returned with thirteen AK-47s, Jesus and the twelve had confidence that these weapons would provide the protection they needed. Besides, firing these guns made them feel like real men.

When crowds began to gather around him, a gun-toting Jesus told this parable: “One time there was a wealthy merchant. A robber came to his place of business, but the merchant had a gun and was able to kill the robber. Behold, we live in dangerous times when we must protect our families and ourselves. Only with powerful weapons are we safe.” And the crowds believed him.

What about the night Jesus was arrested? While some of the disciples napped, others played cards. Jesus, though, was engrossed in prayer. So he was taken completely by surprise when Roman soldiers burst on the scene. Still, he was able to reach for his AK-47 fast enough. The disciples too. They mowed those soldiers down—like the good guys do in movies.

No, that’s not the Jesus I know either.