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Bonhoeffer, AR-15s, and Adventist Ethics—Part I


The recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has brought to the surface the deep tensions which exist between Americans over the matter of personal firearm ownership. These tensions have been felt primarily on the American political scene, but they can also be felt in churches, media outlets, and academic communities throughout the United States. Tempers flare across the wide spectrum of positions which Americans hold on gun ownership. The CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne Lapierre, insists that the only way to protect schoolchildren is to lift the ban on bearing arms in school[i], while President Obama is pushing for “serious laws that restrict the access and availability of assault weapons and magazine clips.”[ii]Others between and beyond these positions insist with equal passion on a variety of different solutions to the problem of gun ownership. Many Americans find the issue so confusing and touchy that they abstain from even formulating a serious position.

In the midst of the chaos and clamor occasioned by the present controversy over gun ownership, I want to outline what I see as a good starting point members of the Seventh-day Adventist church who want to engage intelligently with the issue from a Christian ethical perspective. Naturally, I will not be able to examine every angle of this issue. Instead, I want to provide a specifically Christian ethical perspective.

Every ethic must undoubtedly have a context. This is first of all a Christian ethic. But Christian ethics, like Christian faith, must be considered through the lens of a tradition. Since the Seventh-day Adventist tradition has been so informative for me, and likely for many readers, I want to draw from the relevant aspects of the Adventist tradition, though I will not draw from Adventist tradition exclusively.

It is in this spirit that I want to juxtapose the ethics of the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer with the historical Adventist tradition of conscientious objection. While I will need to outline the history of the latter, I don’t want to consider it primarily as history. Rather, I want to draw out the ethical insights of this history on that can question of gun ownership and tie them to Bonheoffer’s ethics.  In this way, I hope to set out an ethical viewpoint to apply to the question of gun ownership that Christians living in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition (and hopefully Christians in other traditions) will find simultaneously familiar and illuminating.

I want to sketch this ethic in three parts, which correspond to three articles—this article being the first one. In this first part, I have proposed the approach that will inform my construction of an ethic of gun ownership. In the second part, I will construct an argument with historical and textual evidence for the usefulness of the ethical approach proposed in the first part. And in the third part, I will apply the proposed ethic to gun ownership. In this manner, I hope to move towards a Christian ethic of gun ownership.

Daniel Peverini, from Loma Linda, CA, is currently studying theology at Walla Walla University.

[i]Wayne Lapierre, “Remarks from the NRA press conference on Sandy Hook school shooting, delivered on Dec. 21, 2012 (Transcript)” Washington Post, last modified December 21, 2012.

[ii]Quoted in Kathleen Hennessey, “Obama asks law enforcement officials to push gun proposals,” LA Times, last modified January 28, 2013.

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