SUMMARY: Pastor James Atwood, who passed away in 2020, called gun violence the most important theological issue for the American church. His conviction is rooted in Mark 12:28-34 where Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. Atwood says you cannot love God and not love your neighbor, they are fundamentally connected. Collateral Damage is a prophetic call for the church to get involved and not remain silent when 40,000 fellow image bearers are being killed each year while hundreds of thousands more are psychologically and emotionally damaged from the effects of gun violence.
“Families suffer. Children are traumatized by school lockdown drills and growing up in neighborhoods plagued by violence. Survivors of gun violence carry physical and psychological wounds. The economic cost of medical care, security measures, and loss of life is staggering,” the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II writes in the forward. “If this damage were not enough, we lack the will to do anything about the crisis. Gun deaths are so common in the United States that we are numb to the impact of guns on human life.”
Atwood attempts to shake the numbness out by detailing the countless ways gun violence shapes communities. From lead poisoning from bullets that cannot be removed to mental issues such as anxiety, depression, and guilt to the economic costs for medical expenses and security the collateral damage of gun violence leaves no part of American society untouched.
“Our laws are designed to protect the sale of more guns rather than protect the safety of our people.” Atwood pens. “No other developed country in the world permits such carnage.”
Atwood calls this fanatical allegiance to guns gundamentalism which he defines as “a religious devotion to guns that shapes people’s perspectives to such an extent that their worldview, affections, and identity gather around the purchase, maintenance, carrying, and shooting of as many guns as possible.”
Gundamentalism, fueled by the rhetoric and money of the NRA, is why we can’t pass common-sense gun laws. It is especially egregious when many within the church reject any common sense gun laws.
“The inability or reluctance of our faith communities to address gun violence as a moral, ethical, and spiritual problem, coupled with our elected leaders’ fears of a tiny but powerful minority of gundamentalists, has resulted in laws that exacerbate crime instead of curtailing it, weaken law enforcement instead of strengthening it, and make it easier for terrorists, domestic abusers, and other dangerous individuals to get weapons.”
Atwood, a former hunter before he gave up his gun in his old age, clearly does not advocate for the banning or confiscation of guns for three reasons – three reasons that most gun advocates would agree with. One, collecting 400 million guns is impossible. Two, millions of Americans use guns responsibly and need to to hunt for food or protection from wildlife. Three, the Second Amendment endorses an individual’s right to own them.
“Aren’t forty thousand gun deaths per year and $229 billion in economic costs sufficient reasons to vote for a few reasonable laws that do not infringe on anyone’s gun rights?,” Atwood writes. “Why don’t these obscene numbers translate into votes that have the support of 90 percent of the American people, including gun owners? What other issue is so systematically blockaded? What keeps these lawmakers in lockstep with the billion-dollar gun industry?”
This stalemate is where Atwood says the church can lead the way.
“Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus Christ stepped out front to stop the killing? After all, God created the church to be salt, yeast, and light to this world, not to march in lockstep behind the corporate gun lobby. God calls the church to obey Jesus’ words even when, or particularly when, they conflict with the dictates of this earthly commonwealth.
“God created the church to lead – out front – and to bear witness to the love and justice our Lord described in Matthew 5 and 25. The almighty God did not commission us to serve as a mirror for a self-seeking, self-serving society. God created us to be a light in the darkness, which the darkness cannot extinguish (John 1:5).”
KEY QUOTE: “Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus Christ stepped out front to stop the killing? After all, God created the church to be salt, yeast, and light to this world, not to march in lockstep behind the corporate gun lobby. God calls the church to obey Jesus’ words even when, or particularly when, they conflict with the dictates of this earthly commonwealth. God created the church to lead – out front – and to bear witness to the love and justice our Lord described in Matthew 5 and 25. The almighty God did not commission us to serve as a mirror for a self-seeking, self-serving society. God created us to be a light in the darkness, which the darkness cannot extinguish (John 1:5).”
DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
More curated books on guns/gun violence:
Few Christian books can integrate and appeal to Scripture without sounding preachy, pretentious, or perfunctory. Even more so when an author takes on a polarizing subject such as guns. And yet this is what Michael W. Austin’s God and Guns in America excels at. Biblically rooted as well logically sound Austin’s approachable writing style is like sitting with a friend telling you how and why they arrived at a conclusion – in this case his view on guns/gun violence through a Christian lens.
As humans, most of the time we want complex issues to be solved easily. For instance, if individuals with guns are targeting churches, then members of churches should carry guns to counteract the threat. While on the surface that may seem like the logical thing to do, and certainly a good portion of Americans would agree, as Christians we must consider what the Bible has to say. In Whom Shall I Fear? author and pastor Rosalind C. Hughes doesn’t say whether a church should hire armed security or not, but invites the reader to take a step back and answer the question, “What is the church and what is its mission” before deciding how to deal with the violent culture we live in.
We have read many books on gun violence– one that details a prophetic Christian call towards gun violence (Beating Guns), one that tells a personal shooting survivor’s story (When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough), and one that details the enormous mental, economic, and physical cost of gun violence (Collateral Damage). Children Under Fire carves a different path by telling the heartbreaking, intimate stories of two seven year old children, Ava Olsen and Tyshaun McPhatter, who form a profound friendship after being deeply traumatized by gun violence.