Some Spiritual Issues of the Gun Control Debate:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
nor seek the Lord! (Isaiah 31:1)
The mass shooting de jure, in Orlando, is one of many which we have sadly become accustomed to. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre these mass shootings have reignited the gun control controversy. One side wants controls on assault weapons, and enhanced registration procedures in the hope that that these measures will at least make a dent in the number of gun related homicides in the country. The NRA and its supporters, on the other hand, believe that no further gun control measures should be passed, and stress the role of improving the nations mental health system in the hope that an effective system can keep guns out of mentally deranged and dangerous persons.
What is lacking in the dispute is a consideration of the spiritual dimensions of both gun control, and the killers involved. The silence from the pulpit on this issue is especially notable. Perhaps it is because the clergy dislike weighing in on issues that are not precisely defined in scripture, and because American Christians often have very different and passionate opinions on gun control.
But let me suggest three spiritual issues that pastors should consider and discuss with their congregations:The first is a question. How should our identity in Christ, and our trust in God, modify our desire to be armed? The second: Weapons of war, as in assault rifles, naturally stimulate destructive and war-like fantasies which are harmful to the spiritual life, much like pornographic pictures incite lustful fantasies. The third: There is a confusion between “mental health” and demonic infestation of the mind and various forms of possession.
Waiting for the Rapture with an assault weapon:
Let me begin with what is certainly an exaggerated example, but one that makes an important point. I became acquainted with a couple in North Georgia that was into buying and storing assault weapons, ammunition, survivalist food, and gun gizmos of all sorts. They had ten assault guns, plus gold bars buried in the back yard. They belonged and faithfully attended a fundamentalist church. Their mind set, unfortunately shared by many in their church, was fixed on suspicions about the wickedness of the Federal Government, and especially the “Demon-in-Chief,” a.k.a. President Obama. They believe in an imminent 2nd coming of Christ, but that in the last days there will be a breakdown in government and everyone will have to fight for the last can of beans and sack of flour, paper money will be worthless.
Talking to them was difficult, as they have this wall of special “knowing” that is combined with distrust of general news sources. This made discussion on the basis of shared facts practically impossible. (Oh, for the days of old! Back then there were three national networks of TV news, all “centrist,” and most people shared a common universe of facts.) In any case, their specific understanding of the “last days” scenario was making their present life on earth filled with paranoia and anti-social defensiveness. They had none of the joy and peace that should mark the Christian.
This is extreme, but what about the Texas judge who warned of a future UN invasion of the US, preceded by a general disarmament of the population? Or the conspiracy theory that gripped many Texans over war games that the Armed Forces held this past summer. Many in that state believed that the military exercise, which was really a training event for various terrorist scenarios, was a pre-cursor to a Federal takeover in Texas and a forcible disarming of Texas citizens. Empty Walmarts (in reality being renovated) were supposed to be impromptu prisons for thousands of “resisting” Texans. Notice, no one in the extremist right-wing press or internet has apologized for this slander and paranoia.
But back to our survivalist armed couple. It is important to understand that their pastor did not see the spiritual destructiveness of their peculiar or extreme ideas, or did not counsel them before it got to that point. To be clear, I am not referring here to legal rights. The couple in question had the legal right to buy a hundred assault weapons. What is at issue in this posting is their spiritual dysfunctions that greatly weakened their Christian life and witness and was not addressed by their pastor.
Aside from the exaggerated example cited, I know of another Christian couple who have multiple weapons, and who seem to drift into a “weapons security” focus, vs. a “God-trust” stand. It is a situation every pastor should be alert to and preach against when necessary. Having a weapon in the home may be a prudent thing in our dangerous age of home invasions, but an arsenal of weapons may be a sign of a spiritual dysfunction. (Full disclosure: several years ago my wife was counseling a person who could have turned violent. With my help she purchased a revolver which to this day stays in our closet.)
In regards of assault weapons, let me suggest that these military style weapons are negative fantasy generators. What man does not remember that as a boy, playing with toy guns and imagining a defense of some fort, or a heroic assault on the enemy? It is all part of childhood. In training back in the late 1960s (I am a Vietnam vet) I remember as a soldier in training holding my weapon and imagining firing at a platoon of Viet Cong troops. In fact, the interior rehearsal and visualization of combat is an important element in military training and preparedness. For example, in Army marksmanship training the targets are human shaped, not round bull’s-eyes. The point is that practically every soldier does imagine combat and his heroic and effective use of his weapons.
But a Christian adult who is not in the police or armed forces really has no business with such imaginations, and in fact should discipline his mind to put away such fantasies (and stay away from war video games). As a pastor who knows firsthand the universal sinfulness of humans, I find it hard to imagine that those who buy assault weapons do not indulge in some sort of heroic/aggressive fantasies. For instance, one Christian assault weapon owner told me, “If that motor cycle gang shows up there will be blood and guts on the grass…” Fill in the fantasy or conspiracy. In all cases such fantasies are spiritually negative, as they focus on harm to others.
Jesus warned us that to fantasize about a lustful situation was sinful, not just the act, and that hatred was as sinful as the act of murder (Matt. 5: 21-30). Violent and murderous fantasies are not illegal, but they are sinful and destructive to the Christian’s spiritual life. I believe this fantasy element of assault weapon possession is one that has escaped most pastors. It should be openly discussed as part of the solution to the present problem.
Further, It seems that assault weapons have come to symbolize for many a sense of manhood and power – something like a V-8 pick-up truck that is used to commute to an office job. I have a friend lives in poverty. He is on social security as his major income. Most of his check goes to pay for a shiny new pickup. Like many, the new pick up is a symbol and (imaginary) assurance of his self-worth. He is a sincere Christian and had no business in placing his self-esteem and self-worth on the glamor of a pick-up or any other object. Christ should be his rock and basis of self–worth. Neither the possession of an expensive pickup, or a gaggle of weapons and the emotional and symbolic attachments they generate are unlawful. No feeling or emotion is, but such emotional crutches are not good for the Christian attempting to progress in sanctification. To quote Paul, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Cor 6:12)
Let me make haste to state that I do not believe that everyone who buys an assault weapon falls into sins of bloody fantasies. In areas plagued by gangs, an assault weapon might even be a prudent possession for home defense. But I am affirming that assault weapons are things that tempt persons to negative and bloody images, which should have no part in the Christian’s life.
Let me now offend the Left:
Now that I have offended many of my more conservative, pro-gun Christian friends, let me an equal opportunity offender and critique the other side.
It is natural for secular humanist persons, as in most educators and psychologists, to claim that a more robust mental health structure would bring down the mass murder rate. That is probably partly true. But it is a mistake for Christian to agree with this without serious reservations. A person like Mr. Lanza, the murderer at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was not just a neurotic in need of counseling and medication, but a demon obsessed/possessed person in need of deliverance and exorcism ministry.
A major problem here is that so many pastors and ministers are so poorly educated or experienced in the ministry of deliverance and exorcism. More precisely, many ministers have been mis-educated into the theology of cessationism which limits the miraculous, including the healing ministry and exorcisms, to Biblical times. Or, if trained in a liberal seminary, view the biblical accounts of possession and exorcism as mythical. Exorcism and its allied gifts, such as the “discerning of spirits” (1 Cor 12:10) are simply avoided in most seminaries. An exception is that Pentecostal/charismatic seminaries, and some Catholic and Anglican seminaries do instruct on deliverance/exorcism.
The secular evidence for the demonic:
Notice that many of the mass killings, as well as many domestic homicides, end with the suicide of the perpetrator. That is a sign of severe demonic oppression/possession. I learned this indirectly (as one cannot interview a successful suicide victim) over four decades ago when I was doing extensive research on exorcism. I ran across the work of a California psychiatrist, Wilson Van Deusen. The Natural Depth of Man. He was a psychiatrist who treated schizophrenic patients in the California mental health system. His patients often heard voices or saw visions of persons harassing them with negative thoughts. These voices and entities invariably encouraged the victim to suicide or self-mutilation. Van Dusen concluded that these “delusional entities” were a lot like the biblically described demons. Further, he discovered that the voices/entities diminished in power and intensity as the patients learned to disregard their instructions, and significantly, read the Bible consistently.
The schizophrenic torments that Van Dusen described were pictured in the brilliant auto-biographical novel and movie, I Never Promised you a Rose Garden, written by Joanne Greensburg (movie in 1977). Greensburg’s experience with the schizophrenic entities took the form of a tribe from the “Kingdom of Yr.” They began as friendly companions, but devolved into ruthlessly harassing entities. They encouraged Joanne to severely cut herself as an “initiation” into the kingdom, etc.
Right after I saw the Rose Garden movie an acquaintance informed me of a mutual friend who was having schizophrenic episodes in which she heard negative, tormenting voices. She was placed in treatment at a psychiatric ward and under medication for several days, but discharged in spite of the fact she still heard the negative voices. With a prayer partner I visited her and did a rapid and successful deliverance of several afflicting entities. The voices (demons) never returned.
That was over three decades ago. Since then the psychiatric literature on schizophrenic voices/entities has increased greatly. A review article on the literature and current practice of treating the delusional voices/entities was done by T.M Luhrmann, “Living With Voices.” Luhrmann reports that many psychiatrists still treat schizophrenia exclusively as a chemical disorder of the brain, and try to medicate it to submission – but wind up never really curing it. Others have learned to treat the voices as if they were real entities. They encourage the patients to ‘negotiate’ with the voices and come to some sort of understanding and livable arrangement.
The typical case study that Luhrmann cited to demonstrate the negotiation technique was of “Hans,” a German patient from a nominal Christian household.
Hans used to be overwhelmed by the voices. He heard them for hours, yelling at him, cursing him, telling him he should be dragged off into the forest and tortured and left to die. The most difficult things to grasp about the voices people with psychotic illness hear are how loud and insistent they are, and how hard it is to function in a world where no one else can hear them. It’s not like wearing an iPod. It’s like being surrounded by a gang of bullies. You feel horrible, crazy, because the voices are real to no one else, yet also strangely special and they wrap you like a cocoon.
The psychiatrist first treated him with medication, which made him sleep much and gain weight, but he was no better in his waking period as the voices continued to harass him. But then Hans joined a new patient support group in the psychiatric center which was using negotiation technique with their voices. Han’s voices declared they would cease harassing him if he became a student of Buddhism for four hours a day. He negotiated it down to only one hour, and achieved relative peace, and was able to discontinue all medication and function again in normal society.
Success! But wait. What is missing is spiritual discernment. The voices could have been totally dismissed from the Hans’ environment with deliverance prayer, or his own persistent Bible reading and prayers as Van Dusen had indicated decades earlier. In Hans’ case the demons were apparently satisfied that they were making Hans into a Buddhist, and he would thus be shut off from the Bible and the saving grace of salvation (and true healing) in Jesus Christ.
Secular psychiatrists are not able to “connect the dots” and conclude that the delusional voicesentities are really demons whose task is to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). All of this is to say that, some of what passes as severe metal disturbance and negative, accusative hallucinations, and attributed to chemical imbalances, etc., are at times demonic entities. The mass killers of late seemed to have obeyed the demonic voices to do destruction and murder. We can speculate as to how this happens. They are taunted and beguiled to violence by voices they cannot stop, and which reward or punish them in various ways. And when the mass murdered is finally cornered by the police the voices turn into screams of accusation and commands to suicide.
Thus the core issue of ever increasing mass killings will not be addressed by any secular metal health program. Anything mandated by Congress under our present understanding of “separation of church and state” will annihilate all spiritual considerations, and be spiritually ineffective. (I really believe we Christians should begin to confront the phrase “separation of church and state” itself, and insist it be renamed to what it is, forced secularization.)
Is gun control possible in the United States?
All of this seems to make the possibility of effective gun control and the reduction of mass killings, murders and countless gun suicides impossible to restrain. Especially distressing is the number of privately held assault weapons already out there. To be clear, wise legislation on gun control, and especially the limiting of assault weapons, may help in bringing down the number of mass killings. It is much easier to do mass killings with assault weapons that with other weapons. Take for example the situation in Israel. There the Palestinians are restricted from having firearms of any sort and have lately resorted to knife attacks. But these attacks are very inefficient in comparison to an attacks with an assault weapon, usually only killing or wounding one or two persons. Unfortunately, the immense number of assault weapon now in private hands will make the effects of any legislation years in coming (not an excuse to begin).
Actually, by identifying the spiritual problems of mass killings and gun control we can see that the opposite is true and a remedy is possible.The remedy is called revival. That is, the massive turning of a nation to God and the Bible as happed in the Second Great Awakening of 1797-1830 when Deism was defeated and Evangelicalism birthed
But it must be a Pentecostal/charismatic type revival. That is, a revival that accepts and incorporates the gifts of the Spirit, including healing and deliverance, discernment of spirits, and categorically rejects cessatio0nsim. Imagine what an America would be where a majority of its churches were actively Spirit-filled and empowered. Pastors and their prayer teams would be alert to persons in the community who were in the process of demon oppression and possession, and could intervene before they acted out.
Perhaps even many Christians who are attached to their assault weapons, like the couple I mentioned a t the beginning of this posting, would bring in and destroy their assault weapons, much like the folks in Acts 19:19 piled up their magic books and burned them. That would be a miracle, but miracles of this sort happen during real revival.
A Prayer of Last Resort:
But for the now. First, a “reasonable” word from the US government. FEMA recently put out a brochure advising churches on how to react to mass shooters. It suggests that ministry staff talk about the possibility of a mass shooter incident and develop a quick response plan. It gives very sensible, secular advice. Basically: run, hid, and fight (i.e., “take aggressive action" as in throwing chairs, fire-extinguishers, etc.).
I would suggest that IF, and only IF, one finds oneself trapped in a group with a maniacal, person murdering people, and IF there is no way out, try this: Speak towards the person but to the demons and command: “In the name of Jesus, be bound and paralyzed!” Now, I cannot guarantee this will work, and if all you get is a quick trip to heaven via lead between your eyes I will see you there some time later and personally apologize.
BUT, before you dismiss this as crazy, irresponsible and fanatical, let’s look at this scripture from Acts 13:8-12. It is the incident of Paul confronting a sorcerer and immobilizing him.
But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
The Church is just awakening from its cessationist period and now just recovering its Holy Spirit powers. As of yet, most Spirit-filled Christians have never considered doing any such thing. I am a Charismatic from back in the 1970s and I have never seen a teaching on this. Cessationist commentators easily write this off as history, and a special grace of Apostolic times without present day relevance. There are many difficulties in using this scripture as model. I frankly do not know if a spirit of sorcery is more easily bound than a spirit of murder. But the scripture is there, and it is not difficult to understand, but all too easy to dismiss.
I repeat this is speculative. I have no stories to tell of having done such a thing. But with so many armed, demonized persons out there it is good to keep this in the back of your mind, just in case. I was tempted to end with the joke, "Don't try this at home!" but in fact if you and your family suffer a sudden home invasion and are about to be killed this may be the only thing you can do.
Let us all pray that a great revival come to America, where the murder rate shrinks to minuscule levels.
The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.
The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE
My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together. It may be purchased HERE.
 See my article in Pneuma Review, “The Sinfulness and Destructiveness of Conspiracy Theories,” Posted June 29, 2015. http://pneumareview.com/the-sinfulness-and-destructiveness-of-conspiracy-theories/Blog on conspiracy theories.
 (New York: Perennial, 1974)
 Unfortunately, Van Deusan fell into Swedenborgism, a spiritualist cult, for the interpretive theology of his findings. I suppose he first consulted with some orthodox cessationsit or liberal theologian who could tell him nothing useful about the demonic or exorcism prayer, . But his core insights into the demonic nature of negative internal “voices” are valid and especially useful to Christian ministers.
 Hannah Green (pseudonym for Joanne Greenburg) I never Promised You a Rose Garden (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964). Multiple reprinting’s under the authors real name are available.
 The American Scholar. Posted June 1, 2012. https://theamericanscholar.org/living-with-voices/#.VgKjvMtVhHw
 FEMA, Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship. Posted June 2013. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/developing_eops_for_houses_of_worship_final.pdf
 I discuss this in more detail in my blog posting, The Anglican Pentecostal, “The Disabling Command as Christian Ministry.” Posted March 28, 2014. http://anglicalpentecostal.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-disabling-command-as-christian.html?_sm_au_=iMVQnHRtpqQV2qkN