As opening day approaches for a documentary entitled The Armor of Light, a few of my friends have raised some questions about it. Chief among those questions is how I could be associated with a film director like Abigail Disney, a self-described "pro-choice feminist." That's fair to ask and it deserves an answer.
First, it's important to know I am the principal subject of Ms. Disney's film. (There are two others that share the spotlight, Lucy McBath and John Phillips.) As a subject, I had no role in the making of the film, I was not paid for anything I did in the film, and I took no directives from anyone on what to say in the film. As they would for a news story, a camera crew simply followed me around and captured things I said and did on the issue of Christians and gun ownership and use.
When Ms. Disney proposed I go on camera with my thoughts on gun violence in America, I was hesitant to say yes. After all, gun ownership is a very sensitive topic. People feel very deeply about it, and my position on guns wasn't so black and white. I generally supported the idea that Second Amendment rights shouldn't be tampered with, but I also had grave concerns about who could get lethal weapons and use them for the wrong reasons. Or handle them irresponsibly.
I was no stranger to the danger of guns in the wrong hands.
I started my ministry career as a resident counselor in a church-sponsored home for recovering drug addicts, many of whom had committed violent crimes with guns. I was in the U.S. Capitol on the day two police officers were killed by a mentally ill assailant.
I went to Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, to minister to families and friends of five Amish girls shot dead in their schoolhouse by a deranged milk truck driver. I live in Washington, D.C., what was once a murder capital in our country, and where gun violence is a not a rare phenomenon.
For Ms. Disney, my answer on appearing in her film was frustratingly long in coming. It took me more than five weeks to pray about the invitation, take it under advisement, and weigh the risks. Then, during my deliberation, another violent event occurred, this one literally in my neighborhood. Twelve people were shot dead at the Washington Naval Yard, within view of my living room window.
I called Ms. Disney's production people and told them I was ready to go.
For the next two years, I explored the ethical dimensions of America's gun policies and the presence of firearms in society, particularly in the Christian community. I raised questions about whom, when, and how a Christian may kill another person with a firearm. I asked pastors if they are treating the subject of "armed discipleship" in their churches.
To me, these are moral and even theological questions, not legal or political ones. I really have no interest in the politics or legislative issues surrounding gun ownership or use. In fact, I assiduously avoid the term "gun control" because I see this as a matter of "self control." (Galatians 5:22)
If Ms. Disney didn't know these things about me when she started her film project, she certainly learned them over time. I also learned some things about her. She is an unabashed left-leaning, pro-choice, Planned Parenthood-supporting feminist -- just the kind of person I have spent much of my adult life debating, opposing and, frankly, trying to convert.
Except for this film, it would have been highly unlikely we would have ever met each other under polite or pleasant circumstances. More likely, we would have confronted each other across a police tape at a demonstration. Still, there was something I came to appreciate about Ms. Disney, whom I have come to call "Abby."
Abby is a consummate professional, but she has a gracious spirit and a big heart.
Yet we still vehemently disagree on many critical things. Abby's respect for me, for my principles, and for my world in general has led to some very meaningful conversations between the two of us.
Years ago, when I was in Bible college preparing for the ministry, I took a class in "Friendship Evangelism." In it, the instructor emphasized that in order for us to really be effective witnesses to Jesus Christ, we would need to learn how to befriend people simply for the sake of being their friend, and not because they are our personal gospel targets.
Abby and I have talked for countless hours about God, the Bible, prayer, and Jesus. In fact, it's only since I've known her that she started reading the Bible. She even texts me Bible verses that have stood out to her. And she's joined a church -- a Baptist congregation -- after being away from organized religion most of her adult life.
There are challenges to friendship when the differences run deep, of course, but they are worth struggling through to preserve. I see friendship as a gift from God and I hope you do, too. No two persons will ever agree completely on everything, and the more pronounced those disagreements, the stronger the friendship must be to sustain itself. This is the kind of friendship I have forged with Abby Disney.
My cooperation with Abby began simply as a subject in a film she was making. We have never been business partners, never been political allies, never been co-religionists, but we are friends, plain and simple. As with the rest of the broad constellation of friends I've had all my adult life, in all parts of the world, and in every part of America, Abby brings something unique into my world, and that has only added increased dimension to my life and my ministry.
Jesus took a lot of heat for the company He kept.
The Pharisees attacked Him for eating with tax collectors and sinners. (Matthew 9:11) Jewish practice forbid men and women that were not family from conversing in public, but that did not stop Jesus from engaging not just an unrelated woman at a public well, but a member of a despised minority. (John 4:7-9)
I've taken some heat for my friendship with Abby Disney and many others like her. At least I'm in good company doing so.