The Good, the Bad and the NRA

You've probably heard the saying. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't.

The National Rifle Association mouthpieces apparently fall into the first category. Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the NRA, has famously said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

In opposing any and all gun control legislation, the NRA argues that we have to let the good guys have guns so they can protect us from the bad guys.

I wonder what it's like to live in that world. The world where there are good guys and bad guys and you can always tell the difference.

Because in my world, some cops throw more punches than are necessary. Some military veterans deal with their demons by beating up on their wives, or by killing themselves. Some pastors use their positions to sexually abuse vulnerable people.

In my world, abused children pull knives on people who are trying to help them. Bullied high school students bring guns to school. Stressed out college students have mental breakdowns. People of deep faith tip over the edge of reason.

I've cared for foster kids and spent time with their parents. I know my way around the community mental health facility. I've talked with homeless people and written to prisoners and sat in the courtroom with a convicted sex offender.

The line between good guys and bad guys is really fuzzy in my world.

Perhaps the NRA spokespeople can try to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. But Christians should not.

Yes, there are principalities and powers that are bad, that are evil. The litany of violence and horror that humans have perpetrated throughout the centuries is long, and to deny the existence of evil is to ignore too much of reality.

But it is the powers that are evil, not the people. The people -- you, me, everyone you talk to or see or read about in the paper -- are people. Period. Not good guys or bad guys. Just guys -- and gals.

Jesus hung out with a lot of "bad guys." And he criticized a lot of "good guys." And when it came to the end, as the Roman troops swooped in to arrest and torture him, Jesus told Peter to put the sword away.

I wonder how the Gospel story would go if Jesus had taught his disciples: "The only thing that stops a Roman soldier with a sword is a Jewish rebel with a sword."

There were plenty of people who taught that. The Zealots, among others, were ready for a fight.

But Jesus said to turn the other cheek. To walk the extra mile. To love your enemy. To shake off the dust. To put away the swords.

Because Jesus falls into the second category of people: those who do not divide the world into two kinds of people. For Jesus, there are no good guys and bad guys, only broken and beloved children of God. That's you; that's me; that's all of us. Broken and beloved.

To talk about good guys and bad guys is to miss the beauty and complexity of the human condition. And it is to turn our backs on the teachings of Jesus.

To create laws based on the false premise that we can clearly distinguish between good guys and bad guys is irresponsible and dangerous.

Because we are all broken, we sometimes commit violence. While none of us are "bad guys," we are all capable of doing bad things. So in our better, saner moments, perhaps we can put some reasonable laws in place to protect us from each other; to protect us from ourselves.

And in the meantime, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.