Always Hope


One would think I would be used to it by now. Intense political rhetoric from (occasionally) well-meaning and self-lauded pundits who are absolutely convinced of their own rightness. Ecclesiastical debates that often feel more like the drawing of battle lines than they do a heartfelt and reverent search for the implications of the Gospel. Cancer manifesting its cruelty in the lives of beautiful and unsuspecting people who are seemingly doing everything right to stay healthy. Another heroin overdose, another gut-wrenching and heartbreaking funeral.

Yeah, one would think I would be used to it by now. The problem is, I am not.

I am weary today. I am saddened. My heart is heavy with a pain that I am not even able to delineate and analyze. It is the kind of disquietude that interrupts my sleep and distorts my temperament. So many words being spoken and arguments being sought. So many tragedies being accommodated by fragile souls. So many people assuming the absolute worst about others.

And yet…

Ah, yes. There’s the Gospel in a nutshell: “And yet…” That simple phrase calls to mind the redemptive presence of a God who is always at work to bring about a new reality that runs counter to the existing circumstances. There is pain AND YET God brings healing. There is death AND YET God generates resurrection. There is suffering, AND YET God awakens hope.

Hope. I needed to type that word this morning so that I might see the letters and speak them out loud. Hope. By “hope,” I do not mean a passive disengagement. Neither do I mean an anemic wishfulness or a superficial outcry for how we would prefer things to be. Rather, I mean the kind of hope that the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he told us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)

That, I think, is the transformational discipline that people of faith call “hope.” It is the nurturing of a sturdy conviction of life’s abundant potential. It is the belief that God is steadily leading us toward the redemptive ground that exists just beyond the edge of our brokenness. It is the life-giving trust that the mistreated threads of our tattered garments are being woven into the richly beautiful tapestry that God is making out of our history.

Hope. It is the gracious gift offered by a God who specializes in transforming sharp-edged rhetoric into relationship; a fractured church into a Christ-centered communion; tragic death into vibrant new life. Hope.

I have shared this song with many of you before. I share it again, simply because I need to. I am honored to stand with you, sisters and brothers, in this meaningful journey called hope.

Always Hope (Words and music by Eric Park)

I can see the broken pieces
I can trace the pain
The bitter tears your soul releases
Falling down like rain

I won’t minimize the anguish
You’re inclined to feel
Though I’ll beg you not to languish
In your own ordeal

There’s always
The conviction of a life’s potential
The assurance of a grace essential
The belief that tears we shed aren’t wasted
The remembrance of a joy once tasted

Purge me of my platitudes
My impulse to explain
No condescending attitudes
No clinical refrain

I won’t sabotage the silence
That your wounds demand
Though I’ll join your deep reliance
On a gentler hand

There’s always
The conviction of a life’s potential
The assurance of a grace essential
The belief that tears we shed aren’t wasted
The remembrance of a joy once tasted

Dare to believe that the brokenness cannot define you
Dare to believe that the fragments can only refine you
Dare to believe that the tapestry isn’t completed
Dare to believe in the weaving of threads now mistreated

On the sacred ground of your grief
We will gently tread
At the banquet of belief
Our hearts will find new bread

Just beyond the edge of broken
Lies redemptive ground
Just beyond the words unspoken
Hope waits to be found
The conviction of a life’s potential
The assurance of a grace essential
The belief that tears we shed aren’t wasted
The remembrance of a joy once tasted

Parkland, Florida and Prayerful Outrage

Photo Parkland

Moments before I walked into our church’s Ash Wednesday service, I heard the particulars.

Another mass shooting in a school, this time in Parkland, Florida.

A 19-year-old shooter with an AR-15 and multiple magazines.

17 dead.

I am a pastor by vocation, yet I feel more outraged than pastoral at this point. Outraged at the brutality and expansiveness of the violence. Outraged at the tragically silenced potential of young lives. Outraged that a 19-year-old came to the conclusion that murder was the best way for him to voice his fury, his torment, his misanthropic angst. Outraged that public discourse on matters of gun availability has become so rancorously politicized that people quickly grab hold of their most familiar ideological tree without ever setting foot into the vast forest of sociological complexity that exists behind it. Outraged at my feelings of helplessness in the midst of an ethos of violence that exploits vulnerability and diminishes our collective hope.

Outraged at my outrage.

Then again, perhaps I am making a mistake in thinking that prophetic outrage and pastoral ministry are antithetical. When a high school becomes a setting for carnage, perhaps prophetic outrage is one of the most pastoral things that a clergyperson can offer. I hope this is true. Because, in the parlance of our time, outrage is all I got right now.

Last night, as I placed the ashes upon the foreheads of my congregants, I said something like this: “Remember that you are dust. But remember even more that God’s love for you is trustworthy and lifts you out of the ashes. Repent, and believe the Gospel.” I am heartbroken when I ponder what Ash Wednesday felt like to the people of Parkland, Florida, especially those who lost precious loved ones in yesterday’s violence. They wear the ashes of grief today in a manner I cannot fully understand, enveloped by both the frailty and the fallenness of a human journey that I suspect feels directionless to them right now.

So what do I do with this outrage? What do you do with yours? How do we channel it so that it becomes something more than amplified sentimentality?

Perhaps all that I can do right now is offer this muddled description of my raw pain conjoined with my deepest hopes. I am praying that you can find your own voice in what I share.  Here goes.

I am wearily mystified and cripplingly horrified by the violence. I do not know what to say anymore. I do not know how to feel, how to act. Sometimes I do not even know how to pray. I simply get quiet in God’s presence with a numb kind of silence, trusting in the Holy Spirit to intercede on my behalf—trusting him to take the deepest groans of my soul and bring them to the heart of God as understandable petitions.

I desperately want our politics, laws, and policies, particularly those related to the stewardship we practice over firearms, to be wise and practical, persistent and visionary, perceptive and prophetic. I long for a way forward that gives peace, sensibility, and justice their best chance at finding dynamic expression. I am desperate for both a cultural and Congressional response to the gun violence epidemic that will take our collective discernment beyond the rhetoric of shortsighted lobbyists and agenda-driven demagogues.

I am envisioning heartfelt dialogue and strategic action overseen by truth-seeking and justice-loving souls—souls who are not so bitterly entrenched in their position that they cannot appreciate the limits of their own vision.

We are confronted by a violence that prayer may not extinguish, yet I desperately and frantically pray. I cry out to God with wordless screams, begging for a grace that saves, a love that heals, and a Spirit who whispers unimaginable life into places of incomprehensible death.

Beyond prayer, perhaps the most moral and personal response to the mass shooting in Parkland is a commitment to naming and addressing violence (physical, emotional, and spiritual) wherever it is found and an unwavering devotion to the kind of life in which an ethos of violence cannot find enough air to survive. Irrespective of the perpetrator—a bully in the school hallway, a spouse in the living room, an employer or colleague in the workplace, a leader in the church, or a loud voice in social media—violence in any form warrants the attention of those who recognize that the way of peace (with justice) demands a resounding “NO” to the politics of mistreatment. An ethos of violence, after all, is built with the bricks of the everyday mistreatment of those we feel justified in undervaluing. Yesterday’s bloodshed in Parkland inspires a commitment to a more rigorous stewardship over our words, our behavior, our anger, our relationships, and our engagement with the world around us.

I have never been more convinced that people must not lose heart in this struggle. Nothing good can come from allowing cynicism, sarcasm, hatred, or an unadulterated sense of one’s own rightness to harden one’s heart. Nothing has happened, and nothing WILL happen, that is outside the scope of what God sees, weeps over, and creatively redeems. I want to work for peace, even when it seems unattainable. I want to pursue justice, even when the answers are not clear. Most of all, I want to live into a risky and sacrificial love, thereby reminding the world that violence and hatred are not humankind’s defining narrative.

That is what I will do with my outrage.



Do any of you remember the David Bowie song “Changes” from his 1972 album “Hunky Dory”? I find myself singing the chorus of that song even as I type these words:

Turn and face the strange
Gonna’ have to be a different man
Time may change me, but I can’t trace time

Changes rarely happen without some struggle. And yet, in spite of the challenges, the rhythms of transition are often where God accomplishes some of God’s most magnificent work.

I am finding evidence of change wherever I look these days. Changes in our denomination. Changes in the political climate of our country and the nature of our social discourse. Changes in the dynamics of our churches and the communities to which they are connected. Changes in how people think about spirituality and its ramifications.


On a personal level, the changes are even more daunting. Effective July 1, I will become the District Superintendent of the Butler District in United Methodism’s Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. I will be succeeding my current District Superintendent, Joel Garrett, who will retire on July 1 and whose creative ministry and trustworthy friendship have been a regular source of blessing in my life for the last 26 years.

My new appointment requires that I  say hello to a work I have done before. It also requires that I say goodbye to the work of serving as a Senior Pastor to a congregation I dearly love and admire.


In the eyes of some, District Superintendents are little more than denominational bureaucrats who toe the party line, extend the episcopal office, put out ecclesiastical fires on occasion, manage the distribution and collection of paperwork, and show up for the yearly administrative dinosaur known as the church conference. Others conceptualize the District Superintendents as the backroom negotiators who shuffle around pastors in that inscrutable segment of United Methodist polity called the appointment system.

For me to be able to return to the role of District Superintendent with a sense of integrity and purpose, I must cultivate within myself a vision for the work that might carry me beyond the sinking sand of cynicism to a more dynamic spirit of hope. District Superintendents, at their best, can be attentive encouragers who hold pastors gently but firmly accountable for their ministry but who also allow themselves to be held gently but firmly accountable by their pastors and congregations. District Superintendents can be facilitators of authentic worship who dare to see worship as humankind’s only appropriate response to God’s majesty and who diligently create opportunities for their brothers and sisters on the district to connect with one another in the context of the communal adoration of God.

They can be relentless champions for outreach and mission who work with other visionaries to create opportunities for hands-on ministry beyond the walls of the church building. They can be sojourners who travel alongside the pastors and laity of their district, comforting the afflicted with gentle words, afflicting the “too comfortable” with prophetic words, and listening quietly when no words are necessary, all the while cultivating the kind of attentiveness that honors the integrity of those they superintend.

They can be enthusiastic practitioners of the spiritual disciplines, who pray for their pastors and churches, who study the Word and meditate upon its revelation, who preach the Gospel with passion, who fast for discernment (in order to remind themselves that they are hungrier for God than they are for food), who worship as though their lives depended on it, and who commit themselves to holy conferencing (both with the churches on their district and the Cabinet).

District Superintendents have a unique opportunity in a changing denomination to lead with simultaneous compassion and vision, so that their ministry is driven, not by a commitment to institutional maintenance, but by a fervent commitment to relational evangelism and missional innovation.

My emotions concerning this new appointment are deeply mixed because of my love for the people of Butler First Church with whom I have journeyed over the last five years as Senior Pastor. Granted, I will have the privilege of serving as this church’s District Superintendent, which is both a blessing and an honor. That relationship, however, is something different than serving as the church’s Senior Pastor. Another Senior Pastor will come and will lead with beautiful giftedness and inspiring integrity. Of this I am greatly confident. One of the strengths of our denomination’s system of polity, after all, is our perpetual discernment of how pastoral leaders can be best deployed and how churches can be best served. With great sadness, I will let go of the role of Senior Pastor. With great joy, I will become an ardent supporter and encourager of my successor.

Please pray for me. Pray for my wife, Tara, who is as unsettled by this transition as I am. Pray for the incredible souls at Butler First Church and for their new pastor (yet to be named). Pray for our Bishop and Cabinet as they engage in the messy and meaningful work of another appointment season. Pray for Joel and Debbie Garrett as they prepare for Joel’s retirement. Along the way, allow yourself to be completely undone by the holiness and hugeness of God amidst all the “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” with which you might be confronted.

Might You Be


When Mary held Jesus on that first holy night, I wonder what her thoughts and prayers might have been. I wonder what she imagined when she looked into the face of her newborn son, when she attempted to reconcile his sweet vulnerability with the angel’s message about his mystical identity and his role in the world’s redemption.

I wonder if Mary allowed herself to experience precious moments of letting go of the theological complexities that were embodied in her child so that he could simply be her little boy and so that she could simply be his loving mother.

I wonder.

This is a song about that wondering, a song about God traveling into human history through the vulnerability and comprehensive humanity of an infant. It is also a song about a loving mother and her newborn child.

I pray that you experience a joyful and meaningful celebration of Christmas.

Might You Be
(Words and Music by Eric Park—except the included portion of “What Child Is This,” lyrics by William Chatterton Dix, set to the tune of “Greensleeves,” a traditional English folk song)

Might you be Deity
Cradled within these human arms sleeping peacefully
Might you be Royalty
Sovereign without a crown trusting me completely
Might you be Jubilee
Come to redeem your people, come to bring liberty
Might you be Charity
Love breathing human breath lying here to save me

But the angel said as much to me
A peasant girl’s epiphany
Still, I’m left wondering were his words meant for another
But let’s let go the future now, we cannot see it anyhow
Tonight just be my precious boy, and I will be your mother

What child is this…

Might you be Prophecy
Words of the ancient ones fulfilled in your infancy
Might you be Purity
One day to bear the stain of our vain iniquity

But the angel said as much to me
A peasant girl’s epiphany
Still, I’m left wondering were his words meant for another
But let’s let go the future now, we cannot see it anyhow
Tonight just be my precious boy, and I will be your mother


Life Lessons From “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”


November of 2017 marks the 44th anniversary of the release of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” I watched it every year during my childhood. These days, in my “adult childhood,” I still make it a point to watch it every November.

There are moments in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” that are particularly noteworthy. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes playful, these moments, long before I was aware of their impact, helped me to pay attention to the world and its nuances. Here are some of the moments I have in mind:

CB 1

SNOOPY’S BATTLE WITH THE ORNERY LAWN CHAIR—Tapping into the frustration that most of us have experienced with uncooperative folding lawn furniture, Snoopy’s passionate fight with the anthropomorphic chair ranks as one of the great moments in all of animation. I think about that scene whenever I have difficulty opening up the folding chairs at church, which is often. It is a slapstick lesson in fortitude, a ridiculous but cautionary moment that makes a case for a raw “get-r-done” kind of gusto.

CB 2

FRANKLIN’S UNIQUE GREETING WHEN ENTERING CHARLIE BROWN’S HOUSE—When Peppermint Patty and Marcie come through the door, they greet Charlie Brown with simple hellos. But when Franklin, the only African American boy in the story, comes into the house, he and Charlie Brown exchange a pronounced and audible slap of hands. In light of the fact that this was 1973, such a greeting was a slap heard round the world—a moment of communicational intimacy that signaled the continuing development of a new age in race relations, even in the world of animation.

CB 3

SNOOPY’S PANICKED EXPRESSION WHEN HEARING THE INVITATION TO PRAY OVER DINNER—Peppermint Patty calls for someone to pray over the Thanksgiving meal. Snoopy, in a split-second response, looks suddenly panicked, as though he’s afraid that someone might look to him for the blessing. That sudden look of canine consternation makes me laugh every year because of its creative illumination of a very common spiritual reluctance. “Please, God, don’t let anyone ask me to pray out loud!”

CB 4

SNOOPY’S TOASTED EAR—While preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, Woodstock the bird accidentally puts Snoopy’s ear in the toaster, then butters it. No dinner, I suppose, is complete without a spoonful of personal sacrifice and a dash of vulnerability.

CB 5

WOODSTOCK’S FONDNESS FOR POULTRY—It hit me in late elementary school that, in the closing scene, when Snoopy and Woodstock sit down for a turkey dinner, Woodstock is actually committing a form of avian cannibalism before my very eyes. I wonder if the turkey was accompanied by some fava beans and a nice chianti.

CB 6

AN ECLECTIC THANKSGIVING MEAL—The actual meal that Charlie Brown serves to his friends includes jellybeans, pretzels, popcorn, and toast, reminding everyone that the beauty of the feast is always in the eye of the (hungry) beholder.

CB 7

LINUS’ PRAYER—When Linus quotes the prayer that was prayed by Elder William Brewster at the first Thanksgiving meal, it is the only moment in the entire animation that his security blanket is not visible. What a winsomely subtle way of making the point that, when Linus experiences the security of prayer, he no longer needs the blanket.

CB 8

THE SPONTANEOUS REJOICING—When the children receive word that they are all invited to Charlie Brown’s grandmother’s house for a real Thanksgiving dinner, they erupt with a joyful fervency normally reserved for Steelers games and Springsteen concerts. Their child-like exuberance awakens within me the desire to do everything I can to make the church into the kind of place that always—always—invites children to the table.

CB 9

THE REALISTIC SINGING—In the car, when the children sing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” they are neither unified in their tempo nor disciplined about their tonality—meaning that they sounded exactly like every group of singing children that I have ever heard (except for the Jackson 5 and that time that the Brady Bunch kids became the Silver Platters). Their joyful and spirited singing reminds me of how grateful I am that music has occupied a significant place in my life. I want it to occupy such a place in many lives.

CB 10

THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE MOVEMENT TO SUBURBIA—“There’s only one problem with that song,” Charlie Brown says about the bucolic “Over the River and Through the Woods” as the children sing the song together.

“What’s that, Charlie Brown?”

“My grandmother lives in a condominium!”

By uttering those six words, Charlie Brown concludes the production with a bold and prophetic acknowledgement of the frightening implications of suburban sprawl, generational compartmentalization, and architectural homogeneity. It is a subtle but appropriate warning to a culture that frequently runs the risk of forgetting that rivers, woods, and grandmothers are never to be taken for granted.

If you watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” this year, pay attention. It offers some wonderfully whimsical and insightful moments, even after 44 years.





A Hollywood Scandal and the Scandalous Reality That Undergirds It


Recent accusations and allegations in the Hollywood community have illuminated with horrifying clarity the mistreatment and dehumanization of women within the very industry upon which we so frequently depend for compelling and life-giving stories. The scandal surrounding producer Harvey Weinstein is neither compelling nor life-giving. Quite the contrary, it is a narrative of brokenness that shines intense light on both sexist hierarchies and accommodated injustices. It is a methodical and long-standing moral failure that diminishes all of us, whether we realize it or not.

As a male, it is sometimes difficult for me to discern the most meaningful way for me to find my voice in a discussion like the one this scandal demands. My inability to understand the fullness of what it means to be a woman in our world, coupled with my fear of sounding like a privileged observer who is way out of his depth, makes me somewhat reluctant to say anything at all. Silence in the face of injustice, however, is precisely the kind of response that permits the perpetuation of the kinds of environments that men like Harvey Weinstein have enjoyed for so long. As awkward as finding a voice in these conversations can be, silence is simply not a moral option.

And so, I speak. I speak with a penitent heart and a grieved spirit. I speak with a re-awakened anger, a re-engaged sadness, and a re-energized vision for redeemed relationships. I speak through groans too deep for words, trusting in the Holy Spirit to carry my feeble articulations to the heart of God as the petitions that they should be.

I speak through a desperate and broken prayer.

For what am I praying?

I am praying that the hearts of all people (women, men, and youth), are meaningfully broken and outraged whenever women are objectified, dehumanized, and violated by any language or behavior that perpetrates a violence against women and against the sacred image of God that women so uniquely bear. Whether in the locker room or the living room, the church hallway or the workplace, such language and behavior corrupt our relationships and disfigure our shared humanity. If we wink at it, make light of it, or ignore it altogether, our hearts become colder and harder to one another’s personhood and to the supernatural love that God created us to manifest. I believe this with all of my being.

I am also praying a prayer of repentance for the way in which the church (of all denominations) has all too frequently reinforced and perpetuated the mistreatment and undervaluing of women through silence, through institutionalized misogyny, and through a stubborn refusal to subordinate distorted understandings of masculinity and femininity to the transforming Way of Jesus.

The repentance I am describing is deeply personal for me today as I spend a few moments looking at photographs of the women who have shaped my life through their love, integrity, and giftedness. I am thinking of my wife. My mother. My sister. My nieces and sisters-in-law. Teachers, Sunday School teachers, pastors, and friends who have mentored me and taught me what it means to be authentically human. As I celebrate the image of God that these women so beautifully reveal, I repent of the ways in which I contribute, wittingly and unwittingly, to an ethos of gender-driven mistreatment that might make it painfully difficult for these women I love—and all women—to live into the world-changing and countercultural community that Galatians 3:28 describes:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Therein lies my response as a male searching to find his voice in this heartbreaking but urgent conversation. My response is a deepening repentance, an escalated attentiveness to the stories and journeys of women, and an intensified commitment to being part of the cultural and ecclesiastical transformation that I desire.







Christian Ethics and the Conundrum of Gun Control

rosary beads and gun

As a follower of Jesus, I am often far less interested in the opinion that a person holds on an issue than I am in how the person arrived at that opinion and, even more important, how the person engages both with those who hold a similar viewpoint and those who approach the issue with different convictions.

I have long believed that arriving at a passionately-held opinion is the least-demanding portion of ethical discourse. Strong opinions, while they may involve a certain degree of deductive or inductive reasoning and sophisticated cognition, require no artistry, nuance, or relationship. They demand nothing more than an individual’s intellectual assent to an articulated position. Following the intellectual assent, the opinion itself often becomes as comfortable as rhythmic breathing, rarely contemplated, but regularly expressed.

Holding strong opinions is the easy part. Everyone can do it and normally does.

The real challenge of ethical discourse, however, involves the territory that surrounds the opinion. Has the opinion been reached in a manner that is intellectually holistic and experientially reinforced? Has the opinion been cultivated with a reasonable attentiveness to all of the available data and not simply the portions of data that reinforce our preexisting predilections? Has the opinion been liberated from the weight of rhetoric and tested with the scrutiny of an open and rigorous mind? And is the opinion held with the kind of flexible intellectual grip that permits engagement with differing viewpoints? These are the questions that lead a person well beyond the simple “speaking of one’s mind” and into the undulating terrain of ethical contemplation and moral decision-making.

If one is a Christ-follower, the task becomes even more complex. Christianity’s narrative is one that is rich with seemingly absurd instructions: Do not simply speak the truth (or, translated a bit differently, do not simply speak your mind), but “speak the truth IN LOVE” (Ephesians 4:15). Do not simply insist on a particular course of action, but conduct yourself in a spirit that is “not arrogant or rude…or irritable or resentful.  (1 Corinthians 13:5). Do not become idolatrous about particular opinions, but be perpetually aware of the fact that “our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect” (1 Corinthians 13:9).

In the face of a rather complex social issue in his day, the Apostle Paul addressed the question of what Christ-followers are to do about eating meat that had been offered to idols, since there existed an ethical and theological disagreement between those who felt free to eat what they wanted and those who felt obligated to adhere to strict dietary laws. Paul’s counsel in the matter bears witness to his conviction that, at least in certain ethical and spiritual matters, the particular opinion one holds is less important than the manner in which s/he holds it: “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…If food is the cause of [people’s] falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:8-9, 13).

In this revelatory moment in Paul’s ministry, he expresses the rather countercultural idea that one’s individual viewpoint cannot be so monolithic and uncompromising that it refuses to be subordinated to the integrity and preservation of that diverse and heterogeneous community that Christians call church. In other words, to borrow Paul’s language from earlier in this same portion of Scripture, agapic love is the governor of individual opinions, since “knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

What does all of this have to do with the current debate on gun control? Much, I think. Followers of Jesus, if they are to be true to the narrative by which they are called to live, must be specifically Christian, not only in the opinions that they hold, but also in the manner in which they arrive at those opinions, steward those opinions, and communicate those opinions.  To borrow the Apostle Paul’s framework, Christ-followers are simply not permitted to elevate a particular conviction about eating meat (or, for that matter, owning guns) above their moral responsibility to preserve the kind of Christ-centered community that is durable enough to accommodate differing viewpoints without rancor, without malice, and without a sharp-edged insistence upon one’s own rightness.

The Christian narrative, of course, in no way removes from the Christ-follower the opportunity to develop and hold passionate viewpoints and convictions. Christians are not called to be devoid of individual perspective. What is powerfully unique about the Christ-follower’s individual perspective, though, is the way in which the Christ-follower is called to manage and articulate it. Specifically, Christ-followers are called to hold and offer their convictions in a manner that bears consistent witness to their stubborn refusal to value their opinions over their relationships with those who do not share them. I see this as a critical portion of the sanctification of individual perspectives.

In light of the urgency of this sanctification, I offer the following thoughts. These are my own personal opinions, held firmly but with a flexible grip:

1. Christ-followers would do well to make peace with the fact that intelligent people of deep and authentic faith reside on both sides of the issue of gun control. Several months ago, I shared a meal with two Christians that I greatly admire, one of whom is a pacifist who sees no value whatsoever in most gun control legislation (since, in his words, “the peace we are called to manifest will never be legislated”). The other Christian at the table was a soldier, hunter, and gun-owner who believes that new regulations related to gun and ammunition control are “desperately needed in this country, if for no other reason to establish the right boundaries for how the issue is approached.”

While I personally gravitated toward the viewpoint of the soldier, I found myself deeply encouraged by the absence of bitterness in the conversation. These were not rhetoricians insisting on the absoluteness of their own rightness. They were brothers in Christ who seemed genuinely interested in how the other person arrived at his conviction. I did not have the sense that either man had become idolatrous about his opinion; or that either man felt that the Kingdom of God (or the United States Constitution, for that matter) depended upon the promulgation of his viewpoint; or that their individual perspectives were more important to either of them than their shared friendship. Rather, I sensed that I was in the presence of two men of deep intellect and even deeper faith whose respectful disagreement about gun control found a comfortable home in the context of their mystical and durable oneness in Christ. On that afternoon, the salad bar at Eat’n Park became a Eucharistic meal where differing opinions were nothing but optional side dishes to the shared Bread of Heaven and Cup of Salvation.

2. Christ-followers would do well to remember that, in a specifically Christian conversation about moral behavior, the foundational question is never “What do I have the right to do?” but rather “What IS right to do?” It troubles me when Christian people limit their ethical conversations to debates about the nuances of their constitutional or civil “rights,” since, for Christ-followers, the primary concern is not the preservation of identified rights but the transformational and Spirit-enabled pursuit of righteousness.

This is not to suggest that the clear enumeration and protection of constitutional and civil rights is not an important conversation in which to participate. Such rights, after all, are an integral portion of the maintenance of a fair and just nation.  In a specifically Christian morality, however, the concept of unalienable rights (which is not a Biblical concept) is never the starting or ending point of any conversation.  Rather, Christocentric ethics are grounded in a different set of questions: What is the most right thing for me to do? What is the most helpful and edifying thing for me to do?  Am I being called to sacrifice something for a greater good? Am I being called to defend something because of a Biblical principle?  What decision will represent my very best effort to work toward a just and merciful outcome? How can I best bear witness to my primary identity—not my identity as an American citizen with inalienable rights, but my identity as a baptized follower of Jesus whose national citizenship, while important, is secondary to his/her Christological citizenship?

Such questions will not always lead two Christians to the same ethical viewpoint, especially on a controversial matter like gun control. My fear, however, is not potential disagreement. My fear is that, in the current climate, too many Christians are arriving at an opinion without an honest wresting with the right questions.

3. Christ-followers would do well to remember what history has all too frequently taught us—that vitriolic fundamentalism of any sort normally distorts the pursuit of moral truth and replaces the dynamic hunger for righteousness with a stifling and malicious desire to protect and promulgate a particular ideology. Concerning the particular issue at hand, fundamentalism is alive and well. It might come in the form of one of these viewpoints:

*“They will have to pry my gun out of my cold dead fingers!”

*“People who aren’t in favor of gun control are ALL addicted to the pathological violence of our culture.”

*“I don’t see how ANY CHRISTIAN could NOT be in favor of stricter gun laws, especially in the aftermath of what happened in Las Vegas.”

*“The ONLY WAY to ensure our freedom as a country is to preserve the right to arm ourselves with the same kind of weapons that our military has. It is our ONLY protection against the development of tyranny.”

These very real and current viewpoints may raise significant issues for the conversation, but the tone of the viewpoints resonates, not with a passionate yearning for a just and truthful discernment, but a fundamentalistic impulse to fixate on a conviction while dismissing or demonizing those who do not agree with it. The church behaves like the church only when it refuses to allow any ethical conversation to be stifled by the compartmentalizing rubrics of fundamentalism.

4. Christ-followers would do well to practice the spiritual discipline of acknowledging (to themselves and others) the fact that they might be wrong in their opinions, no matter how right they believe themselves to be. Again, by this I do not mean to suggest that Christians are to relinquish their strong views on important issues. I am convinced, however, that we practice specifically Christian ethics only when we operate with a keen awareness of the important differences between “conviction” and “certainty.” Convictions are discerned and lived. Certainty is established and protected. Convictions can live peacefully with opposing convictions. Certainty normally seeks to defend its territory. Convictions can be held firmly but gently, with a profound awareness of our incomplete knowledge. Certainty often demands a tighter grip and the illusion of omniscience.

Related to the issue of gun control—and all other issues—Christ-followers are at their best when they manifest the kind of genuine humility that heartfelt convictions permit but that rigid certainty resists.

5. Christ-followers would do well to commit themselves to making certain that their contemplation and discussion of gun control bear witness to the “new creatures” that they have become in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the new birth that Christ makes possible (John 3:3). No matter whether one opposes or supports gun control reform, it is essential for the Christ-follower to resist the ethical schizophrenia of being Christologically reborn but behaviorally and practically heathen. If Christ has made one new, then even the manner in which one articulates one’s perspectives and participates in public debate must be under the transformation of sanctification.

Practically speaking, this will mean that Christ-followers will listen respectfully and attentively to opposing viewpoints, thereby avoiding the temptation to become nothing more than “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

It will mean that Christ-followers on both sides of the issue will refuse to allow the issue itself to become a divisive litmus test for relationship, thereby ensuring a commitment to being “patient and kind…not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”

It will mean that Christ-followers will be far more interested in standing on the solid ground of ever-expanding discernment than they are in jumping on the bandwagon of convenient and divisive rhetoric, thereby generating a spirit that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Most of all, it will mean that Christ-followers will live with a perpetual and holistic awareness of the fact that, irrespective of what decisions are made related to gun control reform, our life-giving hope and deepest deliverance are not to be found in the preservation, reformation, or interpretation of a constitutional amendment, but in Christ’s astoundingly gracious invitation to participate in an often countercultural and radically peaceable Kingdom in which “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”