“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
In April of this year the Texas legislature proposed a bill that sought to legalize the permitless carry of handguns. I’m a member of an organization called Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and they put a call out for people to come to the state Capitol and register opposition to this bill. I had already shown up to show support when they tried to pass it through the senate in March, and felt the need to write and share testimony this time.
I have never been at the forefront of this organization. I was raised in a Republican household and voted that way until 2016. After the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012 I felt a lot of things. I was shocked and heartbroken, I was working for Texas PTA at the time and I remember the Executive Director walking into my office to find me reading online reports of the massacre and sobbing at my desk. In the following days, fear crept in and I became utterly convinced President Obama (newly elected to his second term) would make it illegal to own a weapon, because that seemed like a logical response to the murder of 20 six-year-olds. I went out and bought my first handgun in January 2013 because my thought was the government might be able to make it illegal to buy or sell firearms but it would be next to impossible for them to take away the ones people already owned. However, as the weeks rolled by and nothing happened, my opinions turned from fear to anger because it seemed that actually, the government had no plans to do anything at all about this. No nefarious gun grab, no executive order, not even a congressional resolution.
Right after the shooting I joined MDA which at the time was nothing more than a Facebook group called “One Million Moms for Gun Control”. In April of that year MDA had their first rally at the Capitol, so I asked my husband if we could go. He said yes, so we brought the girls and went to listen. I went to a tent area they had set up and met a lady named Hillary (who would later become my friend) and put my name on the email list.
Fast forward to 2021 and I’ve been sort of on the edges of this debate for eight years in varying capacities and the debate itself has gotten far more intense. Texas loosened its gun laws quite a bit and had several high profile mass shooting events* in the interim. I backed off on my advocacy in 2017 after my Dad passed away the same year as an advocate friend, Catherine Nance, who died of colon cancer while my best friend Michelle was fighting the same disease, (and she eventually passed away too in 2019). Advocacy was just not possible for me when dealing with so much loss. So there I was one beautiful spring morning heading in to the Capitol to give testimony for the first time. I was terrified. I prayed the whole way there. If you think the political atmosphere in the US is electrically charged, just try attending any civil debate over gun rights. Most people have no idea how contentious it is. Because I am a Christian, when I am afraid, I turn to Jesus. I was praying the entire 45 minute drive from my house to the Capitol. I prayed while parking my car and walking in. I prayed while getting my Covid test in the big military tent outside. Just constant stream of consciousness prayer going up to God.
When I walked in a little after 8:30 there was already a long line to get into the committee room. The MDA ladies were at the front so I stopped to say hi, but decided to walk to the back and get in line so as not to ruffle any feathers or provoke any charges of line cutting from the opposition. I sat on a bench and tried to read my Bible app but I really couldn’t concentrate on it. The line grew behind me and eventually moved a little so I got up and began standing. I could tell the two men standing behind me were members of the opposition because both had side arms and one was wearing a shirt identifying him as a member of Gun Owners of America, a group that had recently gone viral for a flyer that circulated in Oregon characterizing a democratic political candidate as “Another gun-grabbing Jew”. A tall man walked by with a thigh holster wearing a shirt that said “F*ck the police” (without the asterisk). I was nervous to even be there. One of the men near me was very talkative and friendly though, and he struck up a conversation with me and we got to talking. His name was Tony, he was married with two kids about my age. We stood in that line for nearly three hours and we talked about everything under the sun, his military service in the Marines, his online business, the volunteer fire department in his hometown, the time he and his family spent living overseas when he was stationed in the UK. My fear of this man slowly dissipated. Eventually he told me he and his wife lost their only daughter to cancer and they were raising their special-needs grandson. Having lost two friends to cancer, I felt that loss for him really hard and had to restrain myself from hugging this perfect stranger. Before long a woman came by passing out t-shirts to the GOA group and one of the men offered me one and that’s when I had to come clean and confess I was actually with MDA. Sweet Tony just couldn’t believe it. “We gotta get this girl on our side!” he kept saying. That prompted a good conversation about our political beliefs and another man standing ahead of me joined the conversation and we all talked about our points of view, calmly and rationally, like friends. They acknowledged my points and I acknowledged theirs. There was respectful discourse and no insults or belittlement. Eventually we realized the only reason the line was moving was because people were leaving the line. I looked around and saw my MDA friends had left to go sit outside an overflow room across the hall, so I thanked my new friends for their kind and rational discussion and left to go take a load off my aching feet. Time and time again throughout the day though, I was approached by and spoke with people from the opposing group, and many were very warm, welcoming people. I highly disagreed with a lot of their viewpoints, in particular the cherry-picking of Luke 22:36 to make it look like Jesus supported gun rights (click here to read why that is inaccurate) but nevertheless I think we began to understand each other. There were unpleasant people there, but thankfully I didn’t have to interact with them.
I was at the Capitol until after 5 PM that day and was finally able to testify. Afterwards I pretty much sprinted to the parking garage, so ready to be home with my family. As I drove home I started praying again, but this time it was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for protecting me, for showing me good people and for keeping all of us safe. As I prayed God said to me, These are my children, too, and if you knew them like I know them, you would love them.
I have often wondered how God is able to love horrible, sinful humans such as myself. I think it’s because first of all, God IS love, the Bible makes that perfectly clear, but also, he knows each of us fully. He knows all the traumas and hurts of our lives. He knows our experiences. He knows us better than we even know ourselves.
As Christians, we are not given a choice whether or not to love one another. The Bible does not mince words on this topic. In addition to the verse above, here’s a few things that are written:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John 13:34 NIV
“This is my command: Love each other.”
John 15:17 NIV
“For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
1 John 3:11 NIV
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”
1 John 3:14-15 NIV
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”
Luke 6:27-29 NIV
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Luke 6:35-36 NIV
Some of you might want to protest that the Bible also has plenty of verses about destroying your enemies, which is true. However, I think, if you look, you’ll find that they’re all in the Old Testament. Jesus certainly never said anything vengeful, petty, or hateful. The New Covenant under Christ Jesus requires us to forgive and love as we have been forgiven and are loved.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:14-15 NIV
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Colossians 3:12-14 NIV
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:21-22 NIV
Jesus even prayed for the salvation of the men who put him to death:
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
Luke 23:34 NIV
So it’s clear, we are meant to love everyone, even our enemies. We are meant to pray for everyone, especially those who do wrong to us. We are meant to forgive everyone, even people who physically harm us. How can we do better at these commands on a daily basis? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
*Sutherland Springs Church shooting 2017, Santa Fe High School Shooting 2018, El Paso Walmart shooting 2019, Midland/Odessa Shooting 2019, just to name a few