Category: Pondering Peace

Guns and the Cross

We are once again in the Lenten season, a season that more than any other focuses on the cross. It begins with a cross of ashes pressed upon our foreheads.  As the season goes on, we sing hymns that often mention the cross – “The Old Rugged Cross,’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “In the Cross of Christ I glory.”  The cross symbolizes Christ and signifies those who have chosen to follow him. It has become fairly ubiquitous and innocuous, rarely eliciting strong feelings.

Such is not the case with the cross crafted by my husband Terry and pictured here.  I must admit that when Terry proposed buying a gun as part of his phenomenological research, I objected.  I’m horrified by the carnage occurring in this country by means of guns.  And I know the research that indicates those who own guns are much more likely to experience gun violence in their homes than those who do not.  I was not interested in having one in the house.

Nevertheless, sometime later he showed me the cross he had fashioned with a used gun that had been purchased. I don’t remember how I responded, but the image was disturbing.  It felt almost sacrilegious.  I was relieved later to learn that he too felt revulsion.  As art, it was an image that elicited feelings, but also reflection.

Cross made out of gun and wood. Artwork and photo by Tarris D. Rosell

Artwork and photo by Tarris D. Rosell

Integrating a gun into the cross highlights the nature of both.  The cross was utilized by Roman imperial power to kill those who stood up to them and sought to overthrow their rule.  Death by means of crucifixion was torture, meant to terrorize the subjugated community into submission.  Guns have also been used to terrorize and gain power through inflicting tremendous suffering since the beginning of our nation.  Guns were the means by which colonialists engaged in the genocide of indigenous people in order to take over their land.  And guns were utilized to control African people enslaved for the financial benefit of their owners. Today guns continue to be a means of terrorizing communities in random mass shootings.  As of February 23 – 64 days into the year 2023 – there had been 82 mass shootings, defined as shootings with at least four victims ( That averages out to more than one a day. In the year 2021, there were 690 mass shootings in this country (

But mass shootings are only a small part of the death and injury caused by guns.  CDC data shows that in 2021, gun violence killed 48,830 people (includes both homicides and suicides) in the United States (, and now the leading cause of death in children (ages 1-19) is from firearms. The numbers continue to rise, as do the number of guns in our country.  Comparative studies of countries and states show that higher gun ownership and lenient gun laws correlate to greater numbers of gun deaths.  And yet, fear is driving more people to buy guns for self-protection, including many who identify themselves as Christians.  In fact, white evangelical Christians have higher gun ownership rates (41%) than the general population (30%) (Pew Research Center, 2017).  Many have been taught and feel it is their Christian duty to protect their church and family by carrying a gun.  But the decision to buy a gun for protection contains within it the willingness to kill a person.  It therefore demonstrates a belief in the myth of redemptive violence.

The myth of redemptive violence is the belief that violence is necessary, legitimate, effective, and morally appropriate when it is used to defend cherished values, home, religion, and country.  But such is not the way of Jesus.  Instead of justifying violence to attain a good end, Jesus taught and practiced nonviolence.  Rather than using violence to defend himself or let others do so, he chose to stop the cycle of violence by absorbing its blows onto his own body, offering forgiveness rather than retaliation.

And so, the image of a gun integrated into the cross seems incongruous.  The cross reminds us of Jesus’s willingness to suffer the consequences of identifying with the victimized poor and standing against oppressive power. It reminds us of divine love and willingness to suffer so as to stop the cycle of violence and open the way for reconciliation.  A gun expresses the owner’s willingness to cause others to suffer and die in order to protect one’s self and one’s own. This raises a challenge.  Which will we choose?

Equally disturbing in this art piece is the question of what or who we look to and worship as the source of our salvation and security.  A cross is often experienced as an icon that mediates worship of the God who was suffering in Jesus Christ and absorbing evil’s blows in order to offer and demonstrate the power of love to bring salvation. But when Christians feel the need to carry firearms and support those who resist gun regulations despite the tens of thousands of people “sacrificed” each year, it raises the question as to what is their object of devotion and worship.

Such are a few of the many thoughts and questions raised by the welding of gun culture to aspects of American Christianity.  You are invited to ponder this phenomenon with us, along with ethical, biblical, and pastoral theological perspectives during the Buttry Center’s 3-part online series “Reflections and Conversations about American Christianity and Gun Violence,” to be held March 8, 15, and 22 at 12 noon (CT).

This series is designed to encourage deeper reflection and conversation. Those who register will receive an article to read for each week.  Each session will consist of one of us presenting some reflections on the topic about which we wrote, a panel discussion between the three of us, and a discussion with the zoom audience who will have had the opportunity to read and reflect on the topic ahead of time. You may register here for this series:

Wednesday, March 8, 12-1 pm (CT)
Presenter:  Dr. Tarris Rosell, Professor of Pastoral Theology – Ethics & Ministry Praxis – at Central Seminary and the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics
Article: “I have a gun and I know how to use it”: A phenomenology of handgun ownership by evangelical Christians”

Wednesday, March 15, 12-1 pm (CT)
Presenter: Dr. David May, Landreneau Guillory Chair of Biblical Studies, Professor of New Testament, and Director of the Master of Arts (Theological Studies) at Central Seminary
Article: “The sword-violence of Luke’s gospel: An overview of text segments”

Wednesday, March 22, 12-1 pm (CT)
Presenter: Dr. Ruth Rosell, Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology Emerita at Central Seminary
Article: “Guns and human suffering: A pastoral theological perspective”


Rev. Ruth Rosell, Ph.D.
March 2023