Christians and Gun Ownership: An Interview With the Makers of ‘The Armor of Light’ Documentary

Films can change a lot of people, but they can’t make the whole change, one film. What you need to do is bite off an appropriate amount. And what I wanted to bite off with this film was to invite people to the conversation that really needs to happen and isn’t happening. None of this is going to be fixed by legislation, at least not until there’s something of a clear sense of what morally has to happen. The moral conversation has to precede the political and the legislative conversation. We need to get to that.

Schenck: As long as this remains a political discussion, there will be no solution because there are political points to be gained for squaring off on either side. There are political advantages to being pro-gun, and there are political advantages to being anti-gun. Politicians are about scoring political points, period. That’s the end of the matter.

But for Christians, there is a much higher concern, something that transcends politics, and certainly legislation, and that’s the moral conversation and that requires what I call a prayerful, careful and reflective discussion on the deepest level. And that can be had among Christians in the church, in their home groups, Bible studies, in their personal accountability groups, and within their most intimate friendships. That’s where that has to happen.

It really, in the end, shouldn’t matter to a Christian what is legal or what is illegal, what is constitutional or what is unconstitutional. What matters is what is moral and what is immoral, what is ethical and what is unethical, what is inside of God’s will and what is outside of God’s will. That’s what must matter to the Christian. And they will come to that after a very deep and serious prayerful process, not political jousting and secular argument.

What would need to happen for you to consider this documentary a success?

Disney: As a documentary filmmaker, I’m often sort of confronted with having to deliver a one-sentence version of what my success is. And I really deliberately avoided that this time because I feel like if it can be said in a sentence, it’s probably not worth working toward.

What I want is for people across the country to push the shouters out of the conversation and then take it over from the center. We need to bring more voices and more moderated voices into the public discourse about guns and gun ownership and gun use. Then we won’t be dominated by the people who have the most to gain by furthering the conflict. The people who are advocates have everything to gain by conflict and nothing to gain by resolution. So we need to, at the center, take this conversation back over. So that would mean having new voices and hopefully younger voices, voices that are not already committed into this conversation.

And then I would love to see people voting differently. I would love to see people start to get punished for their bad choices as legislators. There have been a lot of them. The laws that have been passed, particularly in the last eight years, are hideous.

Schenck: My objective in being involved in the project with Abby may be a bit more modest than that. Although I applaud Abby for everything she’s doing. But my objective is a little more modest. If the evangelical community, as well as the wider Christian community, would take this question on very seriously and look at who, when and under what circumstances a Christian may kill—I would say that alone, by bringing that discussion squarely into the church and into the church’s life, would be a really good first step because [now] we avoid that question, and much to our detriment.

If pastors and their people would struggle with us, within their churches, and be vulnerable to one another and take the risk of being honest with each other, and expose themselves to a painful level of self-examination, then I’m rather optimistic about the outcome of that kind of process. It would be painful, and there probably would be the loss of some relationships, people would leave churches because of it.

But in the end, I think pretty well of the people of God and I think we eventually come out on the better side of these kinds of questions and crises. We did it on the question of slavery, we did it eventually—even though a lot of evangelical churches in this country opposed the Civil Rights struggle of the ’50s and ’60s—we eventually came out on the right side of that question. I think we will on this, too. It may take us some time to get there, but it’s certainly worth enduring it for a better end.

Rob mentioned the death penalty. Any plans to partner in the future for a documentary on that issue?

Schenck: If Abby proposed another project, I’d certainly give it very serious consideration. I’ve been amazed at the number of young, evangelical pastors who have said to me, “I’m not sure I’m there yet on the gun question, but I’m certainly questioning the death penalty.”

One leading pastor, a young pastor of a large church in the South, said to me, “I’ve really had an epiphany on the death penalty, and I’ve announced to my people that it is inconsistent with Christian morality.” That shocked me in a very pro-death penalty stake, Arkansas.

I would take it on. I would most certainly take it on.

Disney: I have made a commitment to myself that I want to spend my life and my talents on pushing back as hard as I can push back on the casual blood thirst that characterizes this country and our popular culture. The blood thirst expresses itself in our casual gun culture, it expresses itself in the way we’re so anxious to execute people, and the way we’re really, really psyched to go to war. There are a million things to take on. I could do this for the rest of my life and not put a dent in it. I’m going to try.