Jesus! That was my first thought when I saw the Christmas tweet from Kentucky Republican Party Congressman Thomas Massie featuring he and his family holding assault-style weapons in front of their holiday tree.
Massie, we are told, is showing his “muscular Christianity as he dubiously credits scripture that supports “stand your ground” and not “turn the other cheek.” Jesus, he claims, supports such “manly ideas.”
That lie brings a quick response from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Twitter: “Tell me again where Christ said ‘use the commemoration of my birth to flex violent weapons for personal gain?”
Massie is not alone in posted Christmas messages, with his family strutting with armament. He includes an often-credited but more often-discredited quote from George Washington: “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”
Historians say no such quote from Washington exists. It is, like so much in extreme political rhetoric today — a convenient lie to support a stupid claim.
Peter Manseau, curator of American religion at the Smithsonian, finds the increasing use of weapons of terrorism in Christmas greetings unsettling.
At the heart of both the outrage and the delight inspired by these Yuletide pictures was not just a surprising display of firepower but a common aspect of American religion that is unsettling to outsiders. These photos represent a shift in attitudes among some evangelical Christians that may have broader implications, as the previously subtle influences of firearms on faith become impossible to ignore.
The photographs themselves draw on a trend that stretches back at least a decade. Nevada politician Michele Fiore shared a similar image in 2015, and even then it was hardly an outlier. Starting in 2010, the Scottsdale Gun Club in Arizona invited patrons “looking for a fun and safe way to express their holiday spirit and passion for firearms” to pose for holiday photos with an arsenal that included pistols, AK-47s and grenade launchers. The “Santa and Machine Guns” event drew crowds and national media attention, resulting in hundreds of Christmas-card-ready tableaux that caused a stir when they appeared online.
In the years since, the marketplace has become crowded with products suggesting that guns are, for many, at least part of the reason for the season. Amazon and Etsy offer hundreds of ornaments and decorations in the shape of revolvers, rifles, bullets and shell casings, as well as camouflage “tactical stockings” for Second Amendment enthusiasts to hang by the chimney with care.
One state representative, Steve Farley, found the Scottsdale Gun Club guns for Christ photo stunt outright religious heresy:
To involve machine guns and Santa in a celebration in the birth of Jesus Christ is the worst kind of heresy I can imagine. I would suggest that the people who created this read some of the New Testament.
Manseau sees it as more. He adds:
For more than a century, American Protestantism has been shaped by the movement known as Muscular Christianity, which arose to combat expressions of the faith that critics of the time claimed had become bookish, soft, sedentary and — as they judged it then — excessively feminine. Popular publications such as 1912’s “The Masculine Power of Christ; or, Christ Measured as a Man” argued that Jesus was “distinctly manly and virile,” and it was the task of the Christian to be so as well.
As the scholar Kristin Du Mez chronicles in her recent book, “Jesus and John Wayne,”the overlap of places to worship and places to shoot is no accident. “Writers on evangelical masculinity have long celebrated the role guns play in forging Christian manhood,” Du Mez writes. “From toy guns in childhood to real firearms gifted in initiation ceremonies, guns are seen to cultivate authentic, God-given masculinity.”
If so, then God help us all.