Why pro-life Catholics and evangelicals part ways on guns

George Frey BLOOMBERG A semi-automatic assault rifle made by Bushmaster Firearms International LLC, third from bottom, is displayed for sale … Continued

George Frey


A semi-automatic assault rifle made by Bushmaster Firearms International LLC, third from bottom, is displayed for sale at the Rocky Mountain Gun Show in Sandy, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.

After receiving a set of recommendations from a task force led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., President Obama will Wednesday announce plans for major legislation to prevent gun violence in the wake of last month’s mass shootings in Newtown, Conn. Since the shootings, prominent religious groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a multi-faith coalition have also called for tightening the nation’s gun control laws.

But religious groups do not speak with one voice on the issue of gun control. On one hand, the religiously unaffiliated (60 percent), minority Protestants such as African Americans (69 percent), and Catholics (62 percent) all favor stricter gun control laws. On the other hand, a majority of white mainline Protestants (53 percent) and more than 6-in-10 (61 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose stricter gun control laws.

These findings-from a survey conducted after last summer’s mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater but before the Newtown shooting-expose an intriguing rift between Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, religious groups for whom a “pro-life” ethos is central. Approximately 8-in-10 white evangelical Protestants (80 percent) and Catholics (77 percent) say that “pro-life” describes them somewhat or very well, yet Catholics are far more likely to connect their “pro-life” identity with gun control issues. This divide is embedded in three fundamental differences between Catholics and white evangelical Protestants: divergent native strains of “pro-life” theology, contrasting cultural contexts, and conflicting approaches to social problems.

The idea of gun control as a “pro-life” issue is a more natural one for Catholics, thanks to a history of extending the concept’s reach from abortion to a variety of issues, such as the death penalty, euthanasia, economic policies that threaten the livelihood of the poor, and gun violence. As early as 1975, for example, Catholic bishops favored controlling and even eliminating handguns, calling them “a threat to life.” In the wake of last month’s shooting, the bishops released a statement declaring that guns are “too easily accessible” and that “it is time for our nation to renew a culture of life in our society.”

Among white evangelical Protestants, by contrast, “pro-life” theology has no parallel history of flourishing over such wide terrain. When evangelical pastors try to weave together pro-life identity and theology with support for stricter gun control, they are, to borrow a Biblical metaphor, sowing seeds on rocky ground. Referring to gun control as a “pro-life” issue sounds much less natural to evangelical ears.

Cultural and geographical differences also account for much of the gap between these two religious groups. Compared to white evangelical Protestants, Catholics are, overall, more urban and bicoastal, and are more likely to live where guns and hunting are not part of the rhythms of daily life. Less than one-third (32 percent) of Catholics live in households where one person owns a gun. White evangelical Protestants, meanwhile, are among the most likely groups in the country to live in a gun ownership household (59 percent). A lack of daily interactions with guns and gun culture certainly influences Catholics’ solid support for gun control, as well as white evangelical Protestants’ antipathy toward such policies.

Finally, Catholics are substantially more likely than white evangelical Protestants to support institutional rather than individualistic solutions to social problems. When asked what could be done to prevent future mass shootings, a plurality of Catholics pointed to stricter gun control laws and enforcement. White evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, were most likely to support a call for a greater emphasis on God and morality in school and society. Four times as many supported this emphasis on changing individual hearts and minds as supported stricter gun control laws.

These theological and cultural differences help explain much of the divide between Catholics’ and white evangelical Protestants’ divergent opinions about gun control. Despite these challenges, there are signs that some prominent evangelical leaders are renewing their effort to link gun control and “pro-life” identity. This is not an impossible task, but it will be difficult, given the limitations of the evangelical strain of “pro-life” theology and the deep roots of gun ownership and individualism in evangelical culture.

Robert P. Jones
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  • tony55398

    If I use a weapon to take a life, it will be to save the lives of others, however I would not use it to take a life it is to prevent a theft, for material goods are not equal to a life, not even close, not at all.

  • EastCoastCommentator

    Catholics and Evangelicals differ greatly in theology, why should they not differ in matters of the world?


    Don’t pray to Mary
    Know Jesus had brothers and sisters
    Don’t believe the communion water and wine ever turns into Jesus’ blood and body
    Don’t believe in purgatory
    Know that Peter was just an apostle and did not found any denomination. He was a Jewish believer.
    Pray direct to Jesus and never to angels

    Although both groups consider themselves Christian, this is an apples and oranges comparison. Of course they see things of the world differently.

  • lastofall

    This is all that remains, that “Let everyone that manes the Name of Christ depart from iniquity”. This I say to everyone that calls themselves a Christian, yet somehow supposes having fire arms for the purpose of preparing to render evil for evil, or preparing to overcome evil with evil; they are only deceiving their own selves, in supposing that it is the Lord’s will to do such, let alone think such.
    The Name of Jesus Christ is blasphemed among the unbelieving world because of your example of disobedience. For if you had known the Lord Jesus at all, you would have know that in Christ we are not suppose to render nor prepare to render evil for evil; neither are we supposed to overcome evil nor prepare to overcome evil with evil, but rather with good.
    But if you would have known this you would not have condemned the guiltless, neither would you have defied Christ. And it is fulfilled in you that which He tells us, that they that have drunk old wine does not immediately desire the new, for they conclude that the old is better.
    Therefore do you hold to the Old that it is right to prepare to render an eye for an eye, rather than the New, that you should resist not evil.
    In the end it is only His Word that shall stand, and most certainly not ours.


    If you truely, truely, truely believe in God, you don’t need a gun. “Gods Will” should take care of all your needs……….fears.

  • AKOC

    Your comment is both tremendously disturbing and insulting to no end. How you could speak for God and pass along such impassioned judgment against those of opposite political belief on this one particular issue is truly disturbing. So now, I wish to reciprocate and also bring religion into this. It is very, VERY simple. There is one side of the political aisle that demonizes and vilifys anything and everything that has to do with religion (but 99% of the time, the target being Christians, and, funnily enough, NEVER Muslims). Then, on the other side of the political aisle, is the group that seeks to uphold the timeless and indispensible truths and principles of our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage and founding—or, at the very least, chooses to respect it and its believers.

    What is the first group? That is the Left/liberals/Democrats. And what is the latter? The Right/conservatives/Republcians. You call yourself a Christian, yet you are in bed with those who’ve made it their life’s mission to destroy and remove the church and Christ from every facet and fabric of our society, government, history…LIFE??? You are shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand in the fight with those who mock, vilify and denigrate the name of our Lord and Savior at every turn, no matter how shameless or specious?? Yet you…YOU call yourself a Christian? And condemn those who are ACTUALLY fighting for HIs name and will to be the Lord’s enemies?? Hooow DARE you sir?? Please, please…pray upon it and may you stop being blinded by the evil forces in the world. That is my greatest hope for the countless souls out there of idential mindset as you—once again, arm-in-arm, HAND-IN-HAND with the ruthless deceivers of Christ.


    When we invite hell into our country, don’t be suprised when all hell breaks loose! We’re going to need more guns, not less- In the right hands! Please see Israeli approach!

  • RickWatcher

    “The Constitution shall never be construed….to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms” (Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87)
    “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike especially when young, how to use them.” Richard Henry Lee, 1788
    “The great object is that every man be armed” and “everyone who is able may have a gun.” Patrick Henry
    “And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms….The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants” Thomas Jefferson
    “Public utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. Without the Bible, in vain do we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions.”

    More laws will do nothing but enslave the people even further. Only a return to the Christian principles this nation was founded upon and repentance in the heart of the people will bring about any serious good change in this nations problems.

  • allamer1

    In this life, man’s will is free to do good or bad.

  • allamer1

    Would you use a weapon to discourage a theft?

  • di89

    Catholics do not “pray to” Mary, saints, angels in the same sense that they “pray to” God…in English it’s the same word, and it’s hard to pick up on theology just by looking at someone’s outward actions, so there is a lot of confusion on this point.

    Catholics believe they can ask Mary, saints, angels, and those who have died before us to pray *with them and for them* to God, the same way they could ask you or anyone else. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it very clear that saints etc. are honored but are in no sense worshiped or adored, which is reserved for God only. Catholics also pray in large part directly to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (addressing all persons or any person of the Trinity at any given time in any given prayer) and do not always invoke a saint or other holy person in prayer–that is something of an “extra” if I may use an ordinary-language term.

    Agree or disagree with Catholic theology, but at least present it correctly.

  • alice-belle

    If your life revolves around religion and weapons and you think it’s not just your right but your duty to force these things on everone else, then in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia you’re referred to as taliban or al qaeda, but here in America you’re referred to as tea party, Gun Owners of America, Stormfront, etc.

  • mormonpatriot

    Well, I learned something today. I’m glad you presented this doctrine with clarity and respect. Thanks for helping others understand.

  • mormonpatriot

    Hey, BOOKMARK, I respect your sentiment, and I believe that I agree with your words, but I would ask you to consider the sentiment behind them carefully. And please clarify if I’m taking it the wrong way. There is no question in my mind that God does take care of those who believe in him, and that war and violence are not a solution to the world’s problems. But what if God’s will is not only that we trust in Him, and not in the arm of flesh (guns, etc.) but that we are also self-reliant, including in matters of our own safety? I believe that with God, obedience is far better than sacrifice, meaning action over sentiment, or plain belief. Going along with that, I believe that God wants servants that will not only know and believe His will, but when it is necessary, to fight to, defend what is right. This may include owning and using a gun for the defense of your person, your family, and your nation. Many great followers of Christ have been warriors as well. There are times when it is best to become a martyr for the cause of Christ, and others in which his work is best served by staunchly opposing those who do evil. I understand your view to a point, and again, I respect your desire for nonviolence.

  • mormonpatriot

    shauncostello, you may disagree with RickWatcher on this point, but I ask that you do it respectfully. And you would do well to be as informed as he is. The Constitution is not something to be lightly thrown aside. It is still the oldest functional national constitution in existence. Therefore, the burden of proof falls on you to tell us why, after over 220 years we should depart from that which has kept us safe so far. The demographic change you speak of is not nearly as important as the departure from the kind of morality upon which government and social order is supposed to be based in this country. John Adams said that, “[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This means that for this new experiment of allowing the people to hold the governing power through representation, they needed to educate themselves and make decisions based on sound moral judgment. The children are dying because our people are immoral and our culture is violent. The solution is not to make the people more dependent on a government which can only control, and never change a man’s heart. So I will tell you, shauncostello: If you really want to have a productive conversation along these lines, if you want to understand and be a better American and help others become so, your course is clear. Research what you’re saying. If you make claims that what worked 250 years ago does not work today, it is your responsibility to give evidence to that effect. I challenge you to do this, and if you’re content to find out the truth no matter what it is, you can only benefit from it.

  • cfrost1

    Because if Jesus had had an AR-15 he’d have cut loose a hail of lead and blown those Roman soldiers’ heads into hamburger and he’d never have been crucified. Jesus may be the prince of peace but he wants you to pack a piece.

  • jack29

    So, institutions that resemble a big government (AKA Catholicism) share the same view that proponents of big government (AKA Democrats). I could have predicted that without any research at all.

  • veloboldie1

    So, institutions that resemble a big government (AKA white evangelical Protestants) share the same view that proponents of small government (AKA Republicans). I could have predicted that without any research at all.

  • veloboldie1

    It took 44 years, but the Eastern European countries were able to undermine the Communist governments WITHOUT FIRING A SINGLE SHOT. The Communists controlled the army and the secret police, and yet the pen was mightier than the sword. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement did not use guns to change America, neither the anti-Vietnam War movement. Both succeeded in changing America’s course for the better.

  • Lee_Malatesta

    The Israeli approach is strict gun control. No Israeli is allowed to own a firearm of any type without a license. Part of this license is undergoing training. Former military, former law enforcement officers, and people in certain high risk occupations are allowed to own precisely one handgun. No one is allowed to purchase more than 50 rounds per year, not counting rounds fired at a firing range.

  • PhilCardarella

    This is actually quite simple to explain:

    If you actually believe that the words of the Bible are both true and accurate in every manner — Earth created 6000 years ago, evolution is evil, waiting for the Rapture and the Anti-Christ — than you will be less likely to be capable of rational thought in other areas as well. That includes gun safety regulation.

    And, if you are preparing to meet the hords of the UN/Anti-Christ in their Black Helicopters, you will want an AK and a hundred-round magazine, at least. A Howitzer, if you can get one.

    Look, religion can be uplifting or it can be a source of terrible behavior, of great charity or great violence. Franciss of Assisi or massacring Crusaders.

    Catholics also tend to be more urban, less rural. Less of a guns-for-fun culture. And not still mourning the fall of the Confederacy.

  • PhilCardarella


    I do not disparage gun ownership. One of the reasons we have the finest military in the world is because our young men (and women ) do not grow up automatically afraid of weapons, but are often quite secure in handling them.

    I just think that every gun owner should understand that military weapons are too dangerous for civil society. I am most disapointed that those wo do use and understand firearms do not stand up to the nuts who worship guns like idols.

  • PhilCardarella

    If you really want to have AKs to shoot at federal law enforcement or federal troops, you need to see a shrink.

    The 2nd Amendment is NOT designed to aid sedition or rebelllion.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    How about —-“Why Pro-Constitution Defenders part ways with Despotic Democrats on Guns”?

  • James S.

    Catholics and guns, WaPo, you have got to be kidding! Even after rapist priests in Los Angeles are being outed in this very paper, that story is nowhere in the headlines. what is going on here? its GUNS again.

  • KCHam

    A bit of history here, The 2nd Amendment went through several iterations before settling into its final form.
    An example of which is this amendment that was passed in the House of Representatives in August 24, 1789 which said:
    “A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the People, being the best security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

    As anyone reading this can see, it is clearly in reference to militia service. As such we should be able to regulate weapons just as our military does of its members.
    So if we are concerned as to the forefathers view of an amendment then this is what they thought on the 2nd.

  • DickE1

    Who is regulating the well regulated Militia?

  • docchaz1

    KHHam is right on the mark. The Second Amendment clearly links gun ownership to the need to form well regulated militias. It is not an unconditional right to bear arms.

  • csintala79

    How many guns does an individual need to bear them for service in the militia? One. Since the right to bear arms is conditional, i.e., it is tied to participation in a “well regulated” militia, the militia can establish regulations on where the weapons are stored, how they are store, how they are to be inspected and inventoried (a regulation of the militia is that every member must have a weapon, often at personal expense so there has to be a database on who has the weapons and where stored) what weapon satisfies the requirement, etc. The federal congress has enacted several militia acts to provide for a “well regulated” militia. State legislatures have passed their own militia acts. Even going back to the pre-revolutionary days members were enrolled in militia units (a militia does not consist of an ad hoc spontaneous assembly of citizens not governed by legislation, i.e., an unorganized gathering of armed men is a mob) and their participation was document, to include information about “the” one weapon they had available to be born in participation with the militia, as was their right.

  • csintala79

    As God incarnate, with the ability to turn water into wine, feed a multitude with three fish and three loaves of bread descend into hell and rise on the third day and raise the dead, Jesus hardly needed a puny AR-15 to smite His foes. This fact reflects the true meaning of His ministry. His message is that given the possibility of eternal life, what purpose is served by killing your foes to prolong your transitory life of less than a microsecond when compared to the eternal. Anyone that truly walks with Christ Who guides him through His direct presence need not fear death, rather he would embrace death as returning him to his heavenly abode. Another message is that one can lose their life trying to save it. Anyone claiming to be in direct contact with the Savior but fears death is lying. Defend your mortal life but don’t claim it has anything to do with being a follower of Christ. He chose not to escape execution and admonished Peter not to bear arms (He directed Peter to return his sword to its sheath) to save Him from His fate.

  • socomfy

    what would jesus shoot?