The evangelical leader and -antiabortion activist explains his unorthodox stance on guns as a new film, The Armor of Light, follows his crusade
Stephen Lovekin—Getty Images
By Belinda Luscombe
October 1, 2015

What does your organization Faith and Action do?

We attempt to communicate the message of Christ to those at the top tier of government. The Presidents, those who work directly with the President, members of Congress and the judiciary.

Do you get good access?

We want to maintain the confidence of the people we talk to, but yes, in fact, we receive a surprisingly warm welcome in all three branches.

You and your twin brother Paul were well known for your pro-life activism in Buffalo, N.Y. Do you have any regrets about that time?

Yes, I do. I was much younger. So maybe the tone and content of our message could have been more deferential to all parties. And I was not mindful enough of the women seeking abortion–the emotional dimensions to that, especially.

Are you backpedaling from a pro-life position?

No, I’m not. I still believe very strongly that every human life, at whatever stage, even potential life, has inherent value. I think I’m seeing today what I couldn’t see 20 years ago–a terrible crisis of two lives, not one.

Why are you now taking up the issue of guns?

Our perceived need for self-defense discounts the life of the person on the other side of the gun. I’m really limiting my message to my fellow Christians, especially evangelicals. And we have a massive presence of lethal weapons in our Christian communities. I’m aware of some pastors who now go into the pulpit armed and ready to use their weapons to defend their congregants. That sets up, in my mind, a disaster.

What do you say to people who say they need a gun to protect themselves and their families?

I like to ask people the last time they faced a mortal threat in their life. Most people can’t think of one. Within our conservative ranks, there seems to be an almost rampant fearmongering that’s used as a device to build audiences and readership. And I think it’s contrary to the optimism of the Gospel.

What’s behind the bond between the NRA and evangelicals?

Christians, especially evangelicals, often fear persecution by government. And that does occur in other places. So we project it here. Groups like the NRA have tapped into a predisposition that we all have, which is to look to ourselves as our own rescuers, our own saviors, if you will, rather than to God.

Are you advocating for gun control?

No. My proposal is for pastors, people I describe as shepherds of souls, to look at this in their respective communities. To see what kind of effect it’s having and then to address it, in preaching, in teaching, in moral reflection.

How has the response been?

It’s been mixed. People tend to take a very defensive posture in this discussion. When you bring up guns, often gun owners feel that you’re questioning their moral status. But I think we can often unintentionally disregard the value of human life, simply because we haven’t thought through the issue.

Did you used to get a lot of support from the Tea Party?

I did. I expect I’ll lose a lot of support. I hope with the track record that I have with very conservative groups that they give me some space to explore these things without summarily dismissing me as a defector. But the deepest of moral, ethical and spiritual questions can’t be answered by a political party.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the October 12, 2015 issue of TIME.

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