10 months, 4 weeks ago
Christians, arm yourselves.
That, in a nutshell, is what Liberty University students heard from Jerry Falwell Jr., in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino in December. Falwell — president of the evangelical Christian college and son of the late Moral Majority founder — told students, “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.” Adding that he was carrying a weapon in his pocket, he encouraged students to take Liberty’s concealed-carry training course.
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Yet when it comes to linking lethal weapons to the “gospel of peace,” Falwell and Ramsey have nothing on Texas.
One pastor’s message to attendees of a 2012 Keller church conference went well beyond the suggestion that Christians consider gun ownership. “You can’t be a Christian if you don’t own a gun,” pastor Dr. Gary Cass told attendees at the Deliver Us From Evil Conference. “How can you protect yourself, your family, or your neighbor if you don’t have a gun? If I’m supposed to love my neighbor, and I can’t protect him, what good am I?” While Cass told me recently that there is some hyperbole in these statements — in that gun ownership alone is not sufficient to guarantee salvation — he does believe that self-defense “is a God-given right and duty.”
Cass’ DefendChristians.org is based in California, but several Christian ministers here in the Lone Star State are singing from the same hymnal. Huntsville-area preacher Terry Holcomb Sr. is known for carrying his AR-15 Bushmaster rifle into local businesses as part of his campaign for open carry. Likewise, the Rev. James McAbee, pastor at Beaumont’s Lighthouse Worship Center, has earned the moniker “the pistol-packin’ preacher” for carrying his Glock in church and for offering teachers free handgun training. Last summer, McAbee told KLST-TV that “it’s very important that every church, pastor and all, have a gun.” And yet, as he explained to the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t want to hurt anybody. I believe the Bible teaches peace. But that doesn’t mean I should let them hurt me.”
The notion of pastors packing heat and encouraging their flocks to do likewise strikes many Texas Christians, myself included, as peculiar — even, well, un-Christian. After all, the core teachings of Jesus himself suggest a very different message.
Although his country was under oppressive Roman occupation, Jesus taught nonviolence — “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” — which is not exactly a forceful call to arms. Jesus also instructed his followers to love their enemies.
But, of course, the Bible is a big and complicated book. Some Christian gun advocates cite a puzzling passage in which Jesus tells his disciples that if they don’t have a sword, they should sell their cloak and buy one. In an email to me, Cass even cited this passage as evidence of a biblical right to self-defense. However, many biblical commentators, including the evangelical InterVarsity Press, interpret Jesus as referring to spiritual “swords,” not physical ones. Even when Jesus was arrested, and the disciples asked him if they should defend him with their (physical) swords, he told them no. Based on my studies as both a scholar and a Christian, I believe that if Jesus taught us anything, he taught us that the godly life is one of peace, nonviolence, and love.
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… the Second Amendment enshrines what Aledo Christian conservative David Barton has called “the biblical right of self-defense.” The Second Amendment’s “ultimate goal,” Barton contends, “is to make sure you can defend yourself against any kind of illegal force that comes against you,” whether from a neighbor, an outsider, or “your own government.” However doubtful it is that the Founders wanted to allow rebellion against the very government they were creating, this “insurrectionist idea” is very popular in Christian Americanist circles.
Oh good. Yet another derogatory phrase for Christians who believe in living according to the Bible: “Christian Americanist.” So this makes twice I’ve heard the author, David Brockman, claim that he is a scholar. But if you’re going to make that claim, you have to live up to the hype. Frankly, Brockman fails miserably.
Why is the passage about Jesus telling his disciples to get swords puzzling? I thought Brockman was a scholar. In fact, first of all Jesus told his disciples to find swords for self defense (the command is placed in context of having a purse and bag which they didn’t previously have, and being self sufficient in the absence of Jesus who was soon to give His life for His people). Second, the command sets up the disciples to rely on God’s mercy and grace. It was against Roman law for anyone but Roman soldiers to have weapons, and Jesus was commanding that they break Roman law. Finally, this command sets up Peter for good instruction when he slices the ear off one of the Roman soldiers (referred to later by Brockman). Jesus explained to Peter that His kingdom wouldn’t grow by the power of the sword (contra false religions like Islam). Jesus had to die and be raised again for His people, and Peter was getting in the way.
Brockman – if he is the scholar he claims he is – should know all of this. He should also know that the founders set up a system that was intended to be curtailed by the power of weapons, for that is exactly what they did. They curtailed the power of tyrants in England, and were it not for weapons, there would have been no victory.
But the biggest failure is Brockman’s ignorance concerning the case for biblical self defense. I’ve explained it before.
I am afraid there have been too many centuries of bad teaching endured by the church, but it makes sense to keep trying. As I’ve explained before, the simplest and most compelling case for self defense lies in the decalogue. Thou shall not murder means thou shall protect life.
God’s law requires [us] to be able to defend the children and helpless. “Relying on Matthew Henry, John Calvin and the Westminster standards, we’ve observed that all Biblical law forbids the contrary of what it enjoins, and enjoins the contrary of what it forbids.” I’ve tried to put this in the most visceral terms I can find.
God has laid the expectations at the feet of heads of families that they protect, provide for and defend their families and protect and defend their countries. Little ones cannot do so, and rely solely on those who bore them. God no more loves the willing neglect of their safety than He loves child abuse. He no more appreciates the willingness to ignore the sanctity of our own lives than He approves of the abuse of our own bodies and souls. God hasn’t called us to save the society by sacrificing our children or ourselves to robbers, home invaders, rapists or murderers. Self defense – and defense of the little ones – goes well beyond a right. It is a duty based on the idea that man is made in God’s image. It is His expectation that we do the utmost to preserve and defend ourselves when in danger, for it is He who is sovereign and who gives life, and He doesn’t expect us to be dismissive or cavalier about its loss.
And concerning John Calvin’s comments on this subject:
We do not need to prove that when a good thing is commanded, the evil thing that conflicts with it is forbidden. There is no one who doesn’t concede this. That the opposite duties are enjoined when evil things are forbidden will also be willingly admitted in common judgment. Indeed, it is commonplace that when virtues are commended, their opposing vices are condemned. But we demand something more than what these phrases commonly signify. For by the virtue of contrary to the vice, men usually mean abstinence from that vice. We say that the virtue goes beyond this to contrary duties and deeds. Therefore in this commandment, “You shall not kill,” men’s common sense will see only that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so. Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbor’s life all the help we can … the purpose of the commandment always discloses to us whatever it there enjoins or forbids us to do” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapter viii, Part 9).
Far from a mere right, it is a duty. Forsaking this duty is equivalent to turning over Brockman’s own children to criminals, rapists, thieves and abusers. God isn’t impressed with Brockman’s fake morality, a morality that pretends Jesus is a bohemian hippie flower child. And I don’t think Brockman is the scholar he thinks he is.