Christians are redeemed, but they can be hypocritical and self serving. They aren’t perfect. Furthermore, while Christians can be (though they are not always) sweet and loving, they have always impressed me as perhaps the most pitiful, naive, stolid simpletons on the planet. Sheep is a perfect description.
I can say those things because I am a Christian, and not in the sense of ”God is love let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya while we sway and dance ourselves into ethereal bliss,” but in the orthodox sense (e.g., belief in the trinity, the vicarious atonement, the deity of Christ, etc.). God is love alright, but as professor John Frame discusses, to say that that’s all He is amounts to an exclusive reduction. It’s wrong. It’s acceptable to emphasize one attribute for pedagogical purposes, but not to define God. God is a lot of things besides love, like justice, righteousness, jealously, and so on. Also, I do not accept the hemeneutical and other pronouncements of the 19th and 20th century form, source and redaction critics any more than I accept the kumbaya movement. They are equally vapid and vacuous, and not deserving of my time.
One sheep-like attribute of Christians is the tendency to be pacifist both nationally and individually. Don’t be fooled about the magnitude of the problem. It’s sweeping, comprehensive and ubiquitous throughout the Christian community. Thus, the second amendment to many Christians who haven’t thought about it a great deal seems to be some sort of “last resort, sin if you must, it’s better to perish like Christ” acquiescence than it is a right, privilege or duty.
To heighten the problem further, these people vote. They’re well intentioned, just ignorant. You cannot go more than a few days without yet another strained attempt to deal with the issue of violence in America from a “Christian” perspective on the pages of publications both Christian and secular. A number of examples are provided below.
Christian Panelists On “Assault Weapons”
Military personnel and members of police and guard units have needs that do not apply to individual citizens. The basic issue for our culture regarding gun-ownership is why do we want to own them? Does any individual citizen need an ‘assault weapon’ for hunting, recreational target practice or even for self-defense?”
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The commandment not to kill seems to be nearly universal. But the right to defend oneself from violence is equally attested. We see this mirrored in the ‘just war’ theory that began in late pagan Christendom and was codified by Thomas Aquinas during the 13th century. Among the conditions defining a ‘just war’ (according to current Roman Catholic teaching): ‘the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.’
All this is a means to say that unless a person has reasonable evidence that the evil being answered is equally armed, assault weapons have no moral excuse. To justify owning an operative assault weapon (leaving aside inoperative ones collected as one collects cancelled stamps) a person must be able to prove to a third party that someone or something else really is a threat to him and that deterring such threat requires force of that size. While there may be exceptional cases that could qualify, they are so few as to prove the rule that ‘assault weapons’ are not ethically defensible in civil society.”
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The opinions we express should not be taken to mean that we believe a ban on so-called “assault weapons” is Constitutional, but only that we believe “assault weapons” should not be as widely available as hunting rifles or regular handguns.
Are we as a society more safe or less safe with legal access to “assault weapons?” Do we have an ethical responsibility to advocate for changes in law necessary to ban the widespread sale of “assault weapons?”
A Pastor On Guns In Places Of Worship
This week’s column is offered as a public service to readers who intend to pack your pistol to next week’s worship service at the mosque, synagogue or church. Leave your firearms at home, in the gun rack of the pickup truck or check them at the door with the ushers. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 20, 2012, upheld a 2010 Georgia law forbidding firearms in the Lord’s house. I don’t know whether the law allows one to carry a rifle to a church sponsored hayride or bring a shotgun into a one of those wedding ceremonies that take place because of certain unplanned conditions, but at least houses of worship must legally remain free of firearms.
#This decision will not be universally welcomed, of course. In fact, the lawsuit challenging the legality of the law was filed by The Reverend Jonathon Wilkins, pastor of Baptist Tabernacle in Thomaston, in cooperation with GeorgiaCarry.org. These groups unsuccessfully argued that citizens have the right to carry registered firearms into places of worship. The Baptist Tabernacle had sued to allow its ushers and greeters to be armed, just in case something horrible happens in Upson County, GA, hardly a locale with a history of violent crime.
#Having been in a few tense board meetings over the decades I, for one, am grateful that the court ruled against these souls who — by a huge leap of illogic — cited Jesus’ obscure advice (Luke 22:36) about purchasing a sword as commanding the followers of Jesus to purchase guns and carry them to church. That’s a bizarre line of reasoning, to be sure; one might suggest that were we to take Jesus literally we would each purchase not a gun, but a sword, which, as far as I know, may still be legal to carry to church.
A Christian Who Will Never Own A Gun
I first begin with my place in the greater community. I choose not to own a gun and provide an opportunity for the violence that so often accompanies guns because this is how I would hope others would be in the world. Yes, many will label me a fool and accuse me of creating an atmosphere of inviting gun violence into my life, but when it comes to faith, my actions, while defying logic to many in the world, is an expression of my deep commitment to God.
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Secondly, nowhere in Scripture does Jesus give us permission to solve our problems, respond to aggression or even defend ourselves with violence. In word and in deed, we are often called to fight injustice and violence with words and actions that are distinctly NOT violent, even in self-defense. Turning the other cheek, defending with a sword, stoning of the prostitute, etc, Jesus reminds us of other powerful ways to respond to those who would chose to goad us into violent conflict. Yes, we do those things out of self-survival and self-defense, and justified by society or not, viewed through a lens of the Christian faith violence of any kind cannot be justified.
And finally, another Christian who argues in a similar vein.
Whether anyone else does or not, Christians should forsake that myth for the biblical story of the way of the suffering lamb. For me, one aspect of seeking to live that story rather than the myth of redemptive violence is choosing not to exercise my constitutional right to own a gun, while recognizing that many other Christians—among them some of my closest friends—have well-considered reasons for making other choices.
It could be argued that by choosing not to arm myself, I am leaving my family vulnerable to harm. I’m actually more worried about how our young son might be harmed by a weapon in our home, no matter how carefully stored, and about how he might be harmed in the homes of friends whose parents have decided to have guns, even when they have taken every precaution.
Even if our son were not physically harmed by a weapon kept in our home, my own conviction is that simply owning a weapon and keeping it in our home would do spiritual harm to him by reinforcing the myth of redemptive violence. The world is going to try its hardest to teach him the latter story; I’m going to try my best to teach him another one.
Analysis & Commentary
There are some factual errors mixed in with the emotional prose. For one thing, the pastor has wrongly portrayed the recent 11th Circuit decision on guns in Georgia churches. The case had to do with guns being potentially prohibited in churches that were adjoined by schools (carry in schools is prohibited), and “given that the facial challenge to the law would succeed only if it’s valid in all its applications, the Eleventh Circuit responds by pointing to a valid application – when the management prohibits carrying. What effect the law may constitutionally have when the management allows carrying isn’t resolved by the Eleventh Circuit opinion” (I am indebted to Professor Eugene Volokh for this assessment). I still believe that ”in addressing (under the rubric of the second amendment) the issue of whether weapons may be carried on private property where there is a policy against it, the court has erected and knocked down a straw man.” In any case, the solution to this problem should involve clearer law-making by the Georgia legislature.
As for the emotional opinions on “assault weapons,” these are based on non-factual and arbitrary definitions of things that should scare all good people, or so they see it. As we’ve discussed on the pages of TCJ, these objections just don’t bear up under scrutiny. The better the weapon, the better the chance of proper defense of self and loved ones. As for gun safety and the culture of violence that we are supposed to be nurturing, these are also irrelevant misdirects. Gun safety is a choice, and ownership of a weapon doesn’t change the heart of man. Last, as for the use of just war theory to argue against assault weapons for personal use (i.e., proportionate force), I confess that I have never seen such a silly, trivial, strained analysis before. My judgment is that we’re justified in ignoring it entirely as an inconsequential contribution to the conversation. While it might be an interesting thought experiment to use the moral judgments of just war theory to inform our understanding of other things, technically speaking, it conflates categories to invoke this doctrine into the issues of personal defense. Furthermore, as we move from the issues of personal defense to national defense below, I am more an advocate of good war doctrine (see Darrell Cole at First Things) than of just war doctrine, which I think is dated and badly in need of repair work.
But aside from the factual misdirects, emotion and misunderstanding, common elements in these arguments are this way is morally superior, this way is better because I’m following the example of the suffering servant, Christ forsook all violence and we are to be like Him, all violence is frowned upon by God, think of the damage that we are doing to our children sort of appeal to broad, pacifist love and “kumbaya” acceptance, as well as the naive belief that this attitude is an effective way to address societal evil even if it isn’t effective for instances of individual threat.
I want to address these arguments in three headings.
Historical And Constitutional Perspective
In the “The Right To Keep And Bear Arms Report,” Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 97th Congress, the subcommittee observed that:
In the colonies, availability of hunting and need for defense led to armament statues comparable to those of the early Saxon times. In 1623, Virginia forbade its colonists to travel unless they were “well armed”; in 1631 it required colonists to engage in target practice on Sunday and to “bring their peeces to church.” In 1658 it required every householder to have a functioning firearm within his house and in 1673 its laws provided that a citizen who claimed he was too poor to purchase a firearm would have one purchased for him by the government, which would then require him to pay a reasonable price when able to do so. In Massachusetts, the first session of the legislature ordered that not only freemen, but also indentured servants own firearms and in 1644 it imposed a stern 6 shilling fine upon any citizen who was not armed.
When the British government began to increase its military presence in the colonies in the mid-eighteenth century, Massachusetts responded by calling upon its citizens to arm themselves in defense. One colonial newspaper argued that it was impossible to complain that this act was illegal since they were “British subjects, to whom the privilege of possessing arms is expressly recognized by the Bill of Rights” while another argued that this “is a natural right which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defense”. The newspaper cited Blackstone’s commentaries on the laws of England, which had listed the “having and using arms for self preservation and defense” among the “absolute rights of individuals.” The colonists felt they had an absolute right at common law to own firearms.
Not only were families required to expend hard earned wealth to procure weapons, the men were required to bring them to worship and use Sunday for range time to practice their marksmanship. Ownership of weapons was seen not just as a practical matter, but a moral matter because of the implications on defense of the family and country. The colonists, who were certainly more orthodox than present day Christians, saw no call for pacifism within Biblical law or the examples of Christ. On the contrary, in order properly to follow Him, ownership of weapons was a necessity. Moreover, as David Kopel observes, from the earliest times in the founding of our country, even the Puritans enjoyed firearms.
Their laws about children and guns were strict: every family was required to own a gun, to carry it in public places (especially when going to church) and to train children in firearms proficiency. On the first Thanksgiving Day, in 1621, the colonists and the Indians joined together for target practice; the colonist Edward Winslow wrote back to England that “amongst other recreations we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us.”
There are always caveats, stipulations and complications when it comes to interpreting and applying the constitution. But a plain reading of the text requires that if our understanding contradicts the fundamental exigencies and vicissitudes of life as it existed in the colonial times that hatched the constitution, then our understanding is in need of modification. Weapons were ubiquitous in the colonies for sporting and recreation, protection against animals, protection against people and protection against governmental tyranny (“The British never lost sight of the fact that without their gun control program, they could never control America”). Each was in its own way a threat to the safety and health of strong families.
Examination of the Biblical Data
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism Question / Answer 136, states the following: “The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life …”
For Scripture proof concerning the instance of self defense, it cites Exodus 22:2-3. While seemingly straight forward, there are demurrals.
A little thought reveals that this passage is not saying that self-defense is good, but that it is bad. If a thief breaks into your house and you kill him in “self-defense,” you are to be put to death! Your blood must be shed to cleanse the land of the murder of the thief (Numbers 35:33). Now, granted, if it is night, and your injuries to the thief cause him to die, you will not be executed. “I’m letting you off this time,” the Lord seems to be saying; but only if it is at night (cp. Romans 13:12).
Pitiful interpretation, this is. God is thus placed in the role of saying, “Oh, alright, I don’t like it, but I’ll let it slide this time if only you’re really sorry about it.” This is a completely anthropomorphized God, with essentially nothing left of His character. Only trite men see the Scriptures that way.
There is a better way.
Several times now, I have read the words of Christians who interpret Exodus 22:2-3 to mean that defending oneself using lethal force when one’s home was invaded was forbidden under Old Testament Law, at least during the daytime. If only one had done it, my inclination would be to blow it off. But since this interpretation is apparently widespread, I feel I need to answer it.
This interpretation relies on a twisting of Scripture in order to promote a preconceived pacifism, and I here attempt to rebut it.
What does Scripture say? In Young’s Literal Translation, the passage reads:
2`If in the breaking through, the thief is found, and he hath been smitten, and hath died, there is no blood for him;
3 if the sun hath risen upon him, blood [is] for him, he doth certainly repay; if he have nothing, then he hath been sold for his theft;
This is rather hard to understand. What is ‘the breaking through?’ Perhaps the New King James Version will be somewhat clearer.
2 If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. 3 If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
Aha! Now this is comprehensible. I like Young and rely heavily on him myself, but even I had trouble making sense of what he said there. Now, what does this mean? Well, first let us note that there are two contrasting scenarios. In the first, the thief ‘is found breaking in’. In the second, ‘the sun has risen on him’.
Those who take the view I here attempt to debunk interpret ‘the sun has risen on him’ to mean that the break-in took place during the daytime. Thus ‘found breaking in’ must mean the break-in happened at night. This obviously makes no sense. Why should the fact that he was found breaking in lead us to think it was happening at night? Why would the passage be written in such a confusing way? ‘If he breaks in, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed, but if he breaks in during the day, there shall’. This is nonsense.
The more reasonable interpretation would be as follows:
The assumption, first of all, is that the thief probably broke in at night. Thus, if he is caught while breaking in and the owner of the house defends himself, killing the thief, he is not guilty of murder. If, however, the thief escapes, and is found later, presumably after the sun has risen again, and he then is killed, this is murder.
In other words, the Law is saying that lethal self-defense is allowed, but we are not to hunt down thieves and kill them; larceny is not a capital crime. The sun having risen cannot be taken in a rigidly literal sense; it indicates the thief being found at some later time, rather than while he was breaking in as in the first scenario.
This is a much better exegesis and it doesn’t do damage to the consistency of Scripture.
Of course, Christ himself commanded His disciples to go sell their robes (if necessary) and buy swords for their self defense (Luke 22:26). I reject interpretations of this passage as metaphorical, pointing to their upcoming persecution and difficulty. That is contrary to the plain reading of the Scriptures.
But in any case, Jesus didn’t have to repeat the Old Testament commandments in order for them to be valid. I also do not follow the dispensationalist theological model, and thus there is no hermeneutic principle that requires such reiteration. As stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the O.T. moral law is valid, along with the “general equity” of the case law (19.4, even if not the specifics or the sacrificial law).
And in this line of thought, the best case for the necessity of self defense comes straight from the Decalogue. John Calvin, commenting on commandment and prohibition, observes:
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).
Matthew Henry observes the same concerning Proverbs 24:11-12 (“If we see the lives or livelihoods of any in danger of being taken away unjustly, we ought to bestir ourselves all we can do to save them …”). Far from a weak or forced case for self defense, this is one of the strongest in the Scriptures. Thou shalt not kill means that thou shalt not allow yourself or those around you to be killed, thus says the Lord. It isn’t an option – it is His commandment.
The Right and Duty to Bear Arms
In yet another anti-gun editorial, an ad hoc group of “clergy” weighs in against firearms under the rubric of respect for the sanctity of life. One commenter remarks:
Because I am a person of good conscience and believe in the sanctity of human life, I carry a gun with me every day. You have stood in line next to me at the grocery store while my pistol was secured out of sight in my holster. I have sat in your pews locked and loaded. the world did not come to an end. I don’t shoot for sport and I’ve never hunted. I carry a gun to defend myself, my family, and others incapable of defending themselves, again, because I value human life. Pastors, of all people, should recognize that forces of good and evil exist in this world and should support the efforts of those who resist evil.
I too have carried at worship. But concerning these “forces of good and evil,” it’s more than that. Jeremiah (17:9) says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” From the heart flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23), and Christ adds that man does and speaks what is in his heart (Luke 6:45, see also Matthew 15:18). Denial of original sin might be theologically comfortable, but comfort gives way to reality when it pertains to defense of the family. There aren’t just “forces.” There are men with evil hearts who would perpetrate evil against you and your family. Individual actions can be used by God to change men, but whether God may choose to work doesn’t change in the slightest His expectations concerning provision of security for loved ones. Certainly, the warnings and stipulations of 1 Timothy 5:8 don’t stop with beans and bread.
One of the reformers, Theodore Beza, remarked concerning both highway robbers and tyrants, that ”Hence it comes about that the man who meets with highway robbers, by whom no one is murdered without the consent of the will of God, has the power in accordance with the authority of the laws to resist them in just self-defense which incurs no blame because no one forsooth has (received) a special command from God that he meekly allow himself to be slain by robbers. Our conviction is entirely the same about that regular defense against tyrants.”
To the contrary, 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. Finally, self-defense may actually result in one of the greatest examples of human love. Christ Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:14).
UPDATE #1: David Codrea wisely remarks:
It’s not an easy subject to tackle.
I’ve always been kind of partial to this 1747 Philadelphia sermon, cited in the above:
He that suffers his life to be taken from him by one who has no authority for that purpose, when he might preserve it by defense, incurs the Guilt of self murder since God has enjoined him to seek the continuance of his life, and Nature itself teaches every creature to defend [it]self.
UPDATE #2: Thanks to Gun Watch for the attention!
UPDATE #3: Thanks to Maggie’s Farm and Free Republic for the attention!
UPDATE #4: Calguns discussion thread.
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