I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why I didn’t have sex in high school–Debilitating skinniness, lack of game, and relatively wholesome girlfriends, just to name a few–but the two main reasons I stayed as pure as the driven snow (more of an off white, really…. Maybe bone? We’ll call it beige) during my tenure at my small, Christian high school were as follows: Fear and Morality (which, coincidentally, at that time was mostly based on a fear of hell). Like most kids who grew up with my kind of upbringing, I had a sense of the inherent wrongness/sinfulness of pre-marital sex that was instilled in me from the time I could talk. But I also had a deep/healthy fear of getting a girl pregnant. I must have instinctively known the beefy pile of fertility I would one day grow into. Well, Formerly fertile. I once sneezed in my wife’s direction and got her pregnant. At least I think that’s how it happened–we may have been naked at the time. Either way…. We got a baby out of the deal.
And yeah, I know that condoms are usually a pretty good way to keep from getting pregnant, but buying condoms would have been me PLANNING on doing something I knew was wrong, and even I knew that was way worse (In the interest of full disclosure, I think I did buy one at a Hard Rock Cafe while on a mission trip to Chicago–Classic. I know–but I think it lasted about two weeks before I opened it to see what it looked like. They don’t last very long after that. Anyway, there was no way I would trust something as important as my paternity to something purchased in a bathroom). It felt like premeditation. It’s the difference between something serious like 1st degree murder and a harmless voluntary manslaughter charge. Plus I figured that if, as sometimes happens in the heat of passion, I started to care less about about the fear of hell, my fear of getting someone pregnant might kick in and save me from both hell AND teenage fatherhood.
I think that a Christian buying a gun “just in case” is like someone who has taken a vow of celibacy keeping a condom in their wallet…. Just in case.
I know that most of the posts I have written so far about guns have been more “Politics” than “Jesus” or “Bathroom Humor,” but this one is going to be different. Within just over a week, I have watched as the story of the Colorado shooting has been moved from the top headlines by stories about political gaffes, Olympic hoopla, homophobic chickens, and stars wearing the same dress…. but I’m not ready to let it go.
Now, before everyone gets offended and leaves because of what I’m saying, here are some things I’m NOT saying:
- I’m NOT saying that if you disagree with me, you’re not a Christian. And I’m CERTAINLY not saying anything about anyone going to hell.
- I’m NOT saying guns are inherently evil, or that owning a gun is sinful. Owning guns for hunting or even sport shooting is not what I’m talking about here.
- I’m NOT saying that whatever member of your family who is/was in the military or law enforcement is a bad person. Not even close.
- I am NOT disregarding the Old Testament. The OT always points toward a king who would bring an end to killing.
- I’m NOT saying that when facing evil, followers of Jesus are called to “do nothing.” There is a difference between pacifism and an active, loving non-violence.
Here is what I am saying: Followers of Jesus are clearly called to love their enemies. We are called to do good to those who hate us. Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” Paul writes to the Church in Rome and tells them, “Never repay evil fore evil” and to “be at peace with all men.” He instructs them “Do not be overcome by evil, but OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.” One should never build a theology by cherry-picking verses, but this message of peace and non-violence is a clear and unmistakable message of Jesus Christ and the entire New Testament. And as it applies to guns and killing our enemies, the message of Jesus can certainly never be mistakenly interpreted as something even close to “Kill them before they kill you.”
I realize that there are many stories of violence from the old testament, but Jesus makes a clear distinction between the old way of doing things (“An eye for an eye” and “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”) and a his new–A BETTER WAY–that says, “Do not resist an evil person” and “Love your enemy.” Besides, the sorts of war that are described in the Old Testament do not even come close to a modern idea of “just war” tactics. Much of the war described in the OT (to which people appeal as proof God allowing violence and killing by his people) was a “slaughter every man, woman, and child” sort of warfare. This seems like the furthest thing from The Prince of Peace, who calls us to love sacrificially. In any event, we are not called to follow Israel. We are called to follow Jesus.
Even though these Old Testament stories can be confusing and disorienting (especially when trying to reconcile them with a Jesus who clearly and consistently calls the people who would follow him to love and not kill), things get a little less confusing when you realize that God’s vision for humanity has always been peace and the end of violence for his people. There is continuity there…. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a day when the nations “will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” Zachariah looks forward to a king “mounted on a donkey. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations.” Even at his birth, the angels declared, “Peace on Earth!” Why would it be surprising to us that Jesus would be the sort of king who tells us to put down our weapons and love in response to hate?
There is a story in Jan de Hartog’s “The Peaceable Kingdom” about a Quaker village in the early United States that was friends with the Native Americans living near them. When the men from a neighboring town set out to kill the Native Americans, the warriors of the tribe sent the women and children to the Quaker village because they didn’t know what else to do with them. The young Quaker men thought that the right thing to do was to abandon their vow of peace in order to protect the women and children, but the older members of the community stayed committed to non-violence. When the neighboring townspeople came after the Native Americans, they were met on the road and turned away by the young men of the village who had constructed a fake cannon to scare them away. The young men got on their horses and cheered as they rode back toward the village to tell the rest what they had done, but the village mistook their horses as the horses of the men coming to kill the women and children in their protection. The young men rode into the village to see the older generation standing in front of their door, hand in hand, standing lovingly between the enemy and the powerless. When the young men saw this, they realized that the ones who stayed in the town had made the better choice–If by “better,” you mean “more like Jesus.”
And that’s just it. There is a better way, and we are called to pursue it. I have no idea whether God is disappointed when someone uses a gun to kill an attacker…. But I believe that the Jesus (as well as the entirety of the Bible) tells us there is a better reaction. Some reactions are better than others: In the face of evil, it is better to react violently and bravely than to react passively out of cowardice. Gandhi said “It is better to violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. ” I think this is true. But if what we are truly seeking is to be more and more like Jesus, we must admit that Jesus leaves no place in The Kingdom of God for us taking vengeance into our own hands.
I am not trying to judge anyone who uses violence or weapons to protect a loved one–I could very easily see myself reacting with some serious violence if I was afraid for my wife or kids. Violence is a natural reaction to being afraid, but perfect love casts out fear. Here is something to consider: If your reaction looks like the world’s reaction, it almost certainly isn’t the reaction Jesus desires for his Church. If you have taken a vow of celibacy, you wouldn’t keep condoms next to your bed just in case someone sneaks into your bedroom and turns you on; Neither would a person who has vowed his life to Jesus keep a gun next to his bed just in case he feels justified in killing an enemy he is clearly called to love. We are called to love sacrificially, just like a guy “who made himself nothing” and “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” It is unnatural. It is selfless. It is strong. It is wildly loving. And it is better.
And this selfless, humble, brave, non-violent, unnatural love should be the goal and longing of everyone who would call themselves a follower of Jesus, even when you are as bad at actually doing it as I am.
When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Good stuff. Really good stuff.
In my fantasies, I imagine that if a robber broke into our house, there would be this grace filled moment -like that scene in LesMis- that would change said robber’s life. But if the robber is the sort of guy that would rape an 80 yr old women, I don’t really see that happening.
I think you need to read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It’s pretty fascinating. It dives a little deeper into the dilemma of Christian ethics and how they play out in the face of evil.
Thanks Wendy. I know that Christian ethics are not always clear cut–especially for someone in Bonhoeffer’s situation. I haven’t read the book yet, but I know enough about Bonhoeffer’s story to know that he agonized over his decision to take part in Hitler’s assassination attempt because he knew that Jesus’ call to love our enemy was clear. I can’t imagine that there are too many people who would fault him for his decision, but even he admitted that it was clearly a sin.
People often bring up Bonhoeffer when discussing Christianity and guns/violence. My goal is not to judge people’s actions as right or wrong in ethically complex situations. My goal is to point out that Jesus was clear when he laid out a better way. Make no mistake–What happened in Germany was not about Hitler. It was a colossal failure of the Church. It was bad theology, and bad theology gets people killed. If all of the people who called themselves followers of Jesus in Germany had right theology about loving their enemies, there would never have been the need for war.
Also, comparing our situation (and the situations of all the people who keep a gun on them or near them “just in case”) is hardly ethically comparable to Bonhoeffer’s situation. “Do we lie about the Jews hidden in the attic, or do we tell the truth and let the Nazis take them to a gas chamber” can hardly be used to justify lying in all other situations, right? “Sure, I lied about taking the company’s money…. But would you lie to the Nazis about Anne Frank?”
I’ve been wrestling with this issue for a long time. And I do see non-violence and love as the best way… Especially when dealing with civil right movements and whatnot. But we live in a pretty safe environment, so it’s pretty easy for me to decide not to have a gun by the bedside. Others are not so fortunate. To throw out a blanket statement that it is wrong to have guns for defensive purposes because somehow that implies a non-loving intent or justification to kill, I just can’t buy. It may be true for a majority of gun-carry permit owners, but not all.
The way it came across to me, Bonhoeffer felt it was more of a ‘sin’ to stand back or simply let yourself be killed in order not to lie (or whatever) than to kill Hitler and let the killing of so many people persist. And I would disagree that it is not comparable. The scale is different, but the problem is the same. Do I use whatever means available to stop Hitler to save millions of people? Do I use whatever means necessary to prevent some intruder from harming my family? This feels like an ethically complex situation to me.
And I still think you ought to read the book.
Jesus said to carry a sword and the Old Testament obviously was a rough place similar to today where you need a sword/gun. Trust me if someone broke in to my house I’d pray for their soul.
I’m sure that person would appreciate that. “Trust me if someone broke in to my house I’d pray for their soul” sounds like something written on a Sylvester Stallone movie poster–And I’d totally watch that movie.
Please don’t get me wrong, Joshua–I understand what you’re saying and why it makes sense. But seriously, with everything else that Jesus said and did, do you really think that this one thing said to the disciples about “buying a sword” (just before he tells them that “if you live by the sword, you die by the sword”) is to be interpreted as a complete reversal of everything else Jesus commanded his followers about loving enemies and not meeting evil with evil? Like this was Jesus saying, “Just kidding, guys. I AM here to lead a violent, military sort of revolt. Go get your weapons and prepare to fight.” That’s putting a lot of stock in the interpretation of one little verse….
This reminds me of a story told by a former pastor about U.S. special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan giving people the chance to “accept Jesus” before they shot them. This is not what Jesus had in mind, man.
REF: Last Paragraph.
Wouldn’t happen. Absolutely never.
I think your pastor was updating an old legend. If I remember correctly, the Templars used to do that during the crusades.
I couldn’t reply to David down there for sme reason, but yes…yes he did say that. (the pastor)
Furthermore guns aren’t to protect us from our enemies, but from those who call us our friends and stab us in the back. The Church isn’t at fault for stopping evil. People that lay down and don’t pick up their sword are.
I can’t think of three consecutive sentences with which I disagree more, Joshua.
This is well articulated. It is a very effective move to transition this ethics dilemma from the categories of “right and wrong” and into a fuller understanding of “a better way”. Thanks for taking the time to write it!
You’re welcome. Now, if I can just get people to read it…. : )
If we follow the example of Jesus, we are called to love our enemies. However, there are also several examples of Jesus using force and even weapons to prove a point. .
See Matthew 10:34 and John 2:15 among others . . . .
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”
I don’t see a need to own a hand gun personally but Jesus used love in most cases but did result to force in others to get the point across. Let’s keep everything in perspective.
Well, one thing I can say is that I’m sure the mom that lost her six year old daughter and then had a miscarriage because of losing her six year old daughter probably wishes someone, whether they loved Jesus or not, had a gun and used it in that theater in order to protect her daughter, and I would be inclined to agree.
I bet she wished more that none of them had been shot?
Self defense isn’t about revenge. You seem to have the two mixed up. I keep a firearm for self defense, not revenge. There are laws against revenge. Also, you mention, “I’m NOT saying guns are inherently evil, or that owning a gun is sinful. Owning guns for hunting or even sport shooting is not what I’m talking about here.” But in your last blog you imply that one gun inparticular is evil and that people who shoot machine guns at the range are “jack asses.” I don’t think you even know the difference between an automatic firearm and a semi automatic firearm because you lumped them both together. So to respond to the above statement, I am telling you. I use my National Match AR 15 SEMI AUTOMATIC RIFLE with OVER 10 ROUND MAGAZINE (some classify that as a hi cap magazine) in sanctioned (Sporting)
shooting events. WHY? Because it is the most accurate, readily available, easily adaptable firearm used in the shooting discipline I choose to pursue. That discipline is Service Rifle, in case you think I am just talking about plinking. You just demonized the same firearm in your last blog and now you say that guns are not inherently evil. So are you just becoming more educated? Or are you wishie-washie?
First, let me just say that you would make a great Amish-man, Chris.:) This is the stuff that we wrestle with, since John and I both come from very strong “non-resistant” backgrounds, where everyone owned a gun, but never, ever had the thought to shoot someone with it. Interesting and provocative read, as usual.:)
I am inclined to agree with the late George Carlin when I read and hear certain reactions to this debate. It seems to me that the most vitriolic arguments come from men, to whom George would have pointed out that the bombs and the bullets and the guns all share a similar certain shape that might be considered “masculine”. Calm down, fellas.
When did shooting become a “masculine” sport? Lots of women shoot. Also, to help clarify, George Carlin was talking about war in that bit. The whole bit had nothing to do with shooting sports. As far as people who like to shoot calming down, we will settle down when people stop talking about prohibiting something that they have no understanding of whatsoever. We will settle down when people stop trying to prohibit and restrict our constitutional rights.
Interesting essay. I mostly agree with you, but at the same time, the whole argument is rather abstract, isn’t it? I mean, have you, personally, ever had to confront a life-threatening attack, or watched while a defenseless person was murdered? Have you witnessed a rape? My meaning is not sarcastic, but curious. The experiences you’ve gone through—or haven’t gone through—shape you.
I have found that it’s difficult to be in favor of pacifist ideals when you are weak and have been preyed upon. When you’ve lived a life of being victimized, it doesn’t seem noble to just stand by and watch while the violent and callous have their way. It seems awful and dirty and evil.
I don’t think the better way has a purely non-violent face. People admire Gandhi for non-violence, but a lot of people got hurt as a result of his non-violence, and I do mean a lot. That’s not a judgment, it’s just a fact. We’re seeing the same thing in Syria.
I think this is one of those things that is too situational to be dogmatic about. Sometimes, yes, a passive and gracious response to evil is warranted and constructive. Other times, I don’t see how it can be. And I don’t think there is a simple way to formulate the difference into a legal statement—”When x, use gun. When y, use flowers.” It takes discernment.
I own several guns, and part of the reason is to protect my family, but it would be presumptuous and irresponsible to interpret that as a plan to shoot people. The truth is, the situation that would call for their use is very, very unlikely ever to occur. But if someone starts swinging a lead pipe at my kids’ heads, I am not going to stand by and watch; I am going to protect them. That is my duty. If I reacted any other way, I’d be ashamed of myself. And whether I watch or intervene has nothing to do with love or hate; it has to do with looking out for each other.
I live in a nice neighborhood, so I don’t want people to think this is exclusive to a high crime area. The meth-head who was dragging my 70-year-old neighbor into his backyard to bludgeon him to death with a sledge hammer (and chasing me into my house swinging it) understood the following phrase, “I am getting my —-ing gun!” The sight of the rifle on the otherside of the door (a Kalashnikov, by the way) stopped his assault of the door as he tried to gain access to my home.
Smith, I never said that shooting was an exclusively ‘masculine’ sport, though I’m sure you’d agree that a large majority of ‘shooters’ have historically been men. I was referring only to the ‘masculine’ traits shared by many killing tools. And I was kind of making a joke. You gun-folk are so serious…
If a firearm is never used to “KILL” is it a killing tool? I also don’t agree with your assumption that most of the people who shoot are men. My own grandmother loved to shoot, hunt and compete. Using your definition of what is phalic, anything that is straight could be considered phalic. If someone uses a pencil to write a note, does it mean they are obsessed with the phalic shape, or is it just a practical design? Would a curve in a firearm make it shoot straighter? In that sense it is not phalic, it just makes more sense mechanically.Straight items are also more aurodynamic, hence what has driven bullet design over the last 175 years. As far as “firearm enthusists” being serious about someone prohibiting our constitional rights, we are very serious.
Love protects. Period.
We don’t have to kill to protect.
Sometimes we do. If you’ve ever had to protect a loved one from a violent attack—I mean a VIOLENT attack—you would know this.
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