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The Washington Post has a piece up by Rob Schenck, which argues that you cannot be pro-life and pro-gun. Schenck has observed that his fellow evangelical Christians are some of the biggest supporters of gun rights. He believes this must change, and has assembled a number of terrible arguments in support of his position.
While I would normally prefer to ignore such a low quality piece, it has become apparent that many Christians hold similar views, and interpret the Bible as a document of pacifism. Like Saint Nicholas, I have come to chew bubblegum and punch heretics, and I’m fresh out of bubblegum.
For most of my adult life, I agreed. I believed that we had a God-given right to defend ourselves. I also believed that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, and that anyone should be able to obtain a gun.
I sense a “but” coming.
Then, I saw the after-effects of gun violence firsthand. In Pennsylvania, I visited the families of five murdered Amish schoolgirls, as well as the family of the shooter. And I watched as a mass shooting unfolded at the Washington Navy Yard, across from where I lived at the time. These experiences, followed by careful theological and moral reflection, left me convinced that my family of faith is wrong on guns.
Schenck spends surprisingly few words attempting to make a truly biblical critique of the right to self-defense. He prefers to make vague and ephemeral statements, which carry no real meaning when analyzed, but sound compassionate and reasonable if you are busy making a grocery list while taking them in. A rather large helping of strawmen round out his rhetorical style.
But I disagree with my community’s wholesale embrace of the idea that anyone should be able to buy a gun. For one thing, our commitment to the sanctity of human life demands that we err on the side of reducing threats to human life.
Since no serious Second Amendment advocates argue for violent felons to be legally allowed to purchase guns, we will pass right over this first sentence. I can agree that we should “err on the side of reducing threats to human life,” but how shall we accomplish this? Surely not by reducing the amount of privately owned firearms.
Additionally, anyone using a gun for defense must be ready to kill. Such a posture is antithetical to the term “evangelical,” which refers to the “evangel,” or gospel. The gospel begins with God’s love for every human, and calls on Christians to be more Christ-like. At no time did Jesus use deadly force. Although he once allowed his disciples to defend themselves with “a sword,” that permission came with a limitation on the number of weapons they could possess.
This is a particularly delicious paragraph, as it contradicts itself quite openly. After claiming that a willingness to kill in self-defense is antithetical to the teachings of the gospel, Schenck goes on to admit that Jesus told His disciples to carry swords. Presumably, anyone using a sword for self-defense must be ready to kill. Such a posture, by definition, cannot be antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.
Schenck’s attempt to make an argument that Jesus was pro-sword control is also rather hilarious. There is no limit placed on the numbers of swords the apostles were told they could carry. After Jesus told them to buy swords, they happily pointed out that they already had two.
They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:38, NASB)
That Schenck interprets this as a limitation on the number of weapons that people should own is laughable. Thankfully, Jesus never ate at an Olive Garden or else Schenck might have interpreted the amount of grated cheese that Jesus allowed to fall on His plate before saying “enough” as the limit that any human being should consume at a meal.
Numerous Bible passages, such as Exodus 22:2-3, strictly limit the use of deadly force. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals ignore this.
Stealing a line from Ricochet’s own James of England, I was not aware that evangelicals had elevated the film Mad Max 2: Beyond Thunderdome to the level of scripture. Does Schenck really believe that most evangelicals don’t think there are strict limits on the use of deadly force? Is he capable of confronting real arguments, or merely caricatures of his ideological opponents?
To me, turning from Christian to secular sources on a paramount moral question indicates a failure in faith. The words of Cruz, Palin and Falwell seem to contradict those of Jesus Christ, who commands believers to “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Let us turn then to Christian sources to answer the questions at hand. Christianity is not a religion of pacifism. Arguments to the contrary are simply wrong.
There is no doubt that the Old Testament contains a right to self-defense. We’ll begin with Exodus as we might as well dismantle every argument Schenck makes.
If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. (Exodus 22:2-3a, NKJV)
If a man breaks into your house at night, it is dark and you cannot know his intentions. Therefore, if you killed him, it was a reasonable instance of self-defense. If he breaks in during the day, it is more likely that you can interpret his intentions. If he is there to steal, it is not a crime that is worthy of death. If he is there to harm you or your family, you remain justified in killing in self-defense.
Old Testament verses that support this interpretation are so numerous that I will not bother citing them all here. The open question for Christians becomes whether or not Jesus changed the nature of the Law in regards to self-defense with His teachings.
We have already established that Jesus told His disciples to carry swords. Some have argued that He meant “sword” metaphorically. This argument falls flat when Jesus does not correct His disciples when they present to Him real swords. His followers often misinterpreted His words, and on more than one occasion He must clarify His real intentions to them. Instead He tells them that their current quantity will suffice.
We next move to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus makes one of His most famous statements.
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42, NASB)
Here Jesus provides a list of petty grievances and advises not retaliating to any of them. This is not a command to allow Hitler to conquer the Earth, it is our primary tool for dealing with everyday evils.
Someone smacked you on the cheek? Don’t escalate the situation. Someone sued you and is after your possessions? It’s only stuff. Any self-defense teacher worth his salt will give you the same advice. Violence is a last resort. It is an extreme response for extreme threats.
What of Peter’s defense of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane? Did He not tell His disciple that those who live by the sword die by the sword?
He did, but He also said some other things that give us better context.
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:51-54, NASB)
That is not a call to pacifism, it is a call towards not preventing the salvation of the human race. This is a tense moment where weapons are drawn. Jesus tells His disciples that if they try to make this a fight, they will die. He further explains that He must be taken so that the scriptures be fulfilled. If not, He could call on His Father to deliver Him from this evil far more effectively than His disciples could. That He had not done so, and had been preparing them for this moment for some time, should have signaled to them that what was coming must happen.
If you want to interpret this passage as meaning that no Christian should ever take up a sword, you’ll need to square it with this passage.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:13-16, NASB)
Jesus literally used a whip to drive people from the temple. Not the actions of a pacifist by any definition of which I am aware. Are we to believe that all who take up a sword will die by a sword, but those who take up a whip are doing God’s work? Or shall we take both sets of verses in their proper context?
Schenck ends his piece by arguing that we should love those who intend to do us harm. He is right, of course, but one does not need to allow a rapist to take your wife and daughter in order to show God’s love. God’s Word puts no such requirements upon us, misinformed preachers notwithstanding.