Conundrum

It has been nearly a month since the terrible tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut and the debate over gun control is still raging. That is a good thing because it is a discussion this country needs to have. However, like with many other issues in this country (abortion, gay marriage, federal deficit, taxes, et. al.), we have a difficult time with discussion. Most of us simply fortify our current beliefs and try to shout louder than those who believe differently.

One of the culprits in this inability to discuss issues is that we have lost the art of compromise. When two sides are unwilling to make any compromise then we are wasting our time trying to negotiate anything. When everything is either right or wrong, black or white, then we have no room to give, even an inch. Often, Christians are the worst. Since we believe that we hold the corner on all truth then anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong. If you have the “right” position on an issue, compromise would be foolish.conundrum

Now, before we dive into the issue of gun control, I need to state my own bias. I am not a gun fan. I do not own any guns. There is a handgun out there somewhere registered in my name but it was stolen years ago (a long story). I wouldn’t be surprised if some day the police knock on my door and say a gun registered to me was used in a crime (although I hope not). I witnessed a man accidently shot by policeman’s handgun many years ago but it was only a minor injury. I have never fired a gun other than a BB gun. For several years I worked at a police department but I never got comfortable even though I was surrounded by guns.

Our family did not have any hunters. My father was not an outdoors man. We never talked about guns and I have always suspected it was because of his war experiences. He saw enough killing to last a lifetime. But I have never been an advocate of banning guns completely. I understand the sporting use of guns for hunting and recreation. That is the sum total of my experience with guns.

When it comes to the debate about gun control, the most basic starting point of agreement is that all of us, unless you are an extreme radical, believe in gun control up to a certain point. In other words, if there was absolutely no gun control, we would have inner city gangs and redneck militias walking around with rocket launchers and other methods of mass killing. The question is not do we want to control guns but where do we draw the line.

Before choosing up sides on the issue, let me advance the notion that there are really two foundations that determine our decision making. It is a problem because United States Christians find themselves with a foot on both foundations. Let me try to explain.

As a citizen of this nation it is important to protect our rights and fulfill our obligations. It is frequently and perpetually pointed out that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns. If the criterion for decision making is the necessity to protect constitutional rights, it is hard to argue for gun control. All the arguments citing self-defense, hunting, maintaining order, protection against tyranny, and others make a good point if you are a citizen of this country.

On the other hand, as a Christian, our source of authority for making decisions is not what is good for this country. We live as residents of another kingdom and we arrange our lives according to a different standard. Consequently, if we make a decision based solely on God’s Word, it is possible (and quite likely) we will come to a different conclusion than if our sole criteria is our United States citizenship.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many Christians are passionate in their stand against any type of gun control. My concern is that they make the same arguments made by non-believers – self-defense, citizen rights, constitutional provisions, etc. I have been a student of the Bible for many years and I have a difficult time finding much justification for being so adamant about owning a gun.

Jesus spoke of loving our enemies, forgiving those who wrong us, turning the other cheek, laying down our lives. Historically, His followers have been persecuted, even to the point of torture and death, without fighting back. I don’t like it and I will be honest, my human inclination is to fight back when confronted. Turning the other cheek and giving up my “rights” is not easy. I can understand the urge to fight to protect those we love. I get that!

But I can’t envision Jesus “packing heat.” I understand some will point to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:36 where He instructed His disciples to sell their coat and go purchase a sword if they did not have one. That would make a pretty strong statement if that is all He said. However, I don’t know of any reputable biblical scholar who would use this verse to advocate having an armed citizenry. (For a thorough discussion on this verse read here, here, and here.) When one of His disciples actually used a sword in self-defense, Jesus told him to put it away with the warning that those who use a sword will die by a sword.

Without going into a protracted theological discussion and biblical exposition, I will simply say that I can’t find any justification for followers of Jesus having weapons with the purpose of harming others. I am not talking about guns that are used for hunting or even for sport, but to carry weapons around in our vehicles or strapped to our belts just in case we need to shoot someone (or even scare them off), does not seem like a justifiable position for a servant of Jesus. (For a good discussion about Christians and self-defense read here.) Personally I have no problem with military or police who are armed, even if they are Christians. They are acting as agents of the state, which has been given permission by God to avenge evil (see Romans 13).

So, here is the conundrum faced by believers who are also citizens of the United States. Is our source of authority going to be the U.S. Constitution or the Word of God? In most instances they are not at odds with one another, and we should rejoice when we can live consistently with both. However, when they are, we must make our decision carefully. When we chose to follow Christ, it was a choice that superseded any other authority in our lives. It was a choice to give up our rights and claims and to follow Him only.

My non-Christian neighbor may have the right to arm himself in self-defense. However, do I have that same right to keep a weapon around the house for the sole purpose of killing another person if necessary to protect my family and my stuff? Does my choice to follow Jesus override my freedom to be armed?

I don’t know how to guarantee that another school shooting will never occur again and I am pretty confident no one else does either. I hope the discussion of the issue continues and I pray our politicians will find the wisdom to make good choices along with the courage to make difficult decisions. I also hope that as followers of Jesus we can make a clear statement that His way is often much different from the ways of the world.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Conundrum

  1. Charlie Edenfield

    Terry let me help you with your understanding. When Jesus instructed His followers to arm themselves, it was for the purpose of repelling DEADLY FORCE. When he told us to turn the other cheek, etc., He was addressing FORCE. Two very different matters. When the disciple used the sword to lop off the ear of one of the arresting party, that disciple mis-used Jesus’ instruction. The solders were not using Deadly Force, simply Force in which case it was an incorrect application of Jesus’ intent. On the matter of turning the other cheek, should a bad guy enter your home and force you to watch him rape your daughter, are you obligated to tell him that you have another daughter hiding in the back bedroom? Of course not- because rape is Deadly Force and falls in the intention of Christ’s instruction to be armed against such events. As to the martyrs, they were killed because they were disarmed and defenseless. Understand that freemen have always had the right to keep and bear arms- not slaves, not serfs, not those oppressed by a tyrannical government, only freemen. Long before the 2nd amendment was thought of, free men kept and bore arms. When our founders formed our government under God’s leading, they decided that we would be a nation of free men. You are correct that the 2nd amendment does not give us the right to keep and bear arms; that right existed long before. What it does is say that that pre-existing right “shall not be infringed”. Thomas Jefferson said; ” No freeman shall ever be de-barred from the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government”

    Lastly, I support you call for adult level discussion on this and any other issues. I am always disappointed when the NRA or its opposition use inflexible statements which only exacerbate the matter.

    Your armed brother in Christ

    Charles Edenfield
    Saginaw, TX

  2. Rex Hogue – I removed you comment for 2 reasons. First, it is way, way, way too long and second you didn’t write it. Instead, here is where folks can read it – http://gunowners.org/fs9902.htm. I read this article when I was researching my original post and others might enjoy it as well. Thanks for reading!

    • I think you also deleted the part I did write.

      • OK, you left me a way to repost my part of the comment. 🙂

        Maybe I’m just one of those extremists you refer to, but my view of guns is very different. When I was in law school, I found it interesting that one of our professors pointed out that the two times the Israelites were enslaved, they were disarmed first.

        I grew up around guns, and no, guns are not just for killing people. I’ve used guns many times, but never for killing people. One set of grandparents lived on a farm, and guns were frequently used for varmint control. Most of those were 4-legged varmints, but some birds, and the occasional snake, required dispatching as well.

        As for respecting the law of the land, our Constitution is supposed to be the law of the land, and it doesn’t allow gun control. Christians opposed to gun control are abiding by the law of the land, but also recognizing that there is a simple principle involved — he who has the guns, has control.

        Martyrs have chosen not to defend themselves, but that’s not same as the rest of us not defending ourselves. Martyrs are dying for the cause of Christ. Murder victims, rape victims, and robbery victims are not victims because of Christ, but because of evil that would be carried out regardless of the religious persuasion of the victims.

        The bible has much to say about weapons. Larry Pratt covered this subject pretty well in an article he wrote. I’ll let it stand on its own.

  3. e

    Have you read much Tolstoy? I find he writes very eloquently on faith, love, and Christian duties. I have only read War and Peace and some articles on his other works, but his The Kingdom of God Is Within You is high on my to-read list–according to the Wikipedia article on Tolstoy, “Reading Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You also convinced Gandhi to avoid violence and espouse nonviolent resistance, a debt Gandhi acknowledged in his autobiography, calling Tolstoy “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced”.”

    I also found the quotes from this article inspiring: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/06/168651740/adjust-your-vision-tolstoys-last-and-darkest-novel

    “All this comes,” Tolstoy says, “from the fact that all these people — governors, inspectors, police officers, and policemen — consider that there are circumstances when human relations are not necessary between human beings. … If once we admit — be it only for an hour or in some exceptional case — that anything can be more important than a feeling of love for our fellows, then there is no crime which we may not commit with easy minds. … Men think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love. But there are no such circumstances.”
    “If you feel no love,” Tolstoy writes, “sit still. Occupy yourself with things, with yourself, with anything you like, only not with men. … Only let yourself deal with a man without love … and there are no limits to the suffering you will bring on yourself.”

    And, more mundanely, the reunion in War and Peace between the injured Prince Bolkonsky and Natasha… if ever man understood Agape, surely this passage shows it.

  4. Bernard

    Terry, I enjoyed your article and the article referenced/linked to it by Jonathan Spelman. Certainly not as profound or as complete as your or his article are three additional thoughts.

    1. Although I probably am not quoting the verse in Psalms correctly, the verse goes something like this: Some trust in horses and some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. I think that when we trust in force, we are deliberately saying that we think God is not sufficiently powerful to take care of the situation. This attitude, this lack of faith, is contrary to the attitude we ought to have and is therefore sinful.
    2. The arguments in the article do not take into account Romans 8:28-39 and related verses that tell us that God knows every day of our life before we are born. He knows the lives of both the attacker and the defender. Who can say with certainty that a defender who takes another’s life was not acting within God’s will for both the attacker and the defender.
    3. All of us die. We cannot lengthen life, but we can shorten it. We can hasten death but that is not causing something that would not happen ultimately without our intervention. I think that death sentences that the court awards should be renamed because we all are already under a death sentence. I think we should call the sentences “Life abbreviation sentences” There could be a prison sentence of a fixed number of years followed by a life abbreviation action for some serious crimes. If we believe in eternal life, then a life abbreviation event on this earth, whether caused by a court or by a person in self-defense, will seem inconsequential in the eternal scheme of creation.

    Bernard

    • Bernard, it is NEVER God’s will that we murder someone else. God specifically prohibited that. It is not God’s will that people steal, or commit other prohibited acts, especially against other people. I generally agree with the rest of your comments though.

  5. royce

    If I were on a train and saw 6 men raping and murdering a woman, should I
    A. Do nothing
    B. Wish I had a gun
    C. Wish somebody else had a gun
    D. Pray for someone with a gun to show up
    E. Pray for the courage to use my gun to stop them.

  6. e

    The idea that people need to carry guns because they *might* randomly witness some violent crime is kind of absurd. Violent crime happens all of the time–the US is the most violent place in the 1st world–but these would-be saviors aren’t going out and doing anything about it.
    I’ve lived/worked in areas with violent crime problems–I have multiple friends who’ve been violently assaulted/mugged. I have personally had to take shelter inside of protected spaces or otherwise take steps to avoid actual people in the street whom I thought would do me harm if I stepped outside.
    In these cases, I didn’t think ‘Gee, if only I had a gun.’ No, getting into a gunfight was the last thing I wanted. Instead I thought, ‘Gee, I wish HE didn’t have a gun,’ and ‘Geeze, why is our nation’s capitol such a disgraceful, crime-ridden toilet?’

    But hey, if you want to put your neck on the line patrolling bad neighborhoods, and can guarantee that you won’t hit a bunch of bystanders, jump the gun and pull a Zimmerman, be completely mentally stable, and never wrong, then go ahead–I absolutely welcome your desire to help.

    If that isn’t your plan for curbing violent crime in America, then let’s please hear one with a chance of actually working–because ‘maybe someone else will have a gun (and totally won’t hit bystanders)’ has still left us the most violent 1st world country on the planet.

    It’s shameful, really. The other first world nations wonder what on earth is so wrong with us.

    • another old friend

      Protection of that which God has given me responsibility for does not include patrolling anything. You have headed off into a strange direction here. Some are called to do this, police, military, etc.

      Part of protecting would be to stay out if these places, wouldn’t it?

  7. Terry

    This is a good, civil discussion of a difficult subject. However, I’m not sure we have really considered the main point of the original post – do Christians have a different criterion for decision making? If so (and I believe we do), what do we do when they come into conflict? The arguments I am hearing for keeping our guns are the same as those made without consideration of a spiritual perspective. Does God really expect me to carry around a gun on the off chance I encounter a group of thugs raping a woman on the train? Also, isn’t martyrdom something we are all called to if the occasion arises? If I am willing to lay down my life rather than take another’s life, isn’t that the very definition of what it means to be a martyr?

    • Martyred for the cause of Christ in spreading the gospel is quite different than being a crime victim. I don’t think everyone should be armed, but if a Christian jumps in to save someone else from a crime and is killed, don’t confuse the love for another person in laying down your life with dying as a martyr for the cause of Christ. They are different.

      I would ask Christians these questions: Do you have a duty to have a means to protect those you have the opportunity to protect? What are the limits of that duty? We all have a duty to protect our families. When duty calls, men have a duty to protect their country, at least arguably. Some have a duty to protect others by being involved in law enforcement. Others may feel they have that duty without being in law enforcement. If a Christian feels a duty to have the means to protect others by carrying a weapon, that isn’t lack of trust in God. When God sent the Israelites to war, He told them to go armed, and trained. He didn’t do all the fighting — God helped them do the fighting, but they still had to fight.

      • Terry

        Any servant of Christ willing to lay down their life rather than take the life of another should probably be considered a martyr. If it were not for their faith they could fight back and kill. In a very real sense they are willing to die for (because of) their beliefs.

        I don’t have a problem with arming soldiers going off to war. As I stated in the original post, a soldier (or police officer) is acting as an agent of the state, which has God’s mandate to punish evil.

        However, give us a biblical reference to support our “duty to protect our families.” Isn’t that why we have police? It is true the police can’t be every place at all times. However, does that mean I should be fulfilling their responsibilty? Should I force a drunk driver off the road with my car in order to keep her from crashing into someone else or should I call the police?

        It is difficult to allow evil to go unchecked. Yet, God does all the time and it seems to me if I am to live consistently with the call to turn the other cheek I must take it very seriously before choosing to harm another person for my own benefit or for the benefit of those I deem worthy. If you want me to be completly honest, I think if it came down to someone harming my wife and I had the ability to kill them in order to stop them, I would probably pull the trigger. I confess that, not because it is the right thing to do (I’m not sure), but because I am aware of my sinfulness and selfishness. Shame on me!

  8. Ellis Orozco

    Very good, Terry. Thank you for your thoughts.
    — Ellis

  9. The Old and New Testaments teach individual self-defense and defense of others, even if it means taking the assailant’s life in certain circumstances.

    Exodus 22:2-3 tells us “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. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” This passage shows that we have the right, and even the duty, to protect our homes. The day/night distinction is made because it is easier to discern someone’s intent when you can actually see them. In the Old Testament, very few homes had electrical lights, so much of what happened, happened in the dark without much light at all. However, this passage also recognizes that property isn’t worth a life, so it’s not OK to kill someone who is only taking property.

    Psalm 46:1, “Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1). God either does it, or He provides other the skill and talent to train us for war. In other words, God expects us to prepare for war, and if you look at the “war” on crime as a war, that too is included. Thus, preparing for defense, whether on a national or personal level, is not a failure to trust God, but obedience to God. We trust God for the outcome when we are prepared and do our job.

    Proverbs 25:26 “A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well.” This looks like a duty to stand up to evil to me, and not run from it. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. We should be prepared, at least within reason, to resist evil doers who prey on us or others.

    In Luke 22:36, Christ told his disciples in his last hours with them: “…But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a sack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” At the time, the sword, and not just a long knife, was the primary military weapon. Whether one saw its equivalent today as a long gun (shotgun or rifle) or handgun might be somewhat open to interpretation. Spears were also a common weapon of an infantryman then, and one might argue Jesus didn’t say anything about taking a spear. But the key point is Christ told His disciples to have the means to protect themselves. At the same time, he didn’t tell them to have more arms than necessary to adequately do the job. I don’t think we have to read too much into this to determine that Christ believed citizens should have the same basic weapons as the military. That doesn’t mean we should have a tank. I personally wish I had enough money to buy and operate a frontline US battle tank! No, I don’t want a tank – I just want the money.

    1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I believe this has more than one reasonable meaning. I do not even see where this duty ends upon our death. We are to provide for our families after our deaths, which means adequate planning for an early death so our family is no left destitute. Providing for the household means protecting your loved ones against reasonably foreseeable problems – lack of food, clothing, shelter, and personal safety. The failure to provide basic protection is, I believe, a sin. It would be stupid to leave our valuable out, and leave the doors unlocked, if we had the means to lock doors. God gave this duty to protect and provide, and we should carry it out. What really strikes me about this particular passage is how strong the words are. Denying the faith and being worse than an unbeliever – seriously what Christian wants to be accused of that? OK, I think I get it. I’ll plan for my family, work hard to provide for them, try to be a good steward over the things God has given me to provide for them by protecting that as well, try my best to protect my family, even if it means taking the life of another to protect them. I may die trying, but at least it won’t be for lack of effort.

    What about the issue of trusting God? Jesus said in Matt. 4:7, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” We tempt God when we don’t do what He tells us to do, and then think He will get us out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into through our disobedience. I’m just guessing we’ve all done this at some point, but hopefully this doesn’t result in a case of the fatal stupids. How sad would it be to stand before God and have Him tell us “You are here early because you were disobedient.” Thankfully I believe He’ll forgive Christians, and they will come in, but we’ll know we shirked our duty.

    Malachi 3:6 tells us God does not change. Jesus clarified many issues of confusion, but He never changed our basic duties to defend our homes, our families, and use violence when necessary to resist evil.

    A true martyr is one who dies for a specific cause. For example, if one is killed because he is trying to spread the gospel in a hostile environment, he is a martyr. If that same person is killed by a criminal committing a normal crime, he is not a martyr but a crime victim.

    Christ rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of Malchus in the garden, but that’s because there was a higher purpose of that incident. In Matthew 26:52-54 Jesus said, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” Jesus didn’t lack the means to defend Himself, despite appearing unarmed! But He had other plans both for Peter, and for that specific point in time. I find it interesting that Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. Jesus told Peter to put it away because that was not the appropriate time to use it. If there was never an appropriate time, Jesus would have said “Get rid of that thing! (You will die because of it.)”

    Jesus, shortly before that, told them to get a sword. Peter was a bit overzealous and not very judicious in his use of the sword, but despite his own stupidity there, Jesus didn’t try to disarm Peter. In fact, Jesus fixed the problem. One could make much of that, but Peter did give Jesus a chance to show divine love even then, though that didn’t make what Peter did right. I believe however, that Jesus saw that Peter’s heart was in the right place, but Peter didn’t understand the purpose of the arrest in the garden. I could talk for a while on this subject (the arrest in the garden), but I’ll stop here.

    I’ll conclude by saying that obviously Christians can disagree about this issue. I’ve tried to respectfully take the pro-gun position because in my scripture study, and my legal studies, I believe that is the correct biblical position.

  10. royce

    I live 15 miles from the city. There are no cops around. A few years ago, a man severly beat my neighbor and threatened to kill her. She got away when another man showed up and the first ran off. But the man came back a second time, and tried to kill her again. Another man showed and shot the first man in the stomach. He lived but has not been back since. Please tell my neighbors they should not have guns.

    Consider this question, should churches have armed security guards? I would give the same answer to , should Christians defend their homes and their families and their own lives? There are bad guys our there and they have guns. And the bad guys will not turn them in.

    As a Christian I must first consider that I am a citizen of heaven. In heaven we don’t need guns. But at the same time, I am stuck here on this earth for a bit longer with many bad people. If we have a different set of rules for how we live on this earth, then we need to consider them all, not just the ones we like or agree with. For example, Jesus and Paul both taught we can do more for the kingdom if we do not marry, yet most preachers are married. Jesus also said, “sell all that you have and give it to the poor” and “store not riches on this earth,… but rather in heaven” Yet most preachers have savings. To truly live by faith, would we carry no weapons and have no savings?

  11. royce

    I want to add one more thing about my neighbor’s event. When she was in the hospital after the first incident, I went to her house and the bad guy was there, I told him he needed to leave and then I went back home. I did have a pistol with me, but he never saw it. I then called the sheriff and helped them locate and arrest the guy. Unfortunatley, he was released which lead to someone else shooting him in order to save a life. I hope and pary I am never in a situation to shoot another human. At the same time, If I am ever able to save a life by shooting someone, I hope I have the courage to do it. Furthermore, there were no innocent bystanders to get hit by stray bullets, and it was a private citizen who shot that bad guy..

  12. royce

    I want to apologize for commenting on my own comments, but I have one final thought. And this may even answer the original question. Let each of us pray, and ask God whether or not to carry a gun or when to carry. Let each of us pray to hear God on this matter. Let each of us obey God. Perhaps it is for some Christians to carry and for others not to. God does speak to us, as the Psalmist wrote, “How precious are your thoughts to me, O God. How great is the sum of them.” And Jesus said, “my sheep know my voice.”

  13. random

    What is a “reputable biblical scholar”?

    I know many biblical scholars who I consider reputable that advocate for an armed citizenry. It is the opposite for me. There are few that I have heard of who have spend their lives in the Word and yet wouldn’t advocate for that.

    Where in the scriptures does it say we shouldn’t defend ourselves from physical attack? And don’t give me the verse about turning the other cheek (that is talking about insult or threats because of faith). You can’t use that and ignore the command to buy a sword. They MUST be considered together.

    God gave us a brain. You have a good one. Should we not use it to think logically. Would I serve the Kingdom better alive, or dead because I chose not to defend myself from the guy trying to rob me?

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