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Assertive Defense or Passive Resistance: A Pastoral Response to the Concealed Carry Debate

Any time there is a mass shooting such as those that took place recently in Paris and San Bernardino the debate begins anew about the best way to insure public safety: to make weapons difficult to acquire for everyone, or to encourage people to arm themselves. One argument is that if Guns were not so available the common criminal or mentally ill person would find them difficult to acquire and would either reconsider their actions or their crimes would be less violent. Another argument is that mass shootings take place quickly before even the best trained and best equipped first res-ponders can be on the scene, so that responsible legal gun owners are best equipped to defend against shooters.

As usual the church is divided on the issue of gun ownership and concealed carry permits; Dr. John Piper seems to be of the opinion that Christians who know they are going to heaven should never take the life of someone whom they suspect may not be going to heaven (although he readily admits that if someone was threatening one of his children and he had a gun he would defend them). Hardly a pacifist Piper recognizes the need for both the military and police forces, When an individual citizens face a terrorists he and others believe the Bible requires passive resistance and  disparages vengeance and vigilantism:
[38] “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ [39] But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. [40] And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,(1) let him have your cloak as well. [41] And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. [42] Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42 ESV)
[17] Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it(1) to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 ESV)
[21] For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [22] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [23] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV) 

While the Quran calls on Muslims to advance Islam by jihad and caliphate and to enslave or kill those who disobey the Quran or reject the message, the Prince of Peace advances the kingdom subtly

While the Quran calls on Muslims to advance Islam by jihad and caliphate and to enslave or kill those who disobey the Quran or reject the message, the Prince of Peace advances the kingdom subtly by love forgiveness and grace.

by love, forgiveness and grace. Many Christians believe passive resistance is the only option for Christians facing violence.

Rev. Franklin Graham and others would argue that while vengeance and retaliation are inappropriate, the Bible teaches there are occasion where an assertive defense is righteous. Rev. Jerry Falwell, President of Liberty University, stirred controversy with his very confusing response to the massacre in San Bernadino. In a campus wide assembly, he said:
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, and kill them.... I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your [concealed carry] permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here."
Liberty University, under President Falwell's purview, is responsible for the safety of students, staff , vendors and visitors on their campus. One can make an argument that a responsible student safety policy would permit responsible people to carry concealed weapons on campus. What is disturbing about Falwell's statement is his call to "end those Muslims before they walk in, and kill them... Let's teach them a lesson if they show up here." While he was speaking passionately and using hyperbole, it leaves question as to what he intends. Can the Bible lead us to a pastoral response to the concealed carry debate?

 Falwell seem more concerned with righting the wrong done by Islamists than he is for showing them the grace of God!

While the Bible teaches non-retaliation, it seems to leave room for aggressive self defense. The Psalms of Imprecation (Palms 7, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) praise the aggressive pursuit  and even killing of our enemies for a righteous cause. Jesus, himself, seems to leave room for self defense:
[35] And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” [36] He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. [37] For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” [38] And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38 ESV)
While some try to interpret this passage to deny that Jesus is advocating for self defense, it appears to be the best explanation in the context. As Jesus prepared the disciples for His departure He makes several statements about how their relationship to the world would be different after His ascension to His Father. When Jesus was present they did not fast, when He leaves they will (Matthew 6:16-18). While He is with them His power and provision is limited, buy when He departs their influence and ministry will be expanded worldwide by the Holy Spirit (John 14:12). While He is with them He tells them to make no provision for their own needs (Luke 10:4 & 5), but when He departs they will be responsible for their own provision and protection. While an arsenal is not necessary, some modest weapons can protect them from worldly dangers (Luke 22: 35- 38). 

Throughout history Christians have responded differently to evil and violence perpetrated against them and their communities. Some were completely non-violent such as the followers of Menno Simons. Other Christians serve in the military. Some choose non-combat roles like chaplain, others are on the front line. The founding documents of the United State advocates for godly people to  overthrow despotic rulers by force. Eric Metaxas, biographer of Dietrich Bonhoffer perhaps the most significant  Christian pastor and theologian of the early twentieth century, details how Bonhoffer came to the conclusion that he was called to see Hitler removed from power, and compelled to participate in an assassination attempt even if it failed. (Eric Metaxas, BONHOFFER: PASTOR, MARTYR, PROPHET SPY A RIGHTEOUS GENTILE VERSUS THE THIRD REICH, Thomas Nelson Publisher, copyright 2010 by Metaxes pg 360-361) Executed for attempted murder he is buried in Westminster Cathedral alongside some of the great founders of the Protestant church. Bonhoffer argued that it was disingenuous to "confess resistance with out resisting as a confession."

Piper and others refer to the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, murdered missionary in Ecquador, and others when the native people they sought to reach raised their spears the missionaries had guns with them. They could have defended themselves, Since they were unsure of the natives eternal destiny, they reasoned their call to lead the native people to eternal life, would be compromised if they defended themselves. They allowed themselves to be killed for the sake of the gospel message to these people Some approach living righteously in a hostile world with passive resistance, while others respond with an assertive defense. The situation the church faces in the twenty first century is complicated by the fact that often the perpetrators of this violence are often Muslims engaged in a jihadist pursuit of our destruction.

The war with radical Islam is a manifestation  of a spiritual war the prosecution of which transcends our world. Those who advocate passive resistance far from ignoring the threat are placing themselves in the hands of God and his ultimate justice. Since guns did not exist at time of the writing of the gospels (gun powder would be invented by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty of the 9th Century), the scripture does not speak directly about ownership and use of guns or directly answer whether concealed carry permits are appropriate. Are there biblical principles or truths that will guide us in our decision about guns or our counsel to those to whom we minister? When confronted with violence directed at us or our family are we to defend them ourselves or are we to be passively resist as a testimony to God's grace?

Not only are there different views theologically about Guns laws: there are different views socially and politically. Those support gun ownership and concealed carry permits have several valid points:
1.As recently as 2010 The US Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Second Amendment right of the individual to arm herself for defense. The right to defend oneself against violent criminals and tyrannical government is essential to our liberties. 
2. Guns reduce the risk of violence. Studies confirm that people who own guns are disproportionately less often the victim of violent crimes or assault. Cities with fewer restrictions on gun ownership are far safer than those that make gun ownership difficult. 
3. Gun ownership reduces risk. Having access to a gun reduces the risk that you or your family will be victims of violence. Mass shooting usually happen so quickly that help arrives after the act has been committed. Ownership of a gun gives a person the immediate ability to neutralize a threat if need be.
4. Where there are fewer guns there is more violent crime; where guns are more readily available there is less violent crime. Liberal gun laws coupled with severe penalties for crime committed at the point of a gun result in fewer violent crimes than more restrictive gun control and an emphasis on social problems as the basis of crime. There does appear to be a direct correlation between the presence of guns, stiff penalties for their illegal use,  and the reduction of violence.
 5. Gun free zones are counterproductive. They are vulnerable to mass shooters . Mass shooters prey on the innocent and vulnerable. Nearly all mass shootings occur where perpetrators know there is no means of resistance to them, such as in gun free zones like schools, theaters, malls and public offices .
Those who want gun ownership restricted also have a point:
1. Gun owners are 4-5 times more likely to engage in confrontations with someone else with a gun and be shot.
 2. Easy access to  guns often puts them in the wrong hands, such as the mentally ill or disenfranchised. Mass shooting usually are perpetrated by fanatics or troubled people with no criminal history, and  nothing to lose.  If  guns were more difficult to acquire it is questionable whether they would have the wherewithal to  carry out their plots. 
3. Guns in homes put children at risk. There has been an increase of accidental shootings of children by other children in homes with guns.
 4. The presence of guns create a more volatile culture.
 5. Although the courts have consistently ruled other wise, advocates of the restrictions of gun ownership sometimes argue that The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives states the right to form armed militia's and police forces rather than individual self defense. 
Advocates of both positions are passionate about their beliefs and often the emotion gets in the way of discernment.

Advocates of both positions are passionate about their beliefs and often the emotion gets in the way of discernment.

I am concerned with the way Falwell counseled the Liberty University community, urging the university community to"teach Muslims a lesson" sounds like a call vigilantism. I take umbrage at a recent article on the blog that called any Christian who supported concealed carry laws as a "hateful bigot." Another blog misconstrued the language and the context of Luke 22:35-38, asking the question  "Would Jesus Conceal and Carry?" These arguments approach  the bible through a 21st century cultural window much like those a few years ago who argued that Christians had to support efforts to stop climate change by asking "Would Jesus Drive an SUV?". Rather than discovering a timeless principle from the historical  and theological context of scripture, some  would couch their argument in circular reasoning or loaded questions which imply that anyone who disagrees is either disobedient or immature. These approaches pit Christians against one another rather than providing principles Christians can use to make their own decision.

How should pastors and others advise people on the issue of gun ownership? Should we encourage everyone to get a concealed carry permit, or must we be non-violent and passively resist those who would threaten us? When it comes to guns here are the four questions Christians need to ask:

1. Does aggressive defense glorify god (Psalm 18:37-42, Acts 5:1 -11)?

In the Psalms of Imprecation God curses the violent and the reprobate, and openly celebrates their righteous destruction and death.

2. Since in Christians view all human life or potential human life as sacred, is our priority to protect innocent people or to never kill anyone? Men are created in the image of God; therefore every human being is sacred, every life precious. On this basis the scripture condemns homicide, while requiring the protection of the innocent and the weak (Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 6: 16 &17: Matthew 18:1-5). It even gives government the right to use the sword to "carry out God's wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:3 &4).  If followers of Christ are to defend the weak the powerless and the unborn against the scourge of abortion. Is not our responsibility to defend the vulnerable against a fanatical mad man or woman with a gun?

3. Are we responsible to right violence when it is perpetrated against us or to get justice when we are violated? Vigilantism and revenge are inconsistent with Biblical Christianity  Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1; Proverbs 20:22; Romans 12:14 -21; 1 Thessalonians 4:6.Two incidences from scripture give clarity to the gun debate:

Abram went into Canaan with his nephew Lot. Both men became so prosperous that conflicts of interest developed and amiable separation became necessary (Genesis 13). Lot chose to move his family and possessions to the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar (Genesis 13:10-11). Abram settled in the less fertile land of Canaan (Genesis 13:12). The area where Lot lived soon broke out in civil war between rival warlords and landowners. Lot tried to remain neutral but was soon enslaved and his possessions plundered. One of Lot's servants escaped and went and told Abram of Lot's capture. Abram took aggressive action to defend his family:
[13] Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks(1) of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. [14] When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. [15] And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. [16] Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. (Genesis 14:13-16 ESV)
Following this incident Melchizidek, king of Salem, brought bread and wine and and blessed Abraham for his actions:
[17] After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). [18] And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) [19] And he blessed him and said, 

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Possessor(1) of heaven and earth;

[20] and blessed be God Most High,

who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

(Genesis 14:17-20 ESV)
Abraham was commended for taking aggressive action to defend innocent members of his family from death, and possible enslavement.

Absalom, David's son, was clearly wrong to kill his brother to avenge the rape of his sister:
[22] But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.[23] After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king's sons. [24] And Absalom came to the king and said, “Behold, your servant has sheepshearers. Please let the king and his servants go with your servant.” [25] But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. [26] Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” [27] But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him. [28] Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.” [29] So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled. (2 Samuel 13:22-29 ESV)
Absalom conspired with Ahitophel (2Samuel 15:31) who was the father of Bathsheba and sought vengenance for the death of his son-in-law and dishonoring of his daughter. Vengeance retaliation and "end[ing] those Muslims before they walk in, and kill them....teach[ing] them a lesson if they ever show up here"  is abominable behavior. The scripture does not address gun control laws, but we can gain insight, whether it is appropriate to own a gun or acquire a concealed carry permit. While it is noble and commendable to resist passively and God may indeed call us to sacrifice our lives so that people may hear the gospel, that is not the only options. Christians with concealed carry permits cannot be described as "hateful bigots." The use of weapons in defense of the innocent or those who have been wronged, or in some case their possessions plundered. can also be noble and blessed. 

I do not own a gun, nor do I plan on buying one or getting a permit. Each Christian must decide how they will respond to a violent assault. I recognize that God approves of self defense and disapproves of vigilantism or retaliation. If the law allows a believer to own a gun the question then is not whether it is right to own one, but what are circumstances under which a believer should possesses or use one. What is meant by responsible use? If one is a gun owner one needs to understand how self defense is defined in one's state. While some states have "strand your ground laws," some require a more imminent personal threat. If you are going to pull the trigger you should be fully aware of the consequences of that choice and be prepared to face them. A gun owner must be responsible to store their weapon securely. The owner of gun should face civil and criminal liability if their gun is used in the commission of a crime, or to harm or kill a third party unless they have reported it lost or stolen. If a  believer legally carrying a legal firearm  had shot and killed the mass killer in San Bernardino, it would have been a righteous act. However to assassinate an abortion provider in the name of Christ is an act as abominable as abortion itself. To allow people on a campus to legally carry guns and to make them aware of a concealed carry course on campus may be good campus safety policy, but to encourage a stadium full of people to kill Muslims or teach them a lesson if they show up is misguided.

To allow people on a campus to legally carry guns may be good for campus safety, to encourage a stadium full of people to kill Muslims or teach them a lesson if they show up is reprehensible.

My advice to believers is to carefully consider all options and arguments and make the decision that seems best to them. Christians are going to have different opinions about the viability of concealed carry laws, As long as the laws permit some to have concealed carry permits, trained responsible use of weapons may be appropriate for some believers. Some Christians will chose passive resistance over violence others to arm themselves for self defense. Both choices are noble and blessed. "These are times that try men's souls" let's ask God for wisdom, and respect those who  act differently then us.

This post first appeared on Samson's Jawbone, please read the originial post: here

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Assertive Defense or Passive Resistance: A Pastoral Response to the Concealed Carry Debate


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