I was listening to a radio broadcast on a Christian network last night. It was about the recent church shooting wherein an innocent woman lost her life when a masked gunman went into a church building and opened fire. Seven other people were injured.
The question was essentially this:
Does the church have the right to self defense? Is it biblical?
The answers I heard were astonishing.
I was not aware there exist a school of thought which says self defense is wrong for Christians. The problem is is that the question was not if we can defend ourselves only, but the lives of others. In this article I will take a look at some of the verses and reasoning used by those who do not believe in self defense.
I cannot fathom any Christian claiming to love their neighbor yet oppose defending the life of their neighbor, no less their family.
This article isn’t really an apologetics issue, but this is my ‘defense’ of the church’s right to defend themselves as a body/whole, and for the individual Christian’s duty to their family. I also hope to dispel some myths about firearms and self defense in general.
In the broadcast I heard, a very sweet, very well intentioned young woman called with some comments on whether or not we should bring firearms into church, and whether or not church goers should carry or have a security presence.
The woman’s arguments were summed up as follows:
- The church is a place of love and therefore there is no room for guns or violence
- Thou shalt not kill forbids self defense
- Self defense is murder
- God is our protector.
Another woman called in shortly thereafter with the following arguments:
- God is sovereign over who dies (absolutely true)
- God will protect the church (absolutely true)
- We should pray for angelic protection
- She walks around dangerous neighborhoods at night and God doesn’t let anything happen to her.
I think these thoughts are part of an overarching misunderstanding of what Scripture clearly teaches about self defense and warfare in general.
As someone who frequently hears the arguments of unbelievers, one of the questions that come up is “How can a loving God (insert act of O.T. warfare)”
What needs to be understood is there is not a dichotomy between God’s love and God’s wars.
A human being is capable of being a soldier in Iraq, and at the same time coming home and loving their family and being one of the nicest guys in the world. It’s not either Rambo 100 percent of the time or mr. sprinkles 100 of the time. Humans are a balance of different things and emotions depending on their environments.
So this idea of God not being able to command warfare or self defense and at the same time being the God of love needs to be discarded.
Nevertheless, we need to look at several things here.
- Do guns have a place in church assemblies?
That depends, because that is a very complicated question. Guns are inanimate objects, and are simply an extension of the person behind the gun.
We need to turn the focus from the object and to the person.
So let me rephrase the question.
Should responsible people who have been trained to use firearms safely and accurately be brought into churches? Whether they be citizens or police?
I believe the answer is yes.
Question number two:
Does self defense have any place in the Christian life?
The answer is absolutely. But what is self defense? And is self defense murder? That’s what I’d like to talk about briefly.
In our American society there exists a mindset where guns are the first and last answer to self defense.
I was driving home from work the other night and I saw a billboard for a gun shop nearby that showed a picture of handgun and read:
“WHERE SELF DEFENSE BEGINS.”
That is simply not true.
Simply not true.
Self defense starts with the proper mindset. And unfortunately the mindset of many American citizens is as follows:
I will purchase a handgun, go to the shooting range, stand in front of a stationary target, unload several magazines into the target, put my gun away, go get my CCW license, and I am now ready to stop all and any attacks or threats simply because I now own a firearm, even though half the time my gun is in a safe, or in a trunk, or not on my person, and when the gun is on my person I have no training behind shooting stationary targets that stay in place in a controlled environment with earplugs.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with going to the range, and owning a gun. I think these are good places to start with a shooting based self defense framework. And I’d much rather have that person in my church than no one.
However, we need to remember here that just because you own a gun or carry one does not mean the the need for self defense or defending the lives of others is answered completely. Where is your gun right now? Is situational awareness a part of your self defense mindset? What about defending yourself with empty hands? Would you shoot a 14 year old kid? Have you trained to shoot center mass or is the idea of “shooting someone in the leg or arm” a viable thing (it’s not).
Basically there are too many variables to make the gun the final answer for self defense. The gun is one of many tools, and mindsets and skill sets are what needs to be addressed first.
And what becomes dangerous is when citizens invest their life in the gun 100 percent.
Now that I’m done with that side note, let’s take a look at some commonly used Scriptures that people read to argue against self defense.
- TURN THE OTHER CHEEK.
Many Christians against any and all self defense or self defense related topics will turn to this verse.
Matthew 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Let me ask two questions here.
- Is someone smacking my face a life or death self defense situation?
- How many cheeks do I have?
I cannot understand how someone with a mask going into a church and ending the life of an innocent Christian woman can be compared to a smack on the cheek. We do need to turn the other cheek. When someone gives us the finger driving, when someone insults, when someone uses us, when someone mistreats us, and even when someone smacks us.
But we only have two cheeks. And when someone comes into a church with a mask and a gun, they’re not there to smack us. When someone breaks into our house in the middle of the night to rape or kill, they’re not there to smack us.
So no, we cannot take this verse as a universal rule forbidding any and all self preservation. That’s not the intention.
2. VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY
Romans 12:19 comes up occasionally, however the question here is STOPPING violence, not seeking revenge. And that’s important, because killing somebody who is about to kill or has killed others is NOT murder. Murder is the shedding of innocent blood, and it is the stopping and prevention of further harm that self defense has in mind, not predatory actions.
For example, when a livestock guardian dog kills a wolf, should the livestock dog be put down? Did the dog go hunting or seeking to kill? No, there was a responsibility to defend the innocent.
3. THOU SHALT NOT KILL
1 Samuel 18:7 And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.
Deuteronomy 20:16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
Anyone who isolates “Thou shalt not kill” as a law forbidding ANY KIND of killing will have serious discrepancies later on in the Bible.
The intended meaning is not to shed innocent blood. People killed in the Bible, holy people killed in the Bible.
I am not advocating killing, I am simply saying that we need to stop using this verse as a mandate against killing in any form. The Bible is clear that killing in warfare for just causes was acceptable.
If an intruder is about to kill a family member in my home, and I have the ability to stop him, am I going to ALLOW someone innocent to die? No, that’s not what the verse means.
4. THEY SHALL BEAT THEIR SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES
Isaiah 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah chapter 2 is a picture of Christ’s future kingdom on earth, where the nations don’t learn war anymore. I’m not going to get into the whole preterism/dispensationalism debate, but I think we need to be very careful using verses about when Christ rules on earth in this present day, when the nations are still learning war.
Are there any verses in Scripture where we are given permission for self defense?
And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.
36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.
Jesus is not talking about a “metaphorical sword” you cannot sell a physical garment for a non physical sword. Jesus is mandating self defense for the disciples. Notice this is not a command to take up the sword like Islam. This is in the context of having something to rely upon should our lives be in danger.
Luke 22:38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.
Those were two very real swords.
So ultimately, if the church sits by and allows themselves to be killed, not as martyrs but as victims of random violence, then, with the way things are going, we’re going to be losing many precious brothers and sisters. And I don’t want that.