Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 | Author:

I’m taking a break from the “End of the Age” series to revisit – you guessed it! – Christians and guns. The last time I addressed this, it generated quite a bit of commentary, and even inspired my buddy Jim Wetzel to begin an excellent series of WFW posts to search the scriptures on this topic. So my apologies to Jim.  I’m really not trying to steal your thunder, my friend, but the issue has become like a burning fire, and I am weary of holding it in. (Jer 20:9)

What happened is that – finally, after I don’t know how many months or even years – I’ve found a new book that excites me.   As often happens when God has been writing a particular point on my heart, after He knows I’ve “got it,” He  leads me to a book that helps clarify and confirm the issue.  Christians and violence is one of those issues, and this seems like the right time to revisit it, as there are some other things that have come to me since my last post on this subject.  Even if you don’t agree, I hope you’ll hear me out.

The book I’ve been reading is titled The Myth of a Christian Nation:  How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church by Gregory A. Boyd.  (And yes, Jim, it’s available for Kindle.)   A couple caveats:  While there is much in this book that I believe is biblically accurate, there is some that I don’t agree with.  In addition, Mr. Boyd holds some unrelated views that are controversial and unorthodox, and this is by no means an endorsement of his theology. That said, he has a gift for teaching and challenging us to examine and probe our ways. (Lam 3:40)

Before I get into his book, there are a couple other related things that I want to share, so here we go.

1) There’s an old chorus that was popular when I first got saved that goes like this:

Some may trust in horses
some may trust in chariots
but we will trust in the name of the Lord

Anybody remember it?  It was a catchy tune and we used to sing it with gusto.  It’s based on Isaiah 31:1:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!

We all know that “going down to Egypt” is a common type in the Bible for turning to worldly methods instead of relying on God.  As I meditated on this verse, it occurred to me that buying guns to protect ourselves or our families or our stuff is a form of “going down to Egypt.”  Instead of truly looking to the Holy One of Israel and seeking the Lord to protect us, we’re buying horses and chariots.  Woe to us.

2) Last week’s WFW included this passage:

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

Let’s suppose – even though it’s hard – that you think a Christian would be sinning if he purposefully killed someone, that he would be operating out of the flesh instead of the Spirit.  Let’s further suppose – which should be a lot easier – that in the defense of self, family, or home, our first reaction to a home invader would be to grab a gun and blow that threat to smithereens.

Given this scripture, and Jesus’ instruction not to resist an evildoer, wouldn’t it make good Christian sense to get rid of our guns, to remove a source of temptation to sin?  Killing someone, no matter how much the law or our flesh may justify it, is a final act.  We can’t repent and make amends to a dead person.

3) Here’s another passage from the Sermon on the Mount, emphasis added:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

We often proclaim that we are salt and light to the world, but honestly?  We don’t look much different than the world, and our impact on others is minimal.    This is born out by a survey referenced in a recent Newsweek article titled The End of Christian America:  “The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades.”  That’s quite a drop, and I don’t see anything happening in the church in America that will reverse that trend.

We did have a recent example of salt and light, though, and the world noticed.

When Charles Roberts shot and killed five Amish girls in their one-room schoolhouse in October 2006 and then killed himself, members of the Amish community – even on the same day of the shootings – were speaking about forgiveness.  They reached out to comfort Roberts’ family, many of them even attending his funeral.

The media, in unusual deference to the Amish, did not invade with their cameras. Instead, they produced multiple reports about the real story, the salt and light that did not demand justice or investigations to try to ease their pain.  Reporters wrote about these unusual people who offered love and forgiveness, instead of retaliation and vengeance.  These people were different, and the world noticed.

I don’t have the exact reference, as I’ve loaned the book out to a friend, but in the biography Rees Howells, Intercessor, by Norman Grubb – another book that has changed my life – early in his life Howells told God that he would believe if he could find someone who actually walked the Sermon on the Mount.  God led him to that man, and his life was changed forever.

My point in this is that actually living the Sermon on the Mount makes us look radically different than the world.  Turning the other cheek and blessing our enemies is completely in contrast to what the world does. It makes us imitators of Christ, which, after all, is what Christians are supposed to be.

4) What really helped clarify all this for me is a couple related passages from Boyd’s book referenced above, starting on page 162:

On the one hand, we who confess Jesus as Lord don’t want to say that Jesus and other New Testament authors are simply off their rockers in telling us not to resist evildoers, to repay evil with good, to love our enemies, and to pray for and bless people who mistreat us.  If our confession of faith means anything, it means we have to take this teaching seriously.  On the other hand, we have to admit that it’s hard to take this teaching seriously when it comes to extreme situations such as having to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder.  Not only would most of us resist an evildoer in this situation, killing him if necessary, but most of us would see it as immoral if we didn’t use violence to resist such an evildoer.

After addressing a couple related points, Boyd continues:

But how might a person who cultivated a nonviolent, kingdom-of-God mindset and lifestyle on a daily basis respond differently to an attacker?  How might a person who consistently lived in Christ-like love [Eph. 5:1-2] operate in this situation?

For one thing, such a person would have cultivated a kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence.  Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any nonviolent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available.  He would want to do good to his attacker.  This wouldn’t be a matter of him trying to obey an irrational rule to “look for an alternative in extreme situations,” for in extreme situations no one is thinking about obeying rules!  Rather, it would be in the Christlike nature of this person to see nonviolent alternatives if they were present.  This person’s moment-by-moment discipleship in love would have given him a Christlike wisdom that a person whose mind was conformed to the pattern of the tit-for-tat world would not have [Rom. 12:2.]  Perhaps they’d see that pleading with, startling, or distracting the attacker would be enough to save themselves and their family.  Perhaps they’d discern a way to allow their family to escape harm by placing themselves in harm’s way.

Not only this, but this person’s day-by-day surrender to God would have cultivated a sensitivity to God’s Spirit that would enable him to discern God’s leading in the moment, something the “normal” kingdom-of-the-world person would be oblivious to.  This Christlike person might be divinely led to say something or do something that would disarm the attacker emotionally, spiritually, or even physically.

For example, I heard of a case in which a godly woman was about to be sexually assaulted.  Just as she was being pinned to the ground with a knife to her throat, out of nowhere she said to her attacker, “Your mother forgives you.”  She had no conscious idea where the statement came from.  What she didn’t know was that her attacker’s violent aggression toward women was rooted in a heinous thing he had done as a teenager to his now deceased mother.  The statement shocked the man and quickly reduced him to a sobbing little boy.

The woman seized the opportunity to make an escape and call the police who quickly apprehended the man in the park where the attack took place.  He was still there, sobbing.  The man later credited the woman’s inspired statement with being instrumental in him eventually turning his life over to Christ.  The point is that, in any given situation, God may see possibilities for nonviolent solutions that we cannot see, and a person who has learned to “live by the Spirit” is open to being led by God in these directions [Gal. 5:16,18].

Boyd goes on to confess that he’s not sure what he would do in such a situation, but adds:

What we must never do, however, is acquiesce to our worldly condition by rationalizing away Jesus’ clear kingdom prescriptions.  We must rather strive every moment of our life to cultivate the kind of mind and heart that increasingly sees the rightness and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and thus would naturally respond to an extreme, threatening situation in a loving, nonviolent manner.

And so I, too, confess that in an extreme situation, I would probably react from my flesh and not my Spirit.  I can only throw myself at the foot of the cross in repentance, asking that God transform me into the image of His Son, my Lord and Savior.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

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6 Responses
  1. Lisa says:

    It is difficult as a human to want vengeance (not to be confused with justice). After the VT shooting here three years ago, I sensed an anger I never knew was inside of me. My husband was amazingly angered too. Maybe it was that we wished we could have brought down the shooter or maybe it was because we would never see justice because the shooter committed suicide – I don’t know. But as humans we tend to react to extremism with extremism. As Christians we should do differently.

    I look at how many people reacted to this tragedy – some sued/blamed the school, but many took that tragedy and turned into a movement of volunteering and support. Every year around April 16th, the VT community comes together for a massive time of volunteerism.

    That perhaps is how we need to react to violence, by turning it into something positive. But I don’t know that I could do that.

  2. Dave says:

    I like listening to Boyd’s sermon series occasionally. Every now and then he touches on some area where I doubt his wisdom, but mostly I think he’s OK. A lot of Christians despise him either because of his political views or his theology. However, he really shouldn’t be lumped in with some of the emergent church folks, because he stays very close to the text of the Bible.

    It is kind of disturbing how a lot of conservative Christians don’t pay much attention to Jesus himself. I think they’re embarrassed because he isn’t “conservative” enough for them.

    The example you give from the book is similar to a recent incident in Indianapolis. A store clerk was being threatened by a robber with a gun and she started praying. She ended up talking with him for 40 minutes, then he left. Later his mother convinced him to turn himself in and he told reporters that God worked through her to change his heart.
    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/angela-montez-prays-armed-robber-leaves/story?id=8875272

    For myself, I’m conflicted. For many years I attended a pro-military Quaker church, and this gave me the perspective that God empowers secular governments to use violence to keep order and preserve their territorial integrity, but that doesn’t mean that Christians should encourage it or glory in it.

    Ultimately, each person needs to make a personal choice about how much they trust God to fight for them at different levels (at home, between family and others, at work, in politics, for national defense, etc.). The important thing is to acknowledge that using violence or planning to use violence is a compromise position, a concession to our fear of the world and lack of trust in God.

  3. Jim Wetzel says:

    Wonderful post! And you could hardly be “stealing my thunder,” since — if you recall — I stole it from you first. Let’s by all means continue this kind of reciprocal thievery for as long as it seems productive.

    I haven’t bought a Kindle yet … but I’m still mulling it over.

  4. jon-paul says:

    Hello, hello…I’d like to offer just a bit of commentary if I may. In the first citation re: Newsweek and the data that is expressed I have but two very mild issues; first, we must all remember what sources we are reading and what the motive is intended by every single department involved with the publication. Newsweek is not a source I would use to establish any basis of fact. Therefore, where one alleges that the ‘self-proclaimed’ Christian is on a downturn, 20 percent even, I like to reflect on some newer ads I’ve been listening too and seeing on television using the theme: “I’m not ashamed…repeat…of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Furthermore, I need to ask myself if using a firearm in an extreme situation (life or death) and my people being involved either by being killed or otherwise, I realize this is a stretch but, is it violence when one is protecting themselves, family, and home?

    On a more pleasant note, God does promise to always provide a way out for us; for the lady in Atlanta who was confronted by an escaped inmate who’d just killed a deputy and wounded a judge, for her to work with “The Purpose Driven Life” (Warren) and calm this individual to the point where he almost begged her to ring the police – this may indeed have been “the way out God has promised.”

    And finally, with due respect to everyone who reads this response and I understand this can be extremely difficult; however, it would benefit all of us if we asked ourselves the following: Was Jesus a political person? Was Jesus a person who was aware of the socioeconomic time he lived in? Was Jesus a non-violent person? Just a thought, just a thought.

    jps

  5. akagaga says:

    @Lisa That perhaps is how we need to react to violence, by turning it into something positive. I think you’re right. And did you know that the Amish shootings and the VT shootings have a connection? I just bought and read a book titled Amish Grace that examines the Nickel Mines shooting and the Amish response. In it, they tell of a “patchwork comfort quilt” made by students in Ohio for the children of 9/11 victims. It had been sent to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and then to Nickel Mines. In August 2007, a bus of Amish people took the comfort quilt to Virginia Tech University, where they shared it with family and friends related to the shooting on that campus in April 2007.

    @Dave I’ve been pleasantly surprised by much of Boyd’s work, but I think the emergent charge is valid. In the book I referenced, he lays his case biblically, but in the last half diverts enthusiastically to dominionism. And the back cover has endorsements by Brian McLaren and other emergent types, so its not like he’s trying to avoid the connection.

    The important thing is to acknowledge that using violence or planning to use violence is a compromise position, a concession to our fear of the world and lack of trust in God.

    I think you’ve nailed the issue that really bothers me. Most Christians, instead, try to justify their position as biblical instead of acknowledging a lack of faith.

    And thanks for the link. I had missed that one.

    @Jim reciprocal thievery I like it! Maybe we can write a new doctrine. And … I blame you that I’m also thinking about a kindle. :)

    @Jon-Paul Newsweek is not my normal source of information, either, but their poll only confirmed others I have read. I posted about one a while ago from Pew Forum [http://tinyurl.com/3a7swqm] in which 52% of “Christians” answered that virtually any religion – including atheism – can lead to eternal life.

    is it violence when one is protecting themselves, family, and home? Good question, and it’s the one I’ve been seeking answers to for several months now. If you can find anything in the New Testament that gives us an exception for this situation, that Jesus’ commands to “turn the other cheek” and “not resist an evildoer” don’t apply in self-defense, please let me know.

  6. Dave says:

    In the book I referenced, he lays his case biblically, but in the last half diverts enthusiastically to dominionism. And the back cover has endorsements by Brian McLaren and other emergent types, so its not like he’s trying to avoid the connection.

    Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve never actually read any of his books except Letters from a Skeptic, which led me check out the free online articles and podcasts.