“For most of my adult life . . . I believed that we had a God-given right to defend ourselves,” evangelical pastor Rob Schenck writes at washingtonpost.com. “I also believed that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, and that anyone should be able to obtain a gun.” Awesome. Can we go home now? Apparently not . . .
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.
Oy vey. I find it disappointing that a man of the cloth can’t confront evil without losing his belief in our “God-given right to defend ourselves” – by whatever means necessary. Shouldn’t his experiences with the after-effects of violence reaffirm his belief in that right? It should. But Pastor Schenck is plagued by prevarication.
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. And our belief in the basic sinfulness of humankind should make us skeptical of the NRA’s slogan, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” The Bible indicates that we are all bad guys sometimes.
Schenck – elevated to celebrity gun control status by the movie Armor of Light – set us up in his lead by stating that he used to believe “anyone should be able to obtain a gun.” See how that works? He now realizes that not anyone (a.k.a., everyone) should be able to have a gun. So let’s talk about who shouldn’t. Bad guys! And . . . we’re all bad guys! Done.
As for Schenck’s calculus that gun control reduces “threats to human life” we can put the Pastor amongst those who refuse to Google “defensive gun use” (DGU) and do the actual math. We’re talking an absolute minimum of 55k DGU’s per year vs. exactly 33,636 firearms-related deaths in 2014, more than half of which are suicides. DGU’s win.
Going back to Schenck’s statement that “we are all bad guys sometimes,” it’s meant to suggest that anyone with a gun can turn evil and use it to murder. Which, I suppose, they can. But, statistically speaking, they don’t. Lest we forget, there are at least 150 million gun owners in the U.S. You can round the number who use their firearm to commit homicide down to zero.
And so to scripture . . .
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. Numerous Bible passages, such as Exodus 22:2-3, strictly limit the use of deadly force . . .
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.”
TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia have tackled the Bible’s teachings on self-defense many times. Suffice it to say, Pastor Schenck’s statement that the scriptures “seem to contradict” the pro-gun rights position indicates that he has not yet finished his “careful theological and moral reflection” about the Biblical point of view on armed self-defense. So there is that.
I won’t be silent on this issue. The Christian gospel should quell our fears and remind us of our Christ-like obligation to love all people, even those who intend us harm. This generous view of the world calls us to demonstrate God’s love toward others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what religion they practice. Assuming a permanently defensive posture against others, especially when it includes a willingness to kill, is inimical to a life of faith.
Gun owners who own firearms for self-defense are showing their willingness to protect human life. If that is a “permanently defensive posture,” so be it. The willingness to kill to protect life is not inimical to a life of faith, as millions of God-fearing Americans will attest. By their words and their deeds.
The impulse to protect oneself is natural, especially after terrorist attacks. But evangelicals must be careful that the noble language of self-defense is not used to cloak a more insidious lust for revenge. St. Paul wrote to persecuted Christians, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’” We must turn away from our fears, base human instincts and prejudices, and turn toward the example of Jesus in word and deed.
Armed self-defense is not revenge. Conflating the two is a rhetorical trick designed to guilt Americans into supporting gun control. In James 4:7 (ESV), the Bible says “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Armed resistance is no sin.