Why This Elder Carries
by Richard W. Warner
I am one of the most boringly “normal” persons you will ever meet. I live in a modest “empty nest” home with my wife of 42 years. I’m fond of dogs and cats, and because I have a desk job I really should exercise more. Like many Christians, we read the Bible and do our fair share of participating in the life of our local church.
Whenever I leave the house, in addition to my wallet, car keys, and bifocals, I carry a Glock 19 pistol, well concealed in a tactical holster at my side.
Perhaps you’re wondering why an elder in a local congregation would ever carry a firearm or even have one in the house. Maybe you think carrying a firearm, except for police officers or soldiers, is incompatible with being a Christian. Why, you may wonder, would a Christian be so fearful? How can the meek inherit the earth if they are packing heat?
While my trust in God is, by grace, unshakable, my trust in humans is not. It is this lack of faith in mankind’s ability to rise above myriad societal ills that leads me to carry a weapon as a deterrent and for self-defense in desperate situations.
In any discussion of this hot-potato issue, Scripture is a good place to start. Most people are aware of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” “The sum of this Commandment,” says John Calvin in his Commentary, “is that we should not unjustly do violence to anyone.” Yet Calvin also goes on to state that common sense demands more than that we should abstain from wrongdoing; we should also “endeavor to resist the wicked.”
The unjust taking of a life “with malice aforethought” is against God’s law, but the taking of another life in defense of one’s own life or that of a family member, while certainly not to be taken lightly, is not prohibited. In fact, most accurate translations depict this passage as “You shall not murder.” This responsibility is found in the office of “the one in authority” (Rom. 13:4). But in the absence of, or the time lag associated with, getting the authority to show up, individual self-defense may be warranted in extreme cases.
Picture the following scenario:
“Nine-one-one; what is your emergency?”
“There’s a stranger in my garage trying to drag away my lawn mower!”
“Stay on the line; we have a unit on the way.”
“OK, but make sure they identify themselves as police officers because I have a handgun for self-defense. I’m staying inside my house and locking the door until they arrive.”
Clearly this homeowner understands that the loss of a piece of yard equipment is not worth taking a human life. But here is another scenario:
“Nine-one-one; what is your emergency?”
“I just heard the sound of breaking glass from my basement window. Someone is downstairs and I am at home taking care of my elderly mother. We are in an upstairs bedroom. Please hurry!”
“OK, lock your bedroom door and stay on the line with me.”
“We’ll stay in the bedroom, but you need to let the officers on the way know that I have a handgun for protection, and if the person comes up the stairs to hurt us, I will stop him.”
“Dispatch to all units; please approach with extreme caution and identify as the homeowner is in an upstairs bedroom and is armed.”
In this situation, the homeowner is taking prudent steps by staying put and not roaming around looking for the bad guy. But he gives notice that he will act if the situation deteriorates into a life-or-death choice. The homeowner’s intent is not to kill but to stop the threat.
Stopping the threat and a misplaced desire to cause harm or death (retribution) are not the same. No responsibly armed and legally authorized person carries a weapon with a wish to take a life.
Some Christians may bring up the virtue of “turning the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38-39). Does this mean that we should capitulate to every form of injustice or evil that comes our way? Matthew 5:38-39 is warning not against self-defense but against blood revenge, something ancient cultures were often mired in and that continues among some people to this day. Again, we turn to John Calvin’s Commentary: “Though Christ does not permit his people to repel violence by violence, yet he does not forbid them to endeavor to avoid an unjust attack.”
Consider another passage in Matthew. The mob has just come to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. Peter becomes irate; he grabs a sword and strikes the high priest’s servant. Emotions are running high when Jesus says to him, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (26:52).
Jesus’ disciples were anticipating the establishment of an earthly kingdom and, by extension, their own status in that kingdom. In John 18:36, Jesus reminds all who would listen: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” His rebuke informs them that his kingdom would not come through human schemes (the sword), but by the Spirit. If Jesus were steadfastly opposed to the use of the sword under any circumstances, he would have prohibited his disciples from carrying one in the first place. His message is clear: Do not let anger or the desire for revenge get the best of you. Do not use aggression to advance your own personal brand of righteousness. The Lord is perfectly capable of dispensing justice. Limit your actions to self-defense.
So there’s nothing incompatible with my faith if I choose to legally carry a firearm in case of a life-threatening event. Those who disagree have the right not to carry or own a firearm. They are free to rely on the authorities to arrive in the nick of time. But using the Bible to bolster criticism directed at responsibly armed citizens is a misuse of Scripture.
Those who choose to carry firearms for self-defense in extreme situations should pray fervently that their use will never be required. That is my persistent prayer. The Spirit can change hearts and intervene even in the most life-threatening of situations. But I also pray that my faith, my mind, my body, and my training would allow me to protect my own life and the lives of my loved ones in the face of evil. In this choice, I am comforted by Galatians 5:14, where we are enjoined to both love ourselves and our neighbor with a godly respect.
That is why this elder chooses to legally carry a firearm.
Why I Am Unarmed
by Bryan Berghoef
My neighbors were recently mugged at gunpoint not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. A nice evening out for dinner with another couple quickly went awry as two young men pulled a gun on them and demanded their wallets and phones. The four of them hit the ground and did as they were asked. After being accosted in this way, my friends felt rattled. Unsafe. Sad.
Some might say: “If only they’d been carrying a weapon of their own, they might have been able to turn the tables, or at least hold onto their wallets.” A good thought. After all, they say the best defense is a good offense, so why not be ready to take charge in such a situation? An argument could be made that a gun might have helped. The instigators could have been forced to flee out of fear. The potential firepower might have caused panic, and my friends might have been able to take control of the situation.
But it’s also true that bringing a second gun into the picture might have escalated the situation. It is likely that the perpetrators did not plan to use the gun. There’s a good chance that these two young men found themselves in a desperate situation requiring desperate action.
I’m pretty sure this situation would not have been improved by issuing a threat of violence in response to the initial threat of violence. A response in kind, even in self-defense, is exactly what it sounds like: a response in kind.
With these types of incidents happening close to where I live—in an urban setting—some might recommend that I own a weapon. That I protect my family. That I prepare for the worst.
Yet I remain unarmed.
For me, carrying a weapon is in direct conflict with my desire to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. How can I justify responding to violence with more violence when I follow the Prince of Peace? How can I think of carrying a weapon designed solely to kill efficiently if I’m seeking to follow a God who instructs us, “Do not kill”? How can I think of owning a gun when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who hurt us? How can I stock up on ammunition when Romans 12 clearly instructs us to “not repay evil for evil” and to “live at peace with everyone” (vv. 17-18)?
These days there is a lot of conversation about guns and gun rights, particularly in the wake of last year’s Newtown school shooting and the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Many note that it is their constitutional or even God-given right to carry a gun. Some are sure that the answer to the outbreak of violence in our schools, homes, and streets is not fewer guns, but more.
More guns in our schools. More guns in our homes. Moreguns in our neighborhoods.
The argument that we need more guns, and more people trained to use them, boils down to “we can kill before we get killed.” At some level, this argument may be right. This strategy may well be effective—even the most effective. But what kind of society do we want to have? What kind of people do we want to be?
One response to violence is to admit that we live in a sick society and increase weapon proliferation to deal with the issue. “It’s effective.” “I’ll feel safer.” But do we really want a society in which there are more weapons that can be unleashed on a schoolroom full of unsuspecting children? A society where our children are afraid to walk the streets because there may be a neighborhood watch person following them with a gun?
The more poignant question is this: Do I really want to become someone who has to be trained to kill someone else as the answer to reducing violence? To me, this stems from a lack of imagination and a lack of hope.
I’d rather we work on connecting better with our neighbors, getting involved in our neighborhood schools, and learning the opportunities and challenges we face together.
I’d rather we dealt with mental health issues and make counseling accessible to those who need it.
I’d rather be a person who is trained to love than one who is trained to kill—even in self-defense.
That’s why I am simply not interested in carrying a firearm. In the U.S., the Constitution may grant me such a right. But I follow someone who eschewed his rights to self-defense (and many other things).
Some will point to Jesus endorsing the carrying of swords in Luke 22 and note that even he knew when it was time to arm oneself. Yet when the disciples say, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” Jesus replies, “That’s enough.” Or as another translation puts it: “Enough of that!” The point is not that he endorses the private right to carry weapons. Rather, the display of two weapons in the face of a contingent of armed Roman soldiers from Pilate makes the point that Jesus and his disciples are not there to act in violence. Jesus notes that he has the power to call down legions of angels to his defense. But he refuses to resort to such violence, even when self-defense might call for it. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my servants would fight.”
When the kingdom of heaven breaks in, there is a refusal to respond to violence with more violence. There is a love that is greater than calling upon our “rights.” There is a forgiveness that can be extended even to those who would put us to death, as Jesus and many of his earliest followers exemplified.
In our society, people have the right to carry or own a gun. But I’m not going to be one of them because my hope for peace outweighs my desire for personal safety. Because my desire to follow Jesus exceeds my desire to defend myself. And because responding to a threat upon my life with an act of love, even if it costs me my life, might be one small piece of God’s kingdom being realized here and now.
There are no easy answers or solutions to the reality of gun violence in our nation and our world.
But should that stop us from dreaming? What if we tried to enact the prophetic dream now, and gave up our obsession with violence? What if we didn’t wait for someone else to beat the pistols into plowshares but set the example ourselves? What’s the worst that could happen?
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