For many Christians, the acceptance of using violence is not based on Jesus’ example, but on the fear of the “what-if” questions that plague their minds. I saw this firsthand in my Christian Ethics class in college. When we started having the conversation as to if violence was acceptable for the Christian, every student’s answer seemed based on ridiculous stories that they had concocted in their heads. It seemed that every male student’s theology of peace was based on the fact that someone would one day break into their house, put a gun to their children and threaten to rape their wife.
Let’s stop right there for a moment and talk about what good theology is. Good theology is built on Jesus, not on fear. You should not base your understanding of morality on the most extreme thing you can think of that will probably never happen to you. Jesus taught us to “not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:34). Or as Gandalf grimly said, “Well, no need to brood on what tomorrow may bring. For one thing, tomorrow will be certain to bring worse than today, for many days to come. And there is nothing more that I can do to help it. The board is set, and the pieces are moving.”
When you base your theology on anxiety you have put your trust and understanding into something other than Jesus. The peak of this anxiety is when we carry weapons on our side in everyday life and fight for the right to bare arms, even though Jesus’ commands were to bare a cross. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” (Lk 9:23) our Savior said. Yes, Jesus wanted us to carry an instrument of death around with us, but one that killed us, not others. The only death we were to offer others was the invitation to also grab a cross.
The idea that you would need a gun on you at all times in case something horrible were to happen is a bit of a messiah-complex. It’s as though we’re waiting for a moment to be a hero. Walking through a grocery store with a gun on our side makes us look as strange as Captain America grocery shopping in his entire uniform. It makes us stand out because we advertise anxiety and fear, not peace and love. This very action causes us to live in a state of mind that says, “Anyone could be an enemy and anyone could be worth killing and I am good enough to be the judge on that should the time come.” I agree with Reverend Rob Schenck when he says, “Whenever a Christian takes on their body the capacity and the willingness in their heart to kill another human being, that, to me, is a serious moral and ethical crisis.”
Not too long ago in my own county, a story came out about a 53 year old man who shot and killed two teenagers who broke into his house. That man has now been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of felony firearms. “How?” you might ask. “Didn’t they break into his house?”
Yes, they did. And the evidence showed that the man shot them as they were running away. In other words, these two 18-year-olds got caught committing a crime and decided to flee, just to get shot down by the home owner. Does that really seem like a good reason to kill someone? Sure, the man tells the story a bit differently, explaining that he thought they were running towards him and that he only meant to scare them—but even if that was true, that doesn’t make what he did acceptable.
Had this man spent his life trying to figure out how to peaceably face this scenario as Jesus would have, he wouldn’t have grabbed a gun that night—and he definitely wouldn’t have fired it. But instead of practicing Jesus, it seems his first reaction was to grab his .22, step out on his back porch and proceed to shoot these kids down. Being alarmed in the middle of the night by an intruder will wake us up in a panic, so it’s all the more important that you embrace peace now—because like this man, you’ll probably embody your rehearsed mindset in that moment.
If we can’t see ourselves (or at least the possibility of ourselves) in the sinners around us, we’ll never be able to serve them. We’ll consider them outcasts and never enter into their life. And if we practice violence instead of peace, these may be the very people we end up harming or killing due to the constant “what-if” questions that the devil likes to anxiously plant in our mind.
This is an adapted excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966, p. 743.
Reference to Rob Schneck can be found here: Thompson, Dargan. “Why Christians Need to Talk About Guns.” RELEVANT Magazine, 24 June 2016, archives.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/violence/why-christians-need-talk-about-gun-violence. Accessed 17 May 2017. See Abigail Disney’s awesome documentary, The Armor of Light (which features Rob Schneck), for more great thoughts on the Christian and violence.
Clark, Nathan. “Man Who Shot, Killed Trespassing Teens Heading to Trial.” MLive.com, 3 Oct. 2016, http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2016/10/springport_man_who_shot_and_ki.html. Accessed 17 May 2017.