Self-Defense Isn't Biblical

It's a blatant mistrust of God.

Christians are divided over President Trump's recent executive order on immigration. Russell Moore of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called the order "reckless, demagogic rhetoric". Likewise, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "strongly opposed" the ban saying, "we will work vigorously to ensure refugees are humanely welcomed."

Others, like megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, have supported the ban for safety reasons: "All of the recent homeland attacks have been committed by Muslims, not by Hindus, Jews or Christians." Franklin Graham went even further saying, "I think a thorough vetting process really needs to apply to people coming into the U.S. from all countries—not just 7... if a person does not agree with our principles of freedom, democracy, and liberty, which we cherish, they should not be allowed to come."

Christian commentator, Jim Denison, encapsulated the dichotomy of compassion and safety in a recent response to the immigration ban where he outlined three, biblical priorities:

  • Scripture encourages security
  • Our government is responsible for our safety
  • Compassion expresses the heart of God

In a sense, the reason Christians are divided is because, technically, the Bible supports both sides.

Typical, moderate drivel. Near the end of his piece, Denison reveals the Achilles' Heal of the moderate stance: "Balancing borders, safety, and compassion is, of course, the challenge of our day." In other words, he has no idea how to live out his opinion. He closes with a tepid call for prayer and support of immigrants but offers no practical solution for the biblical tension other than dismissing it.

In a day when emotions are running high and people are picking sides, it's tempting to set up camp in the middle ground safely away from the ideological front lines. Certainly, we should listen to divergent ideas and consider arguments beyond our own but that doesn't mean every idea has merit we need to concede. Some ideas are just wrong. And in this case, the belief that the Bible supports personal security is based on a scattershot hermeneutic.

Many Christians think that the key to good theology is amassing as many proof texts as possible. Like high school valedictorians, they can memorize an impressive amount of names and numbers, but they choke on life's essay questions. More important than knowing all the facts is understanding them and how they fit together.

For example, Denison supports the notion of self-defense with five different verses. But the first is an example not an endorsement, the second and fourth are pre-New Covenant, and the third and fifth are generic wisdom texts about opposing evil.

The pre-New Covenant verses are especially poignant because the Mosaic Law made specific provisions for self-defense in cases where one's life or property were threatened. Now, while Jesus said that he didn't abolish the Law but rather fulfilled it, we need to understand what he meant by the that.

Right after saying he came to fulfill the Law, Jesus addresses many of the well-known commandments by expanding on them:

  • Don't murder became don't hate
  • Don't commit adultery became don't lust
  • Don't break your oath became mean what you say and say what you mean
  • Eye for an eye became turn the other cheek
  • Love your neighbor, hate your enemy became love your enemy

Fulfilling the Law meant revealing its ultimate goal: love. The Law was designed to teach an ancient, somewhat barbaric people (just read how Simeon and Levi handled the rape of their sister) how to love. That's why the Bible talks about taking slaves and treating women as property; it was gradually reprogramming their innate, evil desires.

Thus, eye for an eye and turn the other cheek are neither contradictory nor complementary because the one fulfills the other. The use of fatal force in self-defense may have been lawful in Moses' day, but under the fulfilled Law of Christ, it is unlawful. Some trust in border walls and some trust in travel bans, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God for our safety.

Of course, there was the time when Jesus told his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords (you can't make this stuff up). Many Christians take this verse at face value like the Family Research Council's Jerry Boykin who once said, "The sword today is an AR-15, so if you don't have one, go get one. You're supposed to have one. It's biblical."

No joke, Luke 22:36 is considered the 2nd Amendment verse by conservative evangelicals, and it drives liberals like me nuts. Unfortunately, most don't take the time to reconcile the incongruity between turning the other cheek and buying a sword so they simply ignore what Jesus said--not unlike how evangelicals conveniently ignore the other thing he said.

Rather than artificially assembling cherry-picked proof texts, good theology seeks to understand how disparate texts fit together and the key to doing this is context.

Jesus' words about swords came after the Passover meal where he had revealed that one of the disciples was going to betray him. They began to argue over which of them was the greatest so Jesus reminded them that the least would be the greatest. Then he told them to gather their things and sell their cloak to buy a sword if they didn't have one.

Most evangelicals stop reading right about here, but Jesus continues and says that the prophet Isaiah's words about him being numbered among the wicked was about to be fulfilled. The disciples never have a clue what he means about fulfilled prophecy so they show him their two swords and all Jesus says in response is, "That's enough".

Enough for what? If Jesus was saying that Christians need to bear arms for protection, then two swords is hardly enough for twelve men. But if we keep reading, we eventually run into that story where Peter cuts off the servant of the high priest's ear with, you guessed it, his sword.

Having just encouraged his disciples to bear arms, it's curious that Jesus suddenly changes his mind and rebukes them for using them. Unless he was more concerned with fulfilling prophecy. In order for Jesus to be numbered among the wicked, he had to appear to be wicked. Though Jesus inquired why the angry mob thought he, a teacher, was leading a rebellion, he knew that Peter had given them all the proof they needed.

Jesus doesn't want you to buy an AR-15 to protect yourself or your family. In fact, he said in another account of this story that those who live by the sword die by the sword. Jesus wants you to trust him with your life, your needs, even your vengeance. Your safety is not your responsibility, the government's, or anyone else's. Your safety is God's responsibility. Forget the ban, drop the gun, and learn to trust him so you can get back to loving people as he commanded.

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