06 March 2014

The sacrament of bullets

The Grace Baptist Church of Troy NY will raffle off an AR-15 rifle at a Sunday service later this month dedicated to the biblical right to armed self-defense. The weapon has been modified to comply with New York State's controversial "SAFE" act and comes with a 10-round magazine. The winner must have a driver's license and pass a background check to receive the gun. The pastor of Grace Baptist believes that gun owners need a break after repeated attacks from "anti-Christian socialist media" and "anti-Christian socialist politicians." Read more about it here.

Is there a biblical right to self-defense? "Turn the other cheek" will automatically come to mind as an argument against the idea, at least for Christians, but there's a school of bible study that contends that pacifists have misunderstood the context of Jesus's famous injunction. It's part of the Sermon on the Mount as described in the Book of Matthew. In 5:38-39, Jesus contrasts his principle with the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" idea. This indicates to some readers that Jesus is talking about revenge and reprisal rather than self-defense. In the self-defense reading, Jesus says not to answer an offense with an offense after the fact, and not that you can't defend yourself during the actual offense. Readers sympathetic to this interpretation point to Jesus's later advice to his disciples that they spare no expense in acquiring swords, which is not contradicted, in their view, by Jesus's chiding of Peter for wounding a soldier while defending him at Gethsemane. Jesus's statements around that time are complicated, supposedly, by his belief that he had to be taken by the authorities and executed in order to fulfill prophecy. His refusal of defense in that special case does not rule out self-defense for ordinary humans, as far as Christian gun-rights advocates are concerned.

However, Matthew's Sermon isn't the only case of Jesus appearing to preach non-resistance to force. One such case that looks far more difficult to spin is Luke 6:29, an alternate version of the same basic sermon, but known as the Sermon on the Plain. The verse starts with the "turn the other cheek" injunction, but in Luke Jesus follows this with (in King James, since many Americans consider that translation divinely inspired) "and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also." This would seem to be the ultimate affirmation of non-resistance, but context may still be relevant. Matthew has a slightly different version of this phrase in which the man after your cloak is "suing" for it. King James spells it out more plainly: "If any man will sue thee at law..." The Luke version is often interpreted as advising non-resistance to robbery and is thus a centerpiece of Christian pacifism. We have no objective basis today for determining whether Luke or Matthew got this statement correct. Christians will have to follow their hearts on this one -- which makes it a good thing that we don't leave it to any church to determine the actual self-defense rights of citizens in a constitutional republic. The pastor of Grace Baptist can interpret scripture as he pleases, and he's apparently within his rights to hold his raffle. But if he claims that his interpretation of scripture determines the scope of our real-world right to defend ourselves, or even that his interpretation is binding on other Christians, he's just another voice crying in the wilderness of his own mind.


Anonymous said...

I truly hope the winner uses the firearm to commit crimes.

Samuel Wilson said...

How could that happen? The winner will have passed a background check! -- and be a Bible-believing Christian!!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure nearly every amoklaufer passed a background check. And I'd bet most of them would have described themselves, at one time or another, as "christian".