Trayvon Martin, Self-Defense, and Christian Non-Violence: A Response to Preston Sprinkle's "Fight"
But this confusion also helps explain our willingness to allow someone to shoot someone he feels is menacing him. In fact, thinking of the Trayvon Martin case, Florida's stand-your-ground statute allows even the person who provoked an encounter to use lethal force "if he can't escape and if he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
I understand what George Zimmerman did, if he believed he was in danger of losing his life.
I might have done the same, although I pray I would not have.
But the central message of Fight—that this is not what Jesus would do, and thus is not what we should do—stands there, haunting.
And the conclusion reached in Fight is clear and cannot be nuanced: the Christian tradition does not make an exception to violence in the case of self-defense:
In every instance where the New Testament portrays or discusses someone facing a personal physical threat, there is no clear allowance to use violence to defend oneself. Again, as we've seen throughout the New Testament, Christians are to follow their Lord in not violently resisting evil people, in turning the other check, in going the extra mile, and in never retaliating with evil for evil. These are all personal attacks. There is nothing in the New Testament that advocates self-defense, yet many passages place great value on suffering when wrongfully attacked. (247)
I wish this weren't the truth, but the Bible tells me so. (Augustine, by the way, agrees in this matter). And the Florida law—and those like it—that allow people to kill others in defense of their homes or safety may be popular and may seem expedient or practical.
But they are not Christian.
And Christians should not pretend that they are.
For more conversation on the new book Fight—and to read an excerpt and author interview—visit the Patheos Book Club here.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.