In the current debates over gun ownership and self-defense, we would do well to consider how the doctrine of vocation applies.
On the most basic level, according to Romans 13, we are not to impose justice by taking personal “revenge.” Rather, God protects us and punishes evildoers through the agency of authorities whom He has called to “bear the sword.” In today’s terms, that would include police officers, our military, and other lawful officers.
A well-ordered society is not going to be what later political theorists would call “a state of nature,” in which everyone has to battle everyone else in order to survive. God’s gifts of vocations makes for an interdependent society. Then again, not all societies are well-ordered. Lawless societies, as in the “wild west,” function differently. And even in a well-ordered society, those who “bear the sword” cannot be everywhere. But vocation still applies. Keep in mind that we have multiple vocations, not just in our particular line of work, but in our families, the church, and society.
In considering issues of self-defense and bearing arms in the context of church shootings, Matthew Cochrane, a confessional Lutheran, sorts out the issues by applying the doctrine of vocation in a multi-faceted way. He also applies the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, explains the Biblical distinction between “slaying” and “murder,” and accounts for gray areas.
The Federalist has published the article, which gives its thesis in the title and subtitle: Why Christians Should Prepare To Defend Themselves From Mass Shooters In Church: Every Christian sitting in a pew on Sunday morning is also a father, son, neighbor, or citizen, and we all have the responsibilities and authorities that go with those vocations.You need to read the entire article. Here is a brief sample:
We generally rely on police to keep the peace in order to avoid the chaos that comes with vigilantism. However, in those crucial minutes (or even hours) before police can effectively respond to violent situations, it is quite sensible to empower ordinary citizens to keep the peace in the meantime.
By way of analogy, we give our fire departments the responsibilities of fighting fires. Nevertheless, if we wake up in the middle of the night to find our house on fire, we don’t just call 911 so the government can handle it. We also rouse our family from their beds and make sure they get outside, and when appropriate, we use our own fire extinguishers and buckets to put out the fire. In the same way, a citizen whose friends and family are under attack does what he can to save them, with or without the police.
Second, the state is not the only authority ordained by God; he also created fathers to be the heads of their households. Just as the state is given the sword to defend the lives of those in its care, a father is empowered to defend the lives under his care. It is not merely a matter of human custom, but of natural law that fathers are responsible for the well-being of their families, particularly when someone is seeking to end the lives of their wives and children. Most Christian congregations are blessed to include many wonderful fathers whose rights and responsibilities in this regard do not end when they bring their families to God’s house.
I suppose that since the purpose of every vocation is to love and serve your neighbor, a vocational approach would emphasize not just “self-defense” but “neighbor-defense.”
What do you think of Cochrane’s applications? He is thinking of church shootings, not the recent school shootings, but how would his thesis apply to that and other kinds of threats?
Photo, Ross Martin & Robert Conrad, “The Wild, Wild West,” via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons