God and Guns. The Dialogue— Part Three

God and Guns. The Dialogue— Part Three February 8, 2022

Q. I looked pretty much in vain for a discussion of the fact that a text like Rom. 13 addresses the role of government, with an assumption that Christians are not involved in the tax police or the vigiles. My point is that the Christian ethic of non-violence is an ethic for Christians as a witness to the Gospel. It’s not something we could expect of government nor impose on governments. This raises questions about the degree to which Christians should be policemen or soldiers. How would you thread this needle?

Prof. Chris Hays responds:

A. Yes, I saw your post about that which touches on the movie Hacksaw Ridge and its example of non-violent service, even in the US military.

This is a challenging question to answer, in that it goes beyond the content of the book. You’ll note that Stanley Hauerwas wrote the preface and endorses the book. And I think that his theology of non-violence has been inspirational to me and others. He’s focused on state-level violence in warfare, and he’s argued that America was founded in violence and is still in love with violence. I think that argument is easily expanded to handguns as well, which is part of why his work spoke to me. And clearly he is working from the assumption that the Church and the state are living out different stories with different goals.

If you and I agree, Ben, that humans are called not to kill other humans, then I suspect we’re not that far apart. I do think, though, that there is a potential problem of complicity with systems of violence, and that Christians may be called to resist unjust systems more actively, especially now.

This is a point on which I think that Yolanda Norton’s essay in the book is very valuable. She gives an example of a story in which someone stands up in protest of unjust violence. Without presuming to judge all cases or all places, let me state this as a hypothetical: If it is the case that police departments are sometimes agents of white supremacy, and are unjust and abusive towards black people, then I do think that Christians are compelled to resist them. And to move to the concrete: At times, this has been the case.

I’m saying this right on the heels of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and that’s exactly what Dr. King was doing with his movement: resisting systemic injustice. Unfortunately, the dream that he had has in many ways not been realized.

 

(p.s. I ran your question about Romans 13 by Stanley, and he said, “Ask him what he makes of Romans 12.”)

And my answer to Stanley is— Romans 12 is an ethic for Christians, Romans 13 addresses the behavior of both non-Christian governments and how Christians should respond to them.


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