Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a conversation Patheos is hosting on the new film The Armor of Light. Find more perspectives here.
Some ideas are clear from Sacred Scripture and the historic teachings of the Church. Some things are matters of judgment and prudence where good Christians can disagree. Lately, people who wish only the government to have the right to lethal force have been acting as if it is incompatible with the Faith to support a right to bear arms.
That is a lie.
I am pro-life and so support the right to keep and bear arms, because otherwise I could not be a consistent Christian. I don’t just wish to be consistently pro-life, but consistently pro-human. Life, while a very great value, is not the only value or even the highest value. Part of being a Christian is wanting each human being to have a right to life and the ability to flourish as a human being.
John Locke, Christian philosopher and apologist, was right: we sometimes have a duty to rebel against tyranny. We have prudentially given the power to take life to the state (at least in the Armed Forces). We must not allow this power only to the state. A power found in only one place will be a power abused.
Sometimes it is better to be dead than a slave. Martyrdom might be the only option when faced with the choice of betraying the deepest and best ideals of one’s life. Socrates understood this and so did the Christians of Rome. While Christians following the command of Jesus must never act out of selfishness or vengeance, we also are commanded to protect the poor, innocent, and oppressed. Leave it to the secularists to prolong life as long as possible, clinging to the last moment in the golfing resort, hoping for a medical reprieve. Christians embrace a robust life from conception to natural death, but we are not afraid to sacrifice life for other people or the truth.
A Christian man will turn the other cheek at a personal insult, but he will not turn away when he sees the innocent brutalized. First, he will appeal to the state, but if the state fails to keep the peace or becomes an oppressor, then the Christian will organize and fight if he must. Pacifism has always been a fringe Christian movement, deservedly so.
We are a religion of peace ruled by the Prince of Peace. We long for peace. We hope for Paradise where war will be no more, but we are not in Paradise yet. The man who lays down his sword this side of paradise is either a saint or a coward. Experience shows that in most cases he thinks he is a saint, but lives like a coward. Some Americans, in the First Nations and in the African-American community, know what it means to face the power of the state without adequate arms or the ability to protect the community. We are right to ennoble those who fought on against great odds, to save tribe, nation, or folk against the abuse of USA power.
A Christian understands the slave rebellion against a cruel master. A Christian understands the First Nations standing against broken treaties. Sometimes I am told that the slave rebellion and the Indian resistance were “un-Christian” because hopeless. They were not hopeless, but hopeful, because they left a record of resistance. They showed that African-Americans and Native Americans were human beings and they refused to cooperate in the annihilation of their people.
Christians will die rather than break the peace for their own sake, but will not force martyrdom on others. If I must, I hope I would die for the faith, but I also hope I would die to defend liberty, justice, and the lives of other people. Lethal force must never be the exclusive property of the great and powerful. We know what will happen if that occurs. The children of Israel let the Philistines make the swords and found themselves on the edge of extinction. The Lord Jesus commanded his disciples to be armed, though He was not on Earth to lead an armed rebellion.
His work was not to fight the Romans, but he commanded his followers to have arms. I will walk a mile rather than fight, but I will not force you to walk a mile for someone else rather than fight for you. Safe to say: we are not Christ, we do not have His exact mission. A few will have swords and not have them for nothing.
The same people who mock the idea of a citizen army holding off professionals often want out of Afghanistan because they recognize how hard it is for even an overwhelmingly powerful and professional army to put down a determined, armed resistance. I am proud of the Orthodox Christians in Greece who spent decades fighting for freedom of religion against genocidal Turkish rule. They had no right to bear arms, but bear arms they did and so helped win their liberty against an oppressor that wanted to wipe them from the face of history. They often used antiquated weapons to fight, but they kept the dream alive.
The right to bear arms means a man or woman can defy the state with lethal force . . . not in his or her own name, but in the name of justice. This right is abused, though the number of gun related deaths in the United Sates is in decline. Madmen use our liberty to do great evils. This is the cost of liberty. To give the state the power to confiscate our guns would be to create a state too large for comfort. It would begin well, it always does, but end badly.Christians can and do disagree about how we can regulate the ownership of firearms. Nobody favors the mad or the criminal class having a “right to bear arms.” Generally, however, the power to defend justice is a power that resides in every person. We are created in God’s image and part of the Image of God is a desire to liberate the oppressed and bring the evil to justice. Nobody can be trusted with a monopoly on force.
Thank God for the United States Constitution that gives American Christians the right to keep and bear arms.