|Reverend Rob Schenck|
A new documentary directed by Abigail Disney entitled The Armor of Light will soon be shown in theaters across the country. I am the primary subject of that film. It deals with the question of pro-life Christians and the use of lethal force for defensive purposes.
Until receiving Ms. Disney's invitation to participate in The Armor of Light, I had only quietly harbored doubts about the willingness of many Christians to arm up. As I considered her challenge, I did not need Ms. Disney to talk me into anything. My principles are my own, just as my pro-life convictions have always been by own.
In contrast to Ms. Disney, I do not hold to a classically pacifist position. I am not anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment, and I am not interested in "gun control." But I am troubled by things I see around me, and not just by the sadly increasing incidences of gun violence. I am also troubled by how Christians — Evangelicals in particular — are reacting and arriving at the use of deadly force as a primary means of self-protection.
Today, many Christians seem possessed by fear. As a minister, I am very concerned about that fear. My family and I have been the subjects of death threats, and of stalkers, and of violence, and I know how terrifying that can be. It's in that same role as a minister that I prayerfully attempt to comfort those who are in bondage to fear. The best way I have found to do that is to look to the reassuring words of Scripture. Here are a few of the verses I encourage the fearful to meditate on:
"The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
"The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6)
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
"Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4)
While fear is a natural human emotion, and one that is very powerful and can be helpful in some circumstances, as I say in the documentary, it should not be a controlling factor in the life of a Christian.
I do not believe that killing in self-defense is prohibited in the Bible or, more specifically, by the teaching of Christ, but I do believe that both show us a better way. In the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44). Here our Lord was speaking of the worst kind of enemies: mass murderers who were slaughtering people with impunity.
So, how do we love (and protect) our family members and those who are dear to us while respecting the sanctity of every human life, including the life of our enemy?
One answer may be to pray about non-lethal means of protection. We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and thereby enjoy the genius of creativity and the faculty of reason. Humankind has spawned great ideas that have saved and improved an incalculable number of lives, from the invention of refrigeration to antibiotics, to sanitary sewers, to space stations. The crude, even primitive, means of firing a projectile into a human body to blow apart tissue seems terribly antiquated. Yet, how often has a pistol provided a quick and easy solution to a really complicated problem?
Even if one interprets Luke 22:38 as Jesus allowing his disciples to carry two defensive weapons (something disputed by many great Evangelical commentators), the second clause of the verse is critical: "It is enough." In other words, there is no need for an endless number or type of weaponry, because ultimately, that is not where our security lies. For the Christian, our ultimate security is not found in ourselves, but in an almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God. The Psalmist says confidently, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" (Psalm 23:4-5).
Perhaps we should pray about ways to protect ourselves and others that do not require bloodshed. Jesus did warn, "All who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). At a time when many secular voices are calling for Christians to arm themselves to the teeth, stockpile ammunition, and prepare to shoot people dead, I think we need to prayerfully seek the will of God in his Word, the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the good of those who may even appear to be a menace to us. This is the model of Christ and of the first brave Christians that trusted God above all else and even gave their own lives in obedience to his call.
I see this as a moral and ethical question that cannot be answered by government or secular sources. It is a spiritual matter. That's why I frame this question not as a political one, but as a theological one. As the great Apostle Paul says, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4).
Join the conversation on Christians, guns, and The Armor of Light at the Patheos Movie Club here.